The Seattle City Council Monday unanimously approved an ordinance that, in many cases, would require youth who are in police custody to have legal advice before being questioned.
Monday’s passage of the measure — which Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said she will sign — comes as local and state officials seek changes to make policing more equal and fair.
Speaking before the vote, City Councilmember Tammy Morales cited the fact that children of color are disproportionately detained and charged by law enforcement as a reason the bill is needed.
Morales, the bill’s main sponsor, said it would give legal protections to young people “whose lived experience dictates that law enforcement does not necessarily have their best interest in mind.”
“This is a recognition of the way that communities of color have been policed, particularly young Black and brown men,” she added later.
The bill is known as the MiChance Dunlap-Gittens Youth Rights Ordinance. It was named in honor of a 17-year-old shot to death in 2017 in Des Moines by sheriff’s detectives in the course of a misguided sting operation. Dunlap-Gittens, who had hoped to go to law school and help young people, didn’t have anything to do with the reason for that operation.
The law’s passage meant “he’s going to protect our youth even in his death,” Frank Gittens, father of Dunlap-Gittens, said during the council meeting’s public comment period.
The legislation applies to people under 18 who have been given a Miranda warning. Under the bill, officers can’t ask investigative questions until youths have been provided legal counsel. That legal consultation could happen by phone, video conference or in person.
The bill also prohibits officers from asking for consent to search a youth’s property or person if no legal counsel has been provided.
The legislation wouldn’t apply in cases where officers believe information would be necessary to protect life from imminent threat and when a delay would hamper that, as long as questioning is limited to those matters.
Police officers can currently request youth to waive their constitutional rights to allow for a search or interrogate them without providing legal representation, according to a summary of the legislation.
Since the new legislation kicks in after a Miranda warning, it wouldn’t apply to “Terry stops,” where law enforcement officers briefly detain someone on the street without making an immediate arrest. The bill also doesn’t apply to “welfare checks,” instances where police ask if a person is OK.
In a statement Monday, Durkan said she supports the bill and will sign it.
“We should never fear — and always demand — that any person know their full rights,” said Durkan in prepared remarks. “This is particularly true for our youth. Our actions tell young people whether we truly seek justice.”
The Seattle Police Department on Monday afternoon didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry seeking comment on the legislation.
The Metropolitan King County Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a similar proposal that would cover questioning made by sheriff’s deputies.