OLYMPIA, Wash — A bill that would impose harsher penalties for sexually abusive jail and prison guards passed the Washington state Legislature Wednesday.
The State House of Representatives voted unanimously to pass “Kimberly Bender’s Law.” The bill was prompted by a 2022 KING 5 investigation about a former Forks jail guard who served just over a year in prison after sexually assaulting four women.
The Senate unanimously passed the bill on Feb. 27. It now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee for consideration.
The bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley), proposes to upgrade the status of first-degree custodial sexual misconduct from a Class C felony to a Class B. The first-degree charge applies to cases when a corrections officer or member of law enforcement has sexual intercourse with a person in their custody.
The law would also raise the status of second-degree custodial sexual misconduct from a gross misdemeanor to a Class C felony. The second-degree charge applies to cases when a corrections officer or member of law enforcement has sexual contact with a person in their custody.
"Kimberly Bender's law" is named after a Quileute woman who died by suicide in her Forks jail cell after reporting her jail guard, John Gray, sexually harassed her.
Once the governor receives the bill from the Legislature, he will have five days to take action on the measure.
"This bill will make a difference, and it will help show that Kimberly Bender's life mattered and help prevent the kind of dehumanizing treatment she suffered," said Rep. Chris Stearns (D-Auburn), one of three state representatives who shared supportive remarks on the House floor Wednesday before the 97-0 vote.
Gray, the corrections officer at the center of the KING 5 series, was convicted in 2021 of two felony and two misdemeanor counts of custodial sexual misconduct for sexually assaulting four women who were inmates at the Forks jail in 2019.
He served 13 months of his 20-month sentence.