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

People who testified on the proposed changes include law enforcement and the families of people killed by police.

OLYMPIA, Wash — The first online public hearing of the legislative session included an emotional plea for police reform.

Sonia Joseph told lawmakers changes in police policies might have saved her son’s life.

In 2017 her son, Giovann Joseph-McDade, was shot and killed by Kent police during a chase.

He refused to stop for police. Joseph-McDade was shot as the officer said he was driving past him, and said he felt threatened by Joseph-McDade's car.

“He was unarmed,” said his mother told lawmakers. “He was a young man who tried to get away to save his life and these officers murdered him recklessly.”

House Bill 1054 would prohibit officers from firing at vehicles.

It calls for a list of changes to police policies, including prohibiting the use of tear gas and chokeholds. The changes under the bill would also require officers to “knock and announce” their presence before serving search warrants.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way, said he is open to amending some of the proposals, but he said change is needed in policing.

”As we have seen occur most recently when certain tactics are used they are too often disproportionately used against Black and brown communities,” Johnson said.

Republicans on the public safety committee, including Kennewick’s Rep. Brad Klippert,  raised questions about taking tools out of the hands of law enforcement.

James McMahan, from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said his members are open to discussing changes, but he said the proposed bill goes too far.

”The sanctity of human life should be the cornerstone of all use-of-force policies,” McMahan said. “The language contained in House Bill 1054, however, creates unacceptable consequences and unreasonably places members of the public and law enforcement in unnecessary danger.”

Port of Seattle police officer Arman Barros, who testified on behalf of his union, said he would like the state to take steps to restore trust in law enforcement, but he thought the bill would endanger the lives of police.

”I believe the bill will negatively impact the ability of police officers to safely conduct their jobs,” Barros said.

All public testimony on proposed legislation in Olympia this year is expected to be done remotely. Other than a few breaks in the streaming signal, the online hearing appeared to go without interruption.

“I think the video went fine,” Sonia Joseph said. “I spoke my truth and the message of change.”