Bill Creating Office of Independent Investigations Passes House

OLYMPIA – On the first anniversary of the killing Manuel Ellis, the Washington State House of Representatives passed a bill to mandate independent investigation of deadly uses of force by law enforcement. HB 1267, sponsored by Rep. Debra Entenman (D-Kent), passed the House with a vote of 57-39.

The legislation was requested by Gov. Jay Inslee and is based on recommendations made by the Governor’s Task Force on Independent Investigations of Police Use of Force. The Task Force was created in June following the disclosure that the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office had conducted the investigation into the death of Manuel Ellis despite the fact that one of their deputies was on scene. This was a clear violation of Initiative 940 which banned law enforcement agencies from investigating their own officers.

“Unnecessary police violence and a complete lack of accountability for that violence has eroded the community’s trust in law enforcement,” said Entenman. “The Attorney General’s report this week which found that only 28% of 2020 I-940 investigations that his office reviewed fulfilled the requirements of the law only emphasizes the need for this bill. We simply cannot have police investigating police. Creating the Office of Independent Investigation is a bold step that will begin to rebuild trust between the community and law enforcement.”

The Governor’s Task Force was composed of 23 members from communities across the state. The Task Force met 12 times over six months and recommended the creation of an independent agency tasked solely with investigating police uses of deadly force. HB 1267, co-sponsored by Rep. David Hackney (D-Seattle) and 33 other members, calls for the creation of that agency under the office of the Governor. The agency would create regional teams that could respond to a deadly use of force within one hour to secure the scene and process evidence.

Staff at the new agency will be trained in the history of racism in policing, tribal sovereignty, implicit and explicit bias, intercultural competency, a racial equity lens, anti-racism, and undoing institutional racism. The agency would also have a focus on communicating with the family of the person killed and the community.

“After a long summer of protests, communities all over this great country sent a message that investigations of police-involved uses of deadly force have not been conducted independently or competently. HB 1267 is the legislative response from the Washington House of Representatives to implement special procedures to ensure competent investigations conducted by investigators that are highly trained and independent from law enforcement,” said Hackney. “HB 1267 is an important step to rebuild the trust between law enforcement and communities most impacted by police violence.

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.