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Executive Constantine: Now is the time to move forward with police accountability

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Press ReleaseThe below is a press release from the Office of King County Executive Dow Constantine. Though the Auburn Examiner has knowledge of this matter, there has been no independent verification of the contents of this press release.  We encourage our readers to personally verify any information they find may be overly biased or questionable.

The Auburn Examiner has reached out to the City of Auburn for a response and will publish an update when one is available.

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State law authorizes, and the King County Charter mandates, the investigation of any death involving a member of law enforcement in the course of their duties.

After a spike of such deaths in 2017, community members expressed serious concerns about the inquest process in King County and the seeming lack of transparency and accountability.

In response, Executive Constantine put all inquests on hold, then convened a community group to examine the process and suggest reforms. Many of those reforms were included in an Executive Order that went into effect in October 2018.

The 2018 Executive Order includes the following major changes:

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OLD SYSTEM: District Court judge presided over hearing
NEW SYSTEM: A pool of retired judges serves Inquest Administrators to oversee the process.

OLD SYSTEM: King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office facilitated the proceedings, presents evidence.
NEW SYSTEM: Prosecuting Attorney’s Office will not participate in the hearing, but will continue administrative functions.

OLD SYSTEM: Limited only to facts and circumstances surrounding death.
NEW SYSTEM: Expands the interpretation of facts and circumstances to include questions about department policy and training.

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OLD SYSTEM: Jurors were often asked whether the officer feared for his or her life at the incident.
NEW SYSTEM: Jurors may be asked whether officer’s actions were consistent with department training and policies. Jurors will no longer be asked whether officers feared for their lives.

OLD SYSTEM: County did not provide attorneys for families.
NEW SYSTEM: Attorneys are provided by the Department of Public Defense, if wanted.

OLD SYSTEM: Involved officer could voluntarily testify or be subpoenaed to testify (officer maintains Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination).
NEW SYSTEM: Lead investigator of incident will testify, and chief law enforcement officer (or designee) will answer questions about training and policy. Involved officer can voluntarily testify, but not be subpoenaed. However, if the subpoenaed officer does not testify, may not be represented by legal counsel.

REVISED JUNE 15 ORDER: Involved officer may voluntarily testify or be subpoenaed to testify (officer maintains Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination), and officer may be represented by counsel throughout the proceeding regardless of whether they actually testify.

State law requires a jury of no more than six, and no less than four.

The creation and issuance of the 2018 Executive Order was supported by:
Andre Taylor (“Not This Time!”)
Fae Brooks (co-chair of the King County Inquest Process and Review Committee and retired chief of the criminal investigations division of the King County Sheriff’s Office)
James Schrimpsher (Lodge 27 President of the Washington Fraternal Order of Police)
Diane Narasaki (executive director, Asian Counseling and Referral Services)

Almost immediately, several cities including the City of Seattle, King County Sheriff, and individual Seattle police officers filed lawsuits challenging various aspects of the inquest process. Three families of the deceased also filed litigation.

The Obets, Lyles, and Butts families’ lawsuits include several items, such as making inquests include potential criminal charges against officers, and giving attorneys the ability to subpoena officers.

City of Seattle, City of Auburn, City of Federal Way, City of Kent, and King County Sheriff’s litigation challenge almost every aspect of the inquest system, including: police policies and training should not be part of inquests, disciplinary history of officers should not be allowed, expert testimony should be limited, and inquests should not be presided over by administrators (retired judges). The King County Sheriff contends that the King County Charter exempts it from inquests.

On June 9, the Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes announced his intent to withdraw the City of Seattle from legal challenges to the inquest process. Executive Constantine commends City leaders for this action.

Seeking to find compromise, Executive Constantine this week issued a revised Executive Order to allow involved officers to be subpoenaed to testify, and to allow the officer to have an attorney present during the inquest.

King County will defer to the courts on whether inquests, after 50 years of case law stating otherwise, should now consider criminal culpability as part of the process.

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King County Executive Dow Constantine | File Photo

“The inquest process created by my 2018 Executive Order puts new emphasis on law enforcement training and lethal use-of-force policies so that departments can be held accountable for creating better, safer ways of policing,” said Executive Constantine.

“Today I am revising my Executive order to remove objections that some departments and some families raised. My new order will allow the involved officer or officers to be subpoenaed to testify, and will allow officers to be represented by counsel throughout the proceeding regardless of whether they actually testify,” he added. “Now is the time for action and accountability. We want the governments that have filed litigation to block inquests to step aside so we can move forward and get to the truth.”

“I worked with very hard with Executive Constantine and other community partners to draft a new inquest process that was vastly superior, and focused appropriate attention on police policies and trainings in a way that was fair to everyone,” said Andre Taylor. “The fact that certain cities were cowed by their police departments into filing lawsuits against the inquest shows just how far we have to go in creating a society that values and protects people of color. The political leaders of these cities have heard our protests. Now they need to act.”

Executive Order inquests June 2020 (click to read new order)

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