Inquiry prompted by Pierce County’s failure to comply with I-940’s requirements for a completely independent investigation, including appointing “at least two non-law enforcement community representatives”
SEATTLE — Today Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson launched a statewide inquiry into all investigations of the use of deadly force by law enforcement in 2020. In November 2018, Washingtonians passed Initiative 940 with nearly 60 percent of the vote. I-940 requires “completely independent” investigations of all instances when law enforcement uses deadly force resulting in death or substantial bodily harm. I-940’s independent investigation criteria went into effect in January.
Ferguson’s announcement follows revelations that the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office’s investigation into the death of Manuel Ellis failed to comply with the legal requirements for independent investigations into police deadly use of force. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office investigated the death of Manuel Ellis for more than three months before informing the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney that multiple sheriff’s deputies were on the scene. Additionally, one deputy was involved in restraining Ellis.
“Pierce County’s admitted failure to comply with the requirements of I-940 is deeply troubling,” Ferguson said. “I hope our inquiry will find that law enforcement agencies across the state, unlike Pierce County, are following the law that requires independent, transparent investigations into the use of deadly force. Whatever my office finds, we will be transparent with the public.”
Ferguson’s office has identified at least 30 incidents of deadly force by law enforcement that occurred in 2020 that trigger the new requirements for “completely independent” investigations. Some of these investigations are complete, while others are still in progress. Other than Pierce County, the Attorney General’s Office does not have any evidence of non-compliance with I-940. The purpose is to determine whether these investigations complied with I-940. After the inquiry is completed, the office will release a report with its findings.
This inquiry is unrelated to the state investigation of Manuel Ellis’ death announced by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Initiative 940 requires “completely independent” investigations
In November 2018, Washingtonians passed Initiative 940 with nearly 60 percent of the vote. I-940 requires “completely independent” investigations of all instances when law enforcement uses deadly force resulting in death or substantial bodily harm. The initiative directed the Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC) to pass rules defining “completely independent” investigations.
The CJTC passed those rules in December 2019. The rules went into effect on January 6 and carry the force of law.
They require that investigative teams appoint “at least two non-law enforcement community representatives who have credibility with and ties to communities impacted by police use of deadly force.” The non-law enforcement community representatives play a pivotal role in the investigation. The non-law enforcement representatives must be allowed to interview and vet members of the investigative team. The investigative team must provide the community representatives the opportunity to review all public statements in advance. The community representatives must be provided the case file at the conclusion of the case.
The Attorney General’s Office will review the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office investigation as part of the inquiry, but several violations have already surfaced. Pierce County acknowledged that it failed to comply with I-940’s “independent investigation” criteria. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office acknowledged it failed to appoint any non-law enforcement community representatives, as required by I-940. Moreover, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office acknowledged that while a lead detective contacted one of Ellis’ relatives, the agency failed to appoint a family liaison as required by the I-940 rules.
Use of deadly force reporting in Washington
Washington law does not require law enforcement agencies to report uses of deadly force. The Attorney General’s Office is also preparing a new report providing recommendations on how to collect and report data on use of deadly force by Washington’s more than 200 law enforcement agencies. The office will release the report by July 1.