OLYMPIA – Medical examiners would have permission to discuss their conclusions from the autopsies for people killed during law enforcement actions under a bill that passed the state Senate unanimously Friday.
The proposal, prompted by several high-profile cases in the Spokane area with fatalities involving local law enforcement, gives a medical examiner or coroner permission to talk about the results of their investigations, said Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, the bill’s sponsor. Confidentiality restrictions would also be lifted when a person dies in law enforcement custody.
The formal autopsy report, which can include graphic photographs of the victim, would remain confidential.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich pushed for the bill after complaining that he was unable to clear up “misinformation and myths” about some controversial cases. One such case involved the Sept. 5 death of Edward Gover, who returned to the home of a woman he’d held hostage and encountered deputies who thought he had a weapon. They said they fired when he charged them, but two of the bullets struck Gover in the back.
Knezovich said the deputies responded appropriately, but he couldn’t discuss the autopsy findings because of orders from the county medical examiner’s office.
The organization representing the state’s county officials dropped its objection to the proposal after it was amended to ensure confidentiality of the formal report, Padden said. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.