King County reveals police shooting inquiry reforms

SEATTLE – King County Executive Dow Constantine unveiled new reforms on how officer-involved shootings are investigated at the county level.

So far nine inquests have been put on hold in King County while officials worked with community members and other government agencies helped to draft changes.

The inquest process was sometimes called unfair by families whose loved ones died at the hands of law enforcement during officer-involved shootings.

“It will give law enforcement and policymakers greater ability to reflect on how training and policies come into play in difficult and confusing situations and how they can be improved,” said Constantine.

Officials said an inquest does not offer a verdict or criminal finding for cases it hears.

Before Wednesday’s reform, inquests looked into whether or not the officers involved in a shooting felt their lives were in danger. Now, inquests will instead determine if involved officers followed their department’s training or policies.

“We should not be putting ourselves into a position of having a police officer having to make that split-second decision,” said Constantine.

One of the 9 inquests currently on hold is the King County Sheriff’s Office officer-involved shooting death of Tommy Le.

The department’s own review already determined his shooting was justified when they thought he was carrying a gun – but he wasn’t, he was only carrying a pen.

Instead, today’s reforms are meant to bring in testimony that before were never allowed – including hearing from family members related to those who are shot by police.

“Families are allowed to call for expert witnesses and introduce evidence and we also note the prosecuting attorney’s office is not directly involved,” said Diane Naraski, executive director of Asian Counseling and Referral Services.

Constantine says the 9 inquests currently on hold will benefit from Wednesday’s reforms, adding that hearings will likely resume in early 2019. Constantine also said his office will pay close attention to I-940 to make sure the inquiry process follows state law.

Tommy Le’s Aunt, Xuyen Le, shared a statement with Q13 News:

We, the family of Tommy Le, are pleased with the changes to the Inquest process announced today. Our many concerns and efforts, echoed by so many in King County communities, were heard and seen. Today, we encourage King County Executive Dow Constantine and the King County Sheriff to take the next honorable step, and replace future Sheriff "internal investigations" regarding the use of deadly force, with independent investigations conducted by a neutral party. Only then, will the communities and constituents of King County be fully satisfied that truth will prevail.