Former King County Sheriff Open To Removing ‘Malice’ From Deadly Force Law

Sep 21, 2016

The head of Washington’s training academy for police officers says she’s open to changing the state’s deadly force law. Current law protects officers from prosecution unless they act in bad faith and with malice.

Sue Rahr says she’s not opposed to taking the word “malice” out of Washington’s law and leaving “good faith” in.

“I think that would be a reasonable solution because good faith I think is a reasonable distinction,” Rahr said.

But Rahr, a former King County Sheriff, cautions about the message it would send to police officers.

“To say that we want to lower the bar and make it easier to charge you with the crime, that’s going to cause a very defensive, negative reaction I think from most police officers,” Rahr said.

Rahr is a member of a legislative task force on reducing violent encounters between the police and the public. That task force is charged with reviewing current laws regarding the use of deadly force. Rahr believes the key to reducing deadly encounters is solid training and appropriate tactics, not changing the law. She spoke as a guest on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program.

The 27-member legislative task force has been described as “divided” over changing Washington’s deadly force law, enacted in 1986 and often described as the most protective law in the nation for police officers. http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/politics-government/article101687587.html

According to The Seattle Times, between 2005 and 2014, 213 people were killed by Washington police officers, but only one officer was charged with illegal use of deadly force. He was ultimately acquitted. http://projects.seattletimes.com/2015/killed-by-police/

Earlier this month, Attorney General Bob Ferguson cited the state’s current “legal standard for prosecution” in his decision not to pursue criminal charges against the officers involved in last year’s fatal shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco. Ferguson also raised the issue of police training and alternatives to deadly force. Writing to Governor Jay Inslee, Ferguson said, “I believe that the use of deadly force in this case, though legally justified, was not the only possible way to protect the police and the public from his dangerous behavior.” http://agportal-s3bucket.s3.amazonaws.com/uploadedfiles/Another/News/Press_Releases/scan-09082016124452.pdf

In addition to reviewing deadly force laws, the legislative task force must review alternatives to deadly force, including the use of tasers and other nonlethal weapons.

The task force has a December 1st deadline to submit a report to lawmakers. If there is disagreement, a minority report can be submitted too.

Members of the task force include lawmakers, police, prosecutors, public defenders, representatives of civil rights and minority groups and advocates for the disabled. http://leg.wa.gov/JointCommittees/DFTF/Pages/Members.aspx

A group calling itself Washington For Good Policing is also currently gathering signatures for a proposed initiative to the legislature that would change Washington’s deadly force law. Supporters are calling Initiative 873 the “John T. Williams Bill” in honor of a Native American woodcarver who was shot to death by a Seattle police officer in 2010. http://www.w4gp.com/

Sue Rahr bio: https://www.policefoundation.org/team_detail/sheriff-sue-rahr-ret/

Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission: http://leg.wa.gov/JointCommittees/DFTF/Pages/default.aspx

Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing, Joint Legislative Task Force: http://leg.wa.gov/JointCommittees/DFTF/Pages/default.aspx

Justifiable homicide or use of deadly force by public officer, peace officer, person aiding: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=9A.16.040

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