Police Accountability

Proposed Initiative Would Remove "De Facto Immunity" for Officers

The proposed November 2018 ballot measure would essentially allow police to be criminally prosecuted for unjustified use of deadly force.

By Hayat Norimine July 6, 2017

Andre taylor che taylor shirt city hall hayat jn2518

Andre Taylor wears a shirt commemorating his brother Che Taylor, who was killed by police last year, as he announces an effort to put Initiative 940 on the November 2018 ballot.

On the steps of Seattle City Hall on Thursday, a somber crowd of police reform advocates and family of those killed by officers announced the effort to place an initiative on the November 2018 ballot—Initiative 940, De-Escalate Washington, would essentially allow the prosecution of law enforcement for unjustified use of deadly force.

The initiative would remove "de facto immunity," said attorney Leslie Cushman, by preventing officers from claiming the defense of no "malice" in use of deadly force; requiring an independent investigation when force resulted in death or significant bodily harm; and creating an objective "good faith" standard not determined by police. Charleena Lyles's family and Andre Taylor, the brother of Che Taylor, were joined by many others who also lost loved ones recently. The family of Tommy Le, a 20-year-old Vietnamese American who held a pen when he was killed by law enforcement last month, didn't attend.

"Everybody's been searching for justice for years," said James Rideout, a Puyallup tribal member and uncle of Jacqueline Salyers, a pregnant Native American woman who was killed by a Tacoma officer in January. "What is justice? Justice is not ever going to bring a loved one back."

The measure would also make agencies share information with a tribe when deadly force if used on a tribal member, as well as require officers to render first aid and receive continual mental health and de-escalation training; currently the state requires that law enforcement receive eight hours of crisis intervention training (volunteer crisis intervention specialists get 40 hours) and the initiative's supporters said they want repetition. The measure, however, doesn't specify exact hours of new requirements, and activists said they want to discuss them with police and stakeholders before coming up with set rules. Attorney Leslie Cushman told PubliCola the rank-and-file police officers rejected all their proposals.

The most complicated part of the initiative would be to enact an independent investigation for incidents using deadly force. For the Seattle Police Department, Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard told PubliCola in a previous interview that would be especially challenging, given that it's the largest law enforcement agency with the most training and resources. Another agency would then need to investigate its deadly force incidents, and Cushman said they haven't determined those details. 

"There are so many options out there...People have to have the perception of fairness," said Cushman, who helped begin drafting the initiative in February. "We would like police not to be investigating themselves."

The campaign currently has a budget of $900,000, Cushman said, and activists hope to raise another $100,000 this week. Activists scrapped a similar police reform initiative, I-873, that was originally meant to be on this year's November ballot.

State legislators were also at the press conference Thursday, including state senator Bob Hasegawa, who's running for Seattle mayor, and state representative Javier Valdez.

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