The newly expanded Criminal Justice Training Commission, its membership now including relatives of people who died at the hands of police, on Wednesday voted to increase the commission’s ability to take the badges and guns of troubled law enforcement officers even if the wrongdoing occurred years ago and went unpunished at the time.
The commission voted 14-4 in favor of applying the provisions of Senate Bill 5051, passed by the state Legislature last year, to all future police decertification actions, regardless of when the misconduct occurred. That means that the new provisions, which greatly expand the circumstances when officers can lose their badges, can be applied to misconduct that occurred even before the law took effect on July 25, 2021.
“We need to help restore the credibility and trust of law enforcement in our communities,” said Tim Reynon, a former Puyallup Tribal Council member and one of the newly appointed commission members who drove the vote home. “Misconduct that occurred before July 25 is still misconduct.
“Accountability doesn’t have a deadline,” he said.
The four “no” votes all came from commission members in the law enforcement community, including outgoing King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, who worried that the commission could be “swamped” with decertification actions and not get anything done. From a legal standpoint, Satterberg also said applying the expanded provisions to misconduct that occurred only after the July 2021 implementation date would create a “bright line of jurisdiction” and avoid a muddled process.
The other “no” votes came from Lewis County Sheriff Robert Snaza, Vancouver Police Officer Jeffrey Anaya, and Kitsap County Corrections Director Penelope Sapp. The new law for the first time requires certification of corrections officers and empowers the commission to revoke it for misconduct.
The vote came after a consortium of 40 activist and civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability — comprising mostly family members who have lost someone to police violence — urged the statute’s retroactive application in a letter sent to the commission in February. The letter was sparked by a movement among law enforcement officials to limit its application to misconduct that occurred after the date the statute took effect.
Several of those family members now sit as commissioners on the CJTC, and they were adamant — and emotional — that no significant misconduct be excluded from decertification scrutiny, regardless of when it occurred.
“The officer who murdered my son … got away with misconduct,” said Commissioner Sonia Joseph, the mother of Giovann Joseph-McDade, an unarmed 20-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by Kent police in 2017 following an alleged traffic violation. She settled a lawsuit against the city last year for $4.4 million. The involved officer, William Davis, remains on the force and was not disciplined.
Joseph was joined in her support by newly appointed citizen commissioners Annalesa Thomas, whose son Leonard Thomas was killed by Lakewood police in 2013; Trishandra Pickup, whose former partner Stonechild Chiefstick was killed by Poulsbo police in 2019; Katrina Johnson, whose cousin Charleena Lyles was killed by Seattle police in 2017; and Nickeia Hunter, whose brother Carlos Hunter, was shot by Vancouver police in 2019.
Commissioner Kurtis Robinson, the former president of the Spokane NAACP and who has been in prison, said he experienced unpunished police misconduct firsthand in his past while drug addicted and on the streets.
“Nobody should be able to walk up and kick a handcuffed person in the gonads, call him racial slurs and be handed his badge and gun,” he said. Understanding that implementing the new process may be controversial shouldn’t be a hindrance, he added.
“There’s going to be risks if we’re going to move the needle,” Robinson said. “We got to get to it.”
Outgoing commission Chairman Jeffrey Myers, chief of the Hoquiam Police Department, had drafted a proposal that would have made the July 25, 2021, implementation date a “bright line” cutoff for application of the SB 5051 provisions. It was rejected in favor of Robinson’s motion to allow the measure to be applied retroactively.
Even so, Myers supported the vote, as did Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste.
The expanded law allows for the commission to conduct an investigation and move for decertification whether or not the involved agency cooperates. It also has provisions aimed at halting the practice of “cop-hopping,” where a troubled officer resigns from a department in lieu of discipline or termination, enabling that officer to go to another agency with their law-enforcement certification intact.
A 2020 investigation by The Seattle Times showed that only a small percentage of officers fired for misconduct had their certification revoked by the commission, and that the state had never pulled an officer’s badge for excessive use of force.
A 17-page analysis of the measure and the Legislature’s intent conducted by the Washington Attorney General’s Office for the commission concluded that lawmakers intended “the criteria in [the new statute] to apply to any future certification decision, regardless of when the underlying misconduct occurred.” However, the attorney general acknowledged “that there is some risk a court could disagree, or that a court could find that applying the statute based on past conduct is unconstitutional.”
Olympia civil rights attorney Leslie Cushman, author of I-940, a citizen’s initiative that significantly changed the statute governing when police could be charged with homicide, and a member of the Coalition for Police Accountability, praised the CJTC’s “decisive action.”
“The result is that all officers in the state will be treated the same, subject to high standards addressing suitability to be a peace officer,” she said in a statement. “The alternative was unacceptable and would have created morale problems within departments and credibility issues with communities.”
“Getting ‘yes’ votes today from some law enforcement members on the Commission hopefully signals that leadership is ready to move forward and work to make a shift in police culture where problems do not get swept under the rug,” Cushman said.
Enoka Herat, an attorney who oversees police practices and immigration at the ACLU of Washington, said the vote was “an important safeguard to accountability.”