A state task force voted to recommend changes to a state law that shields law enforcement officers from prosecution after killing people. Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin joined others in Olympia in calling for change.
OLYMPIA — A Washington legislative task force Monday approved a recommendation to change the state law that protects law enforcement from prosecution after officers kill people.
Monday’s recommendation was one of several proposals that the Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing joint task force approved sending to state lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee.
The narrow vote to change the law’s language is a boost for advocates seeking to address the spate of high-profile police shootings in Washington and across the nation. But the recommendations face an uncertain future in the Washington Legislature, which begins its 2017 session in January.
The votes came several hours after Seattle Seahawks player Doug Baldwin, the son of a former police officer, joined a dozen other public commenters who weighed in on changes to the state law.
Washington law currently makes it almost impossible for prosecutors to bring criminal charges against an officer, even if there’s a conclusion that an officer wrongfully killed someone, a Seattle Times investigation found last year.
That’s because the law holds that an officer can’t be charged if he or she acted in good faith during an incident, and without malice.
In a narrow vote, the task force — made up of lawmakers, prosecutors, law-enforcement groups, advocates for minorities and others — approved a recommendation to remove references to malice and good faith from the law.
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The recommendation also would add a criminal-liability defense for officers who reasonably believed deadly force was necessary at the time, given the facts and circumstances.
In his remarks Monday before the task force, Baldwin, a wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks — and a touchdown-thrower in Sunday’s romp over the Eagles — focused on the word malice.
“Removing malice from the statute … sends a very clear message to the community that law-enforcement agencies are understanding the gravity of the decisions that they make,” Baldwin testified.
“The result will be a bridge between the community and the law enforcement that will begin to repair and heal the much-needed and necessary relationship” between the two, he added later.
Baldwin also talked about his father, a former officer with the Pensacola Police Department in Florida.
“He held himself to an incredibly high standard,” Baldwin said, “because of what it meant when he put on his police uniform and he went out in our community.”
Baldwin’s appearance in Olympia was the latest effort by him and other Seahawks to call for change after a string of highly publicized police shootings that has roiled the nation in recent years.
Baldwin in September called on all 50 state attorneys general to request reviews of training policies for law-enforcement officers. That same week, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman also spoke up about police shootings.
In October, Baldwin and other players met with representatives of the Seattle Police Department.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on Monday praised Baldwin’s efforts.
“He has continued to carry the torch for building the bridge between the community and law enforcement,” Carroll said. “He is doing some marvelous stuff. I’ve gotten feedback from people he has visited with a number of times now, and he continues to be really impressive and on task, and I think he is going to be a factor.”
The task force approved several other recommendations, including proposals to collect state-level data on use of force by law enforcement, increase training for officers and improve Washington’s mental-health system.
The recommendations are due to reach Gov. Jay Inslee and state lawmakers by Dec. 1. In an email, Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee called the task force’s work “an important first step in increasing dialogue between law enforcement and communities of color.” The governor’s office will review the recommendations, she wrote.
State Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle and a task force member, said he plans to draft a bill incorporating the recommendations. But Frockt acknowledged more consensus may be needed to change the law, and he said he was open to ideas on how to make that happen.
Meanwhile, backers of an initiative, I-873, which also seeks to change the law, have been collecting signatures.