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Mother of man killed by police hopes lawsuit, more diversity in Washington Legislature will change laws

The city of Kent is paying out $4.4 million to Giovonn Joseph-McDade's family after he was killed by police in 2017.

KENT, Wash. — Sonia Joseph hopes the death of her son will help change a state law.

In June 2017, a Kent police officer shot and killed 20-year-old Giovonn Joseph-McDade following a chase with officers.

The city of Kent settled a lawsuit Wednesday with Joseph-McDade’s family for $4.4 million.

“I accept their apology,” said Joseph during a press conference Thursday. “A settlement does not bring them back. It’s about raising the bar and holding the city… and the officers accountable."

Officers said they originally stopped Joseph-McDade for having expired registration tabs but said the 20-year-old drove off. Police chased him and later shot and killed Joseph-McDade when they said he drove his car towards one of the officers.

In a press release announcing the settlement, the city of Kent maintained its officers were not in violation of any laws.

Joseph-McDade's mother wants to change those laws. 

”Giovonn was not a threat. He was unarmed. He was a young man who tried to get away to save his life,” Joseph told state representatives during a public hearing in January.

She testified in favor of a bill to implement a list of changes to police policies and tactics.

In addition to limiting the use of tear gas and military equipment, House Bill 1054 puts restrictions on when police can chase someone and when they can fire at moving vehicles.

Under the bill, police would not pursue someone for having expired tabs, and they would only be allowed to shoot at a moving vehicle if the car presents an imminent threat of injury.

RELATED: Ban on chokeholds, tear gas among the police reforms debated by Washington lawmakers

Police organizations testified against the bill, raising concerns about how some of the restrictions could put officers’ lives at risk.

But despite the criticism, the bill appears likely to be signed into law.

“Our community has been sounding this alarm for decades. But finally, we had a call from the majority to reform the system,” said bill sponsor state Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way.

Johnson said in past sessions concerns raised by police killed similar bills.

”I feel like we have a squad behind us now, so to speak. In the past, it hasn't been that way,” said Johnson.

He said an increase in representation of the Black community in Olympia is helping.

Last year, there were five Black legislators. In November, nine were elected, including state Sen. T’wina Nobles, the first Black senator in a decade.

”I feel honored; I feel heard," said Nobles, D-Pierce County. "It hasn't been without incident."

Nobles said on her first day at the Capitol campus a legislative staffer mistook her for another Black legislator.

“And I followed up to say, ‘There are too many of us Black folks on this campus for you to confuse us. I'm the only Black senator who will be walking through these doors. It is very important that you know our names, that you are not confusing us,'" Nobles said. "And it is very offensive, and what an erasure of someone’s first day and experience.”

RELATED: Black Washington lawmakers push for equity despite lack of diversity in Legislature

Rep. John Lovick, D-Snohomish County, was the only Black representative when he was first elected to serve in Olympia in 1999.

He said being on a Zoom call with eight other Black members brought him to tears.

”This is the most talented group of people I have been around in my life,” said Lovick.

Joseph-McDade’s mother hopes the increased representation will mean more laws will be passed to protect members of the minority community.

”I can’t expect a middle-aged white man to understand my lived experiences,” said Joseph.