Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and his Republican opponent, Bill Bryant, sparred on Tri-City-related topics in their third debate, held Wednesday night in Pasco.
Inslee, finishing his first term as governor, said he would support examining the accountability standard in Washington state for police shootings to prevent such shootings.
The question was raised in the debate in the context of the shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, who died after being shot by three Pasco police officers in February 2015. He was high on methamphetamine and throwing rocks at the time.
Prosecutors declined to charge the officers, saying the evidence did not support convictions. A 1986 state law says police can’t be convicted of a crime such as murder for using deadly force on the job as long as they acted in good faith and without malice.
The statute is an outlier in the United States, Inslee said.
Police officers deserve our support, he said. But every officer should have training to de-escalate problems and be culturally competent.
Bryant, a former Port of Seattle commissioner, said to have a good relationship with law enforcement, the people need trust, regardless of what the law is. That is beginning to fray and it is undermining democracy.
The people of the state need to support law enforcement, but the state also needs to make sure officers are treating everyone fairly and equally, Bryant said.
Bryant will wait until a task force issues findings on the law and then decide whether the state needs to change its law. A decision now is premature, he said.
On the topic of the Hanford nuclear reservation, Inslee defended the state’s two lawsuits against the Department of Energy — one to enforce environmental cleanup deadlines and the other to ensure workers are protected from chemical vapors.
“The federal government has let down the people of the Tri-Cities,” Inslee said. “Sometimes litigation is necessary.”
Workers should not be exposed to fumes and sometimes the Department of Energy needs its feet held to the fire, he said.
Bryant said he’s been talking to people on all sides of Hanford issues, including DOE and contractor officials and current and former workers.
He said Inslee is not as engaged in Hanford issues as former Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Instead, Inslee has let the state’s attorney general take the lead, and litigation is what lawyers do, Bryant said.
With the state and DOE mired in litigation, the two governments are not able to talk to each other to find solutions, Bryant said he has been told.
“We need leadership, not lawsuits,” Bryant said.
The debate was organized by the Washington State Debate Coalition, which was founded by Seattle CityClub, and included questions from news organizations and the public.