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First public hearing on use of deadly force legislation

A man raises his hand as he testifies that police should be held accountable for their actions, at a House Public Safety Committee hearing taking public testimony on bills intended to reduce the number of violent interactions between police and the public, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in Olympia, Wash. Lawmakers are weighing two bills that would raise the bar on when an officer can use deadly force. Current law shields officers from prosecution unless they acted with malice and without good faith, which could change with new legislation proposed in the House and the Senate this year. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) ORG XMIT: WAET103 (Elaine Thompson / AP)
A man raises his hand as he testifies that police should be held accountable for their actions, at a House Public Safety Committee hearing taking public testimony on bills intended to reduce the number of violent interactions between police and the public, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in Olympia, Wash. Lawmakers are weighing two bills that would raise the bar on when an officer can use deadly force. Current law shields officers from prosecution unless they acted with malice and without good faith, which could change with new legislation proposed in the House and the Senate this year. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) ORG XMIT: WAET103 (Elaine Thompson / AP)
By Alexis Myers Associated Press

OLYMPIA – Washington state has a high bar to criminally prosecute police officers who wrongfully kill people in Washington state, a standard that legislators are debating whether to change.

Current law shields officers from prosecution unless they acted with “malice” and without “good faith.” The House Public Safety Committee held a public hearing Tuesday on two bills stemming from a task force created by Gov. Jay Inslee to reduce the number of violent interactions between law-enforcement and the public.

Marilyn Covarrubias was one of dozens who signed up to testify on House Bills 1529 and 1769. She spoke to the crowded room about the last moments she spent with her 37-year-old son Daniel before he died in a hospital bed. Daniel Covarrubias was shot several times in 2015 by Lakewood Police in a lumberyard. Authorities say they thought he had a gun, but the object turned out to be a cell phone. His family has said he was suffering from hallucinations before his encounter with police.

“If they had been properly trained maybe just maybe they would’ve handled it differently,” said Covarrubias, whose words were muffled from sobs.

Democratic Rep. Roger Goodman, the chair of the House Public Safety Committee and co-chair of the task force, said before the hearing more must be done to build trust between the community and police.

“We are hearing a lot of concerns from the affected communities, there’s a lot of perception that they are being targeted and that there is a bias against them, these communities feel like they are getting shot at,” Goodman said. “We can’t ignore those concerns.”

Goodman’s proposal would require advanced de-escalation training programs in law enforcement agencies, and provide more alternatives to lethal force and start a statewide data collection of incidents involving the use of deadly force by police.

James McMahan of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs said before the hearing he supports HB 1769 because it provides additional tools to handle potentially deadly situations.

“If all an officer has is a gun and handcuffs and something goes bad, we’d like for them to have an option to go to other than the gun when it is appropriate,” McMahan said.

McMahan said WASPC will not negotiate removing “good faith” from the current law, but is “open” to discussing the removal of “malice.”

House Bill 1529 does seek to strip “malice” from the current statute, which Democratic Rep. Cindy Ryu said should be removed immediately.

“It’s a lightning rod word and I don’t think it is serving anyone any purpose at this point,” Ryu said.

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