Gov. Jay Inslee signs update to deadly force initiative

  • By Tom James The Associated Press
  • Wednesday, February 13, 2019 2:03pm
  • News

By Tom James

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a bill amending Initiative 940, the measure voters passed in November making it easier to prosecute police officers for negligent shootings.

The bill changes when officers can be held liable for using deadly force.

While I-940 would have required officers to show that they believed they were acting in good faith, the bill imposes an objective test: whether another officer acting reasonably in the same circumstances would have believed deadly force was necessary.

“There are conversations occurring around our country regarding the issue of excessive force against communities of color,” Inslee said Feb. 4. The bill, he added, “doesn’t fix everything, far from it. But it is a start.”

Supported by both activists and police groups, the signing brought to a close a long, often contentious process that included drawn-out negotiations between the two sides, an unusual move by the Legislature and a ruling by the state Supreme Court.

First sent to the state Legislature at the end of 2017, Initiative 940 followed a string of high-profile police shootings nationwide.

Community activists had long tried to change Washington’s standard for prosecuting police, which previously required prosecutors to prove that officers acted with malice — something no other state required. But early efforts failed, leading activists to propose Initiative 940; they gathered enough signatures to send it to the Legislature.

Police groups at first resisted, then joined the initiative’s sponsors in fraught talks.

The two sides eventually agreed to a compromise, and in an unusual maneuver the Legislature passed both the original initiative and a bill amending it.

But the state Supreme Court struck that down, finding the procedure unconstitutional, and sent the original version of I-940 to the ballot — without the changes the two sides had agreed on.

Voters approved that version last November, but police groups and activists agreed to stick to the compromise they’d reached.

The bill signed by Inslee on Feb. 4 updates the standard for prosecution, alters requirements for police to render first aid, and requires the state to reimburse an officer’s legal fees if they are acquitted.

On hand for the signing Feb. 4 were Monisha Harrell, a key figure in the movement behind the initiative, and Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick.

Klippert, along with his duties as a legislator, serves as a police officer, and was quoted in 2017 speaking against the initiative.

But Feb. 4 the pair appeared to have found common ground.

“It was worth the work,” Klippert said.

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