A state House committee is taking public testimony on two bills Tuesday to raise the bar on when an officer can use deadly force.
Current law shields officers from prosecution unless they acted with malice and without good faith. That could change with new legislation proposed in the House and the Senate this year.
The House Committee on Public Safety is to hear recommendations from a task force created by Gov. Jay Inslee to reduce the number of violent interactions between law enforcement and the public.
Earlier this month, four Tri-City police officers lobbied in Olympia not to change the wording and standard that could make it easier to charge and convict officers for doing their duty and protecting themselves and others.
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“We oppose the bill but are not opposed to determining if there is a problem and finding a proper way to address that and fix it,” said Pasco police Sgt. Scott Warren, local president for the Fraternal Order of Police.
He joined Pasco Officer Ron Seltun and Kennewick officers Sgt. Jack Simmington and Marco Monteblanco, the state FOP president, in partnering with representatives from Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs to try to convince legislators to view the issue from their perspective.
“It is going to make officers think twice when they are in that position when it takes a split second to make these decisions,” said Warren. “It will create confusion and hesitation that will make the public less safe.”
“There is no data to show deadly force was used for anything other than what it was intended,” he said. “We cannot look at controversial police actions across the nation because these bills do not address those situations. Our focus is on Washington law.”
However, some lawmakers have cited a controversial Pasco police shooting in their discussions about the current law.
Pasco police killed Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco in 2015 when he was high on drugs and throwing rocks near a busy intersection. The officers were cleared of any wrongdoing based on current state law.
Democratic Rep. Cindy Ryu from Shoreline, the lead sponsor of House Bill 1529, said she is trying to find a balance and create a feasible budget to implement the task force’s recommendations, which include police training and data collection.
She estimates it will cost at least $60 million. “It’s not going to be a quick fix,” she said.
The task force also voted 14-10 to remove the phrases “malice” and “good faith” from the current law.
“That (malice) is too high of a bar. There is no state in the country that prevents prosecution for manslaughter,” said Rep. Roger Goodman, co-chair of the task force and also sponsor of the second bill.
Ryu said if nothing else the word “malice” should be removed from the law immediately. However, Goodman said he believes prosecutors need “good faith” to prove to a jury that a crime was committed.
“You need to prove intent, and good faith is a reasonable standard,” he said. “We would just want to articulate what good faith means … We also need to protect law enforcement, not only through the language, but through generous support for their training and their other operations — it’s a package deal.”
Goodman’s bill implements some of the recommendations, including the collection of data when deadly force is used, funding for advanced training programs and grant proposals to obtain less lethal weapons for primary responding — all of which he hopes to combine with Ryu’s plan down the line.