Washington lawmakers have dealt a setback to a bill to make it easier for prosecutors to charge law-enforcement officers who use deadly force. But advocates seeking change say there’s still hope for a compromise.
OLYMPIA — Washington lawmakers have dealt a setback to a bill that would make it easier for prosecutors to charge law-enforcement officers who use deadly force.
A compromise proposal by state Sen. David Frockt, SB 5073 tried to bridge deep divides between law-enforcement groups, prosecutors, community advocates and others over how to change Washington’s deadly-force law.
But after clearing a key committee vote last week, the bill failed to advance Friday through the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Even as the momentum stalled, lawmakers, community advocates and others say they intend to keep working on a solution.
“I’ve tried to keep the temperature low and not make this black lives versus blue lives,” Frockt said. “I’m just going to keep going; I’m into it this far.”
Right now, Washington law states that an officer can’t be convicted of a crime if he or she acted in good faith and without malice, or what the law calls “evil intent,” while using deadly force.
That threshold makes it just about impossible for prosecutors to pursue charges in cases, even when a law-enforcement officer has been found to have wrongfully killed someone.
Between 2005 and 2014, law enforcement in Washington killed 213 people, according to an investigation by The Seattle Times. Most of those cases were deemed legally justified, but others were controversial — and criminal charges were brought against only one officer in one of those instances.
In that case, the officer was acquitted.
A special task force in November voted narrowly to recommend removing the law’s references to both “malice” and “good faith.”
In that vote, advocacy groups, including those representing African-American and Hispanic communities, argued it’s time to change to the law.
Many law-enforcement groups, however, opposed changing the statute. They instead advocated for, among other things, more training to help reduce instances of officers using deadly force.
Frockt’s proposal dropped “malice” from the law and gave a clearer definition of how “good faith” should be understood. It also included, among other things, funding for training.
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While the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs threw their support behind his proposal, Frockt said other law-enforcement groups remained opposed.
“We thought we were there,” said Mitch Barker, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
And at least one community advocate on the task force said she thought Frockt’s proposal did not do enough to change the law’s language.
Karen Johnson, of the Black Alliance of Thurston County, said she still hopes lawmakers can find language that leads to an agreement. In the meantime, Johnson urged law-enforcement officers to speak out in favor of changing the law.
“We want to maintain our reputation” for having noble law officers, she said.
Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland and chair of the House Public Safety Committee, said lawmakers are continuing to work toward a solution.
“This is all very much alive,” said Goodman, who also has been working on a compromise in the state House, adding later: “Frankly, I believe we’re coming closer and closer.”