Police

Washington Task Force Suggests Making it Easier to Prosecute Killer Cops

Their recommendations would reform one of the most officer-friendly use-of-force policies in the country.

|

Police officer
G20 Voice / Flickr

Pressure is building on Washington legislators to reform the state's laws governing the use of deadly force by police officers.

On Monday the Joint Legislative Taskforce on the Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing—which contains representatives from minority activists as well as policing associations—narrowly approved a recommendation to remove language that shields police officers from prosecution in shooting incidents where the cops are believed to have acted "without malice and on a good faith belief."

Washington's requirement that an officer's actions be shown as "malicious" is one of the most favorable in the nation to law enforcement personnel involved in deadly shootings, and has been widely condemned by both prosecutors and civil rights activists since its incorporation into law in 1986.

King County prosecutor Dan Satterburg—known to Reason readers as the man behind the so-called "biggest sex trafficking case of the year"—has said the need to prove malice is "an almost perfect defense." Seattle attorney and director of the American Civil Liberty Union's Center for Justice dubbed it a "virtual license to kill."

The numbers seem to agree with that position. In an investigative report, The Seattle Times found that, of the 213 fatal police encounters since 2004, only one has resulted in the prosecution of an officer for homicide. That case—stemming from the 2009 shooting of an allegedly drunk motorist in the back—ended in the officer's acquittal after the jury failed to find malice in the officer's actions.

A similar result came from the 2010 shooting of homeless man John T. Williams by Seattle police officer Ian Birk—a shooting Reason dubbed one of the worst police abuse cases of the year. Though the shooting was found by the Seattle Police Department to be unjustified—and Birk later resigned as a result—no charges were filed. Satterburg, the prosecutor assigned to the case, did not believe he could prove malice beyond a reasonable doubt.

To remedy this lack of accountability, the task force has proposed removing the malice language, and replacing it with a less exacting standard for prosecutors.

The change is opposed by law enforcement representatives, who voted against that recommendation, and suggested increasing funding for community outreach programs as an alternative.

Despite their opposition, the recommendation was able to pass out of the task force and will now head to Gov. Jay Inslee and the state legislature for consideration.

State Sen. David Frockt (D–Seattle), who sits on the Joint Legislative Taskforce, told The Seattle Times that he plans to draft a bill incorporating the recommendations, but that there's still a long a way to go in developing a consensus among state legislators for the proposed changes.

Advertisement

NEXT: How Much Do We Still Need to Care if a Potential Cabinet Member Is Anti-Gay?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

    1. You can’t hit a guy who’s won that many karate tournaments.

      1. Morgan Fairchild will pay his bail.

        1. With his sweet surfing competition money.

          1. The karate tournaments are conducted while surfing.

        2. She better hurry. He has to hurry,up and do the sound check for his big concert tonight.

          1. It is a power-lifting concert.

  1. Does the leniency shown produce more objectively unjustified police shootings? Do Seattle police, for instance, shoot more people than your average force of that size?

    1. Seattle PD is so bad the Obama DOJ went after them and found their abuse so bad they essentially took control of the dept.

      That cop union is possibly as bad as Chicago’s for corruption, refusal to investigate misconduct and creating an environment where officers are above the law.

  2. If the police profession had any sense of honor, they would enthusiastically support reducing the standard. But they’d rather have murderers in their ranks than accountability.

    1. law enforcement representatives […] suggested increasing funding for community outreach programs as an alternative

      Yeah. This stood out to me. “More accountability? No, that’s not gonna work. How about you give us more money, instead?”

    2. If good cops existed, they wouldn’t tolerate bad cops. The fact that bad cops are not only tolerated but celebrated (show me a cop who has been involved in a questionable shooting, and I’ll show you officer of the year) is proof that good cops don’t exist.

  3. Oh, prosecute. I thought they said procure.

  4. the man behind the so-called “biggest sex trafficking case of the year”

    The so-called man ….

  5. The change is opposed by law enforcement representatives, who voted against that recommendation, and suggested increasing funding for community outreach programs as an alternative.

    Please fund our propaganda machine. It clearly hasn’t done enough to convince the public that we only kill the right people.

    1. Please fund our propaganda machine.

      Not even. It’s just another money grab, like how every time they fuck up they say it was due to lack of “training”. Training is just another word for paid vacation time.

    2. Police can’t be held accountable for their actions. If they were then people might stop trusting them, and public trust is the foundation of government. Without that trust it cannot function properly. So it is better to let murderous cops keep their jobs without prosecution than to give a perception that there may be bad apples in the ranks. After all, nothing creates trust like hiding the truth.

  6. Hey what a great suggestion!

  7. I think the question becomes how can municipalities and counties make the cost of protecting bad cops unacceptable?

    More than just throwing the book at murderers, you also have to go after anyone who knows and tries to cover it up or otherwise obstruct justice.

    1. One of the perks of enforcing the law is that it doesn’t apply to you. Only policy matters. Laws are for little people.

  8. Innocent until proven innocent.

  9. I really want to become a Police officer to kill people. But all these shifting regulations makes me concerned I won’t be able to get away with it. The government is crushing my dreams.

  10. Hey, those negotiations that are totally one sided in our direction were negotiated fair and square. If you want things changed, you can wait till the next time the union negotiates with the democrats we pay to elect state.

    /Dunphy

    1. +1 Tot of Circs

  11. This is kind of wonky legal stuff to me, but I presume that by being forced to prove “malice” that sets the cops at a lower standard than the rest of us, because I’m guessing if I shoot an unarmed person 7 times in the back, the court doesn’t really care if there’s malice involved?

    1. If a trigger was pulled then there is malice. It really isnt complicated.

  12. Despite their opposition, the recommendation was able to pass out of the task force and will now head to Gov. Jay Inslee and the state legislature for consideration.

    State Sen. David Frockt (D?Seattle), who sits on the Joint Legislative Taskforce, told The Seattle Times that he plans to draft a bill incorporating the recommendations, but that there’s still a long a way to go in developing a consensus among state legislators for the proposed changes.

    Oh, and say what you will about this, you can probably thank Black Lives Matter for this, because had it not been for them, the State’s liberal ruling elite wouldn’t give two fucks about police abuse.

    1. We were this close to a national movement to rein in police misconduct.

      1. When you say that, are you holding your hands out as far as you can?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.