ACLU of Washington: Impacted Family Members Celebrate Police Reform Victories, Eye Need for Continued Work

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
April 25, 2021 7:30 pm

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — A coalition of families who have lost loved ones to police violence is celebrating the recent passing of a series of bills that seek to reform police practices and end such violence in Washington state.

The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability organized to advocate for statewide policies to change the culture of policing in Washington state, end police killings, and ensure no other family in the state endures the loss of a loved one due to police violence.

The group entered the 2021 legislative session with five priority bills. Four of those bills passed both chambers of the state Legislature and are anticipated to be signed by Governor Jay Inslee. Those bills include:

  • House Bill 1310, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way. The bill establishes a statewide standard for police officers to de-escalate situations and allows an officer to use lethal force only when necessary to protect against a life-threatening situation.
  • House Bill 1054, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way. This bill bans or restricts harmful and deadly tactics used by law enforcement, including a ban on chokeholds and no-knock warrants — the type of tactics that gained national attention last year through the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
  • House Bill 1267, sponsored by Rep. Debra Entenman, D-Auburn. The bill promotes transparency and accountability by establishing a new agency within the governor’s office to handle independent criminal investigations of deadly force incidents.
  • Senate Bill 5051, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle. The bill addresses police misconduct in several ways, most notably by expanding the conduct for revoking an officer’s certification. The bill also fills a third of the criminal justice training commission seats with community members.

“We share our stories of our loved ones not for sympathy but as a catalyst for change,” said Katrina Johnson, cousin of Charleena Lyles who was killed by Seattle Police in 2017. “This legislative session has brought forth great change for Washington state led by impacted families pouring out their pain for purpose.”

Even with these gains, the families stress more work needs to be done to end police violence and drastically change police culture in Washington and throughout the country. The group is calling on lawmakers in Olympia to pass House Bill 1202, the Peace Officer Accountability Act (POAA), in the 2022 legislative session.

Sponsored by Rep. My-Linh Thai, D-Bellevue, the POAA creates a state court cause of action for victims and their families to sue and hold officers and departments civilly liable for misconduct and excessive force. It would make it possible for victims to sue without obstacles such as qualified immunity, which has shielded officers from liability from serious misconduct. It further authorizes the Attorney General’s office to investigate and bring lawsuits against departments where there are patterns of wrongdoing.

The Coalition is also focused on House Bill 1507 for the 2022 legislative session. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Entenman, would authorize the Attorney General’s office to investigate and prosecute deadly force incidents.

“Effective legislative change is a key component to addressing the harm that continues to permeate throughout countless marginalized communities created by police violence and unnecessary escalation,” said Castill Hightower, sister of Herbert Hightower Jr., who was killed by Seattle Police in 2004. “Impacted families being willing to speak our truths and share our pain is but one of many ways we are fighting to create a future where no more names are added to the list and the violence finally comes to an end. In memory of Herbert Hightower Jr.”

The families say their work to reform policing is in memory and honor of loved ones, including Giovonn Joseph McDade, Matthew Folden, Daniel Covarrubias, MiChance Dunlap-Gittens, Shaun Fuhr, Jackie Salyers, Iosia Faletogo, Billy Langfitt, Charleena Lyles, Carlos Hunter, Herbert Hightower Jr., Leonard Thomas, Jesse Sarey, Stonechild Chiefstick, Renee Davis, Tommy Le, Che Taylor, Kevin Peterson Jr., Cecil Lacy Jr., Joel Nelson, Malik Williams, Bennie Branch, Sam Toshiro Smith, and the countless other victims whose lives were lost to police violence in Washington and throughout the country.

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