Legislative Black Caucus Statement on Police Accountability and Community Safety

OLYMPIA – Members of the Legislative Black Caucus released the following joint statement on the recent announcement by the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office on the lateral hiring of Christopher Burbank, one of three officers tried in the murder of Tacoma-area resident Manny Ellis: 

“Every community in Washington state deserves to feel safe and protected by the law enforcement officers hired to serve them. Building that trust has been challenging due to many high-profile incidents of excessive force and misconduct that erodes communities’ faith in the very people who are supposed to be guardians of the peace. 

“That is why the Legislature stepped in to end practices that are harmful to the people of Washington, including limiting the use of chokeholds and neck restraints, military equipment and tear gas, and no-knock warrants, as well as establishing appropriate use of canine teams and an acceptable use of force standard, through House Bill 1054 and House Bill 1310 in 2021. 

“Most recently, the Legislature passed a ban on “hog-tying” individuals (SB 6009), a dangerous and inhumane act that has no place in law enforcement tactics. Hog-tying is an excessive use of force and was used in the death of Manny Ellis, which was ruled a homicide and resulted in the trial of three Tacoma police officers. 

“That is why the hiring of one of those officers, Christopher Burbank, by the Thurston County Sheriff was so distressing. Regardless of the outcome of the trial, we remain concerned about law enforcement officers who use these types of inhumane tactics. We feel this decision diminished the trust Thurston County residents have in the Sheriff’s Office and sent the wrong message to residents. 

“We appreciate Sheriff Sanders’ quick response to public outcry and willingness to engage with community members to discuss the impacts. That is an important action to take when mistakes are made. But these types of mistakes do not need to be made and community considerations should be at the forefront of every law enforcement department’s decision-making processes.  

“Effective policing and safe communities are not achieved without collaboration, compassion, willingness to learn, and consideration of how decisions impact the people of Washington state. The Legislature passed police accountability measures to help law enforcement rebuild trust with communities. It would be wise for law enforcement to listen, like Sheriff Sanders, and ensure that all their decisions and policies seek to build that trust.”