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No License to Kill

Task force says officers should be held responsible for police shootings; plus, state auditor clears Spokane Valley firing of city manager

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Despite protests from Spokane Valley citizens, a state auditor found the city was fine in firing its former city manager.
  • Despite protests from Spokane Valley citizens, a state auditor found the city was fine in firing its former city manager.


A joint legislative task force has voted to recommend changes to the portion of state law protecting police officers who shoot people. In Washington, officers must have acted with "malice" and without a "good faith" belief that USE OF FORCE is justified in order for them to be held criminally responsible. That language makes it nearly impossible to charge cops, even if the officer wrongfully used lethal force, according to a Seattle Times investigation last year.

The group of activists, attorneys and state legislators voted 26 to 14 on Nov. 21 to recommend removal of that language.

"I think there is overwhelming support that malice is an unreasonably high barrier, but what are we going to put in its place?" says Gloria Ochoa-Bruck, a local task force member representing the state Commission on Hispanic Affairs. "That's where we have to be very careful that the law is equitable for holding police accountable for when they act recklessly, but also to protect them when they're doing their job."

The task force recommended, in part, replacing "malice" and "good faith" with an objective standard — would a reasonable officer have acted similarly?

Ochoa-Bruck, a city of Spokane employee and former prosecutor, added that law enforcement representatives almost uniformly opposed removing the language. Instead, they proposed more funding for training and data collection, some of which were also approved.

The task force's recommendations will be forwarded to lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee, and face an uncertain fate, with a Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate.

In previous discussions with the Inlander, Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell declined to say definitively if he supported removing both the "malice" and "good faith" standards. However, he did say, "My concern about removing those requirements is: 'Will police officers now hesitate?' We already kind of see they're not trigger-happy."

Other recommendations include more funding for police training that emphasizes de-escalation, and to equip officers with less lethal weapons. (MITCH RYALS)


The sudden firing of former SPOKANE VALLEY City Manager Mike Jackson in February raised at least two questions. Did the city council majority make the decision illegally outside of a public meeting? Did they pay Jackson too much to keep him silent about what transpired?

Those questions were posed to the Washington State Auditor's Office by nearly a dozen citizens. Nine months later, the office returned the findings of their investigation into the allegations, clearing the council of any wrongdoing.

That's hard to believe for some of the people who filed the complaints, including Dean Grafos, a former councilman who resigned in part because of the majority's decision to oust Jackson.

"I'm very disappointed that the state of Washington failed, or chose not to recognize, the spirit of the law in regard to the secretive, serial meetings and disrespect by the council for the citizens of Spokane Valley and their tax dollars," Grafos says.

The auditor's office, in a letter to new city manager Mark Calhoun, said that it noted "at least 14 instances" where there was communication between a quorum of board members outside of public meetings. But while many thought those types of instances would be considered a violation of the state's Open Public Meetings Act, the auditor's office considered them a "passive receipt of information." That means information shared in a quorum is not actually discussed or responded to, says audit manager Brad White.

Responding to the allegation that the city council paid Jackson $320,000 more than they should have so he could leave quietly, the auditor's office concluded that the main reason for the larger payment was due to negotiations that allowed Jackson to be paid 18 months of salary and his entire sick-leave balance.

Grafos also argued that the city council majority illegally diverted $270,000 in community development block grant funds to other governmental entities. But the auditor's office says that the transfer of funds was "not inappropriate." (WILSON CRISCIONE)


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