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King County voters approve changes to police death inquests

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 6, 2020

Police officials attend an injured man detained during a protest after the Nov. 3 elections in front of the east precinct station, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in Seattle. Residents of the King County, which includes Seattle, approved an amendment that adds the county’s inquest process into the county charter, setting the process for investigating deaths in police custod.  (Associated Press)
Police officials attend an injured man detained during a protest after the Nov. 3 elections in front of the east precinct station, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in Seattle. Residents of the King County, which includes Seattle, approved an amendment that adds the county’s inquest process into the county charter, setting the process for investigating deaths in police custod. (Associated Press)
Associated Press

SEATTLE – Residents in Washington state have approved a new amendment for King County requiring inquests during investigations into police officer conduct when people die in custody.

Inquests are judicial inquiries conducted by a judge, jury or government official that determine the cause of a person’s death. They do not always require an autopsy.

Residents of the county, which includes Seattle, approved the amendment that adds the county’s inquest process into the county charter, setting the process for investigating deaths in police custody, KING-TV reported. Tuesday’s vote count showed 81% in favor of the amendment.

Under the amendment, inquests now also can apply to law enforcement custody death cases involving jail or police staff. King County must also pay for attorneys for the families of those who died, according to the amendment’s language.

The change will help “restore some confidence” in the community, King County Executive Dow Constantine said.

“Now we’re able to take action, when we find out something that could have been done differently, whether it’s training or policy, or maybe an officer not following the training and policy,” Constantine said.

He added: “We have a responsibility to figure out how to unwind that. How to make it so that we minimize or eliminate situations in which a resident’s life is lost because of a conflict.”

There are currently six inquests pending, all involving deaths that occurred in 2017, the Seattle Times reported. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg had also been referred another 20 cases for inquest dating back from 2017 to 2019, and another eight cases since then are likely eligible.

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