The bill faced stiff opposition from law-enforcement leaders, failing to get a committee vote. It’s unlikely to go anywhere this year in the Legislature.

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A bill that would have made it easier to bring criminal charges against police officers over the use of deadly force has died in the Legislature.

The bill, which faced stiff opposition from law-enforcement leaders, failed to get a committee vote by the session’s deadline and is unlikely to go anywhere this year.

Sponsored by 12 Democrats in the House, the measure would have removed language in state law barring police officers from being prosecuted for killing someone in the line of duty as long as they acted in good faith and without malice, or what is defined as “evil intent.”

Shielded by the Law

Killings by police have surged over the past decade in Washington. But it’s nearly impossible to criminally charge police in state courts with the illegal use of deadly force on the job. Read our investigation.

The language, enacted in 1986, was the subject of a Seattle Times special report in September, which described the limitation as the most restrictive in the nation and a virtual curb on bringing murder or manslaughter charges even if prosecutors concluded that an officer committed a wrongful killing.

In addition to striking the malice and good-faith wording, House Bill 2907 eliminated language outlining some scenarios in which officers may use deadly force.

It contained streamlined wording requiring an officer to “reasonably” believe that there is an “imminent threat” of death or serious injury to the officer or a third party, and that lethal action is necessary to prevent it.

The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs opposed the bill, saying current law has worked well for decades.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington said the bill allowed officers to use deadly force only if they reasonably believe there is an imminent threat of serious harm to themselves or other people.

The bill was referred to the Public Safety Committee in the Democrat-controlled House, where it didn’t get a vote.

It grew out of draft legislation prepared by the Black Alliance of Thurston County, formed in the aftermath of the shooting of two young black men in Olympia last year by a white police officer.

Karen Johnson, chair and co-founder of the organization, said the bill was “too much of a political hot potato.”

She said she was delighted the House committee, unanimously and with bipartisan support, passed a substitute bill, SHB 2908, recommending the Legislature set up a joint task force to discuss community policing standards, with a focus on bringing clarity to the use of deadly force. It must be passed by the House and Senate before it would go to the governor.