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King County calls for cities to drop lawsuits against police inquest process

The county's inquest process would allow questions about police department policy and training, and not just the circumstances surrounding the death.

On Monday, King County Executive Dow Constantine called on police departments and cities around King County to drop legal opposition to his executive order on inquests on deaths in police custody, so cases can move forward.

The executive order makes several changes to the inquest process, including allowing questions about police department policy and training and not just the circumstances around the death.

“We are pushing for a process that’s fair to all and gets not just to the basic questions of the coroner or Medical Examiner’s inquest but also the police policy, the training, the mandates that caused this tragedy,” Constantine said.

The city of Seattle earlier this year dropped its lawsuit. But the order is still on hold because of lawsuits from the cities of Auburn, Federal Way and Kent, and King County Sheriff’s Office.  

In June 2017, two shooting deaths involving police officers drew criticism from families and public.

Seattle Police shot and killed Charleena Lyles after she had called 911 to report a burglary. That inquest is currently on hold. And in Kent, an officer who shot and killed Giovonn Joseph-McDade was cleared of wrongdoing in an inquest after they determined the officer was in fear of his life.

In December 2017, Constantine placed a hold on inquests, citing concern the process gave an appearance of clearing officers instead of being a fact-finding hearing.

“Families were frustrated they weren’t really getting to the truth, although they learned about the physical circumstance, they never really heard why, why this happened,” he said.

Constantine said it's important to raise questions about police department policy and training are important.

“Did they follow their training if so, what's wrong with the training procedures? If not, what needs to change with police departments to ensure their officers better follow their training?” he said.

One of the bigger changes included removing the question of did officers fear for their life.

“The subjective belief of the officer should not be relevant, the question is objectively what would a reasonable person think under the circumstance?” he said.

Those and other changes resulted in several police departments and cities around King County to challenge the order. And Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes withdrew the city's legal challenge last week. Constantine says this modified executive order will give families a chance to get the answers they're seeking.

“For the first time in my life, I see some hope, that we and I mean we as white people, we as an entire community, can embrace this opportunity and take it move forward to the place that America has the promise to be,” he said.

“Now that there’s this upsurge in understanding of the reality of racism embedded in our systems and all the biases, we have a chance to uproot it and destroy it,” he added.

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