Legislators come to agreement on deadly force reform

The agreement between lawmakers, activists, and police amends the upcoming I-940 ballot initiative.

In a last-minute effort, lawmakers, cops, and community activists reached a deal on lowering the legal standard for prosecuting officers who kill in the line of duty.

House Bill 3003 is a product of a surprise agreement between law enforcement representatives and the backers of I-940, a pending ballot initiative that would reform Washington’s police use-of-deadly-force laws. HB 3003 alters I-940 in the event it passes to make it more palatable to law enforcement.

Washington state has long held a high legal bar for prosecuting police officers that kill in the line of duty. Statute dictates that officers must be proven to have acted in “malice” and “without good faith” to be prosecuted, a standard which critics argue is almost impossible to prove. A 2015 analysis from The Seattle Times found that while 213 people were killed by police between 2005 and 2014, only one officer was ever charged.

Last year, a group called De-Escalate Washington gathered enough signatures to put I-940 on the November 2018 ballot. The initiative would amend state law to lower the standard for prosecuting cops who use deadly force. It would also require that all law enforcement officers in the state receive training on mental health and violence de-escalation, and mandate that police officers provide first aid to injured suspects.

HB 3003—sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman (D–Seattle) and Rep. Dave Hayes (R-Camano Island)—would alter I-940’s changes to state law by requiring an “objective good faith test” of officers who kill, considering what another “reasonable officer” would have done under the same circumstances when weighing potential criminal prosecution. The bill would only go into effect upon passage of I-940.

At a Senate Law and Justice Committee meeting on the bill on March 4, Rep. Goodman said that the bill would be perfecting the initiative. “We have worked very hard to bring together law enforcement and the community to resolve what is really part of a national discussion: police use of force,” he said.

At the meeting, Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs executive director Steve Strachan said that he supports the bill and that a “lengthy and negative” initiative campaign will not “serve to build community trust” between law enforcement and communities.

“We truly appreciate the willingness of the initiative backers to engage in discussion and to listen,” Strachan added.

“The theme of our campaign has been building bridges between communities and police and we believe this bill reflects that process,” said Heather Villanueva of De-Escalate Washington, adding that the bill “strengthens and clarifies I-940.”

“We’re going to save lives,” she said.

The House approved the bill by a 73-25 vote on March 7 and the Senate passed it on March 8—the last day of the legislative session—25-24 along party lines.

Prior to its passage in the Senate, several Republicans questioned whether it is legal to pass the bill and argued that the Legislature isn’t allowed to amend a ballot initiative.

“This bill clearly amends an initiative,” said Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R–Spokane).

Sen. Phil Fortunato (R–Auburn) said that while he supports the bill’s intent, he couldn’t vote for it because it was changing laws that don’t exist yet. “We are amending something in the future that hasn’t happened yet,” he said.

Sen. Mike Padden (R–Spokane Valley) proposed an amendment that would have placed the changes in HB 3003 on the November ballot as its own initiative that would compete with I-940, but his amendment was voted down along party lines by the Democratic majority.

Some Senate Republicans slammed the bill as an attack on law enforcement. “We need to stand up against this and make very clear that we support the people in law enforcement of this state,” said Sen. Doug Ericksen (R–Ferndale).

Prior to the bill’s passage, Democratic senators praised it as good policy on the divisive issue of police and their use of deadly force. “It supports the people in our community, it supports law enforcement, and it is excellent policy,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra (D–Kirkland).

This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.

More in Northwest

At long last, Edgar Martinez’s waiting game is over. Photo by clare_and_ben/Flickr
Edgar Martinez finally makes the Hall of Fame

In his last year on the ballot, the Mariner legend and greatest designated hitter of all time gets the Cooperstown call.

Residents at SeaTac’s Firs Mobile Home Park received a closure notice for October 31, but most have chosen to stay in their homes. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
South King County coalition targets affordable housing

Rent and housing prices hit south end communities hard; SeaTac, Tukwila, Kent, Burien, Renton and Auburn are working to create organization like Eastside’s ARCH

Microsoft will invest $500 million toward regional housing

Mayors of nine cities — including Auburn, Kent, Federal Way, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Issaquah, Renton and Sammamish — have pledged to help

Exit poll indicates Washington voters still support climate change action

State environmental organizations’ poll points to continuing support for carbon-reducing measures.

Attendees gather after the Dec. 21, 2018, meeting at Seattle’s Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center.
Washington indigenous communities push for action to address violence against women

A new law seeks to strength data collection on missing and murdered indigenous women.

Wikimedia Commons CFCF photo
Proposed law would raise age limit for tobacco sales in WA

Lawmakers cite health concerns over tobacco and vape products

Rape allegation against Sen. Joe Fain divides King County Council

In a recent interview, Councilmember Kathy Lambert blamed Fain’s accuser for the alleged rape. Then Lambert’s colleagues distanced themselves from her comments.

Safeco Field. FILE PHOTO
King County’s Safeco funding package might go to referendum vote

The initiative, filed by a group called “Citizens Against Sports Stadium Subsidies” could put the $135 million spending plan on the ballot early next year

Palouse wind farm in Eastern Washington. COURTESY PHOTO, Chris Weber, Flickr Creative Commons
Report reveals inequities of climate change in Washington

The poor and communities of color are affected the worst, according to UW study

Kent’s ShoWare Center first in line to get funds from county lodging tax

If revenues high enough, arena to get $200,000 per year

Photo by Cacophony/Wikipedia Commons
Safeco Field will get a new name next year

Seattle Mariners could make more than $100 million from naming rights.

King County Rolls on With Its Electric Bus Fleet Plans

With an overhaul set by 2040, a new report shows the economic and health benefits of going electric.