Wash. officer shootings may lead to new laws

Wash. officer shootings may lead to new laws

Credit: KING

Wash. officer shootings may lead to new laws

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by Associated Press

KING5.com

Posted on December 26, 2009 at 2:38 PM

Updated Sunday, Dec 27 at 1:14 PM

OLYMPIA, Wash. - The murders of five police officers and this week's shooting of two more have lawmakers thinking about more than a looming budget deficit as they prepare to return to the state capital in January.

A handful of bills sparked by the recent shootings have already been prefiled in advance of next month's start of the 60-day legislative session, and more are expected.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has called on law-enforcement groups to meet next week to compile a list of potential changes to state law, policy or the state constitution, and to meet with her on Jan. 8. And one lawmaker already has a public hearing scheduled to discuss the circumstances surrounding one of the shootings.

"The bottom line is we owe it to our law enforcement personnel to do everything we can to make sure they're safe and secure out there," Gregoire said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

"When you have a tragedy of this magnitude, you've really got to be thoughtful, you've really got to be deliberate," she said. "Your impulse is to just go enact legislation, but good intentions don't necessarily bring about good results. So I defer to those who have boots on the ground."

The rash of shootings began in October, when Seattle Officer Timothy Brenton was killed as he sat in his patrol car Halloween night. Christopher Monfort, 41, has been charged with aggravated first-degree murder in Brenton's death.

Less than a month later, four Lakewood police officers were shot and killed at a coffee shop before their shift. After a two-day manhunt, suspect Maurice Clemmons was shot to death by a Seattle police officer.

After those shootings, Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, announced he was going to hold a public hearing to look into why Clemmons was out on the streets in the first place.

Hurst, chairman of the House Public Safety Committee and a retired police officer, said that his hearing, planned for Jan. 18, will examine every aspect of the Clemmons case.

"These are horrifically shocking crimes to the public at large and we need to have some answers," he said. "What are some of the factors that caused this to occur? What are some things we can do to make sure this never happens again?"

Clemmons had a criminal history in both Washington and Arkansas. His 108-year prison sentence for armed robbery and other offenses was commuted by then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2000. Six days before the shooting, he had posted bail on charges of raping a child, a charge that could have potentially put him in prison for life under Washington state's "three-strikes" law.

Rep. Mike Hope, a Republican from Lake Stevens and a Seattle police officer, has introduced a bill to change the state constitution to exempt potential three-strike offenders like Clemmons from being able to post bail.

"If they're facing life in prison they have nothing to lose," he said.

Another measure, sponsored by Rep. Troy Kelley, D-Tacoma, would exempt people from bail if they are potentially dangerous and had a prior felony sentence commuted or pardoned by a governor of any state.

Kelley also has introduced a bill that would waive all tuition and fees at state colleges for children of police officer or firefighters who die or become totally disabled while in the line of duty.

The most recent shootings were on Monday night, when two sheriff's officers were shot after they were called to a domestic disturbance at a home near Eatonville.

The officers killed the gunman before they were rushed to the hospital. Sgt. Nick Hausner, 43, is in serious condition at Madigan Army Medical Center near Tacoma, and Deputy Kent Mundell, 44, is in critical condition in the intensive-care unit at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center.

Doug Honig, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said that his organization will look at all of the proposals that are filed in the wake of the shootings.

"Our concern would be measures that are proposals that sound tough, but in practice won't do much to make us safer, but will restrict people's rights," he said.

Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs, said that with lawmakers facing a $2.6 billion projected deficit, cuts to things like mental health treatment and community services could hinder any measure that is passed.

"If we don't have the money to fix those things, let's not make ourselves feel good by passing legislation that doesn't do anything," he said.

Pierce, whose group is among those meeting with Gregoire next month, said he hopes everyone can come to a consensus about what can be done to improve the system, and that the Legislature will act.

"If all of that happens, then something good will come of this," he said. "It certainly doesn't undo the tragedy. If we don't take the opportunity to learn from these sorts of things, we've really missed the boat."

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The "Lakewood Law Enforcement Memorial Act" bills are HJR 4213 and 4214. The tuition bill is HB 2479.

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