Debate in Olympia: Should it be easier to charge a cop in deadly force case?

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Families of people who have been killed by police officers urged state lawmakers Tuesday to change the law protecting officers from being charged with a crime.

The cops, however, say any change in the law leaves them wide open for prosecution and may hamper their efforts to keep the public safe.

"My son Daniel was shot and killed," testified Marilyn Covarrubias "Well, actually he wasn't killed. He died in my arms at the hospital." Covarrubias told a state House committee about the death of her son, killed in a standoff with Lakewood police in a lumber yard April 22, 2015.

She testified in support of HB1529 regarding police officers' use of deadly force. "I feel with proper training... it may have given him the tools to interact with human beings in a more compassionate manner."

Chester Earl, whose cousin Jackie Salyers was killed in a Tacoma officer-involved shooting in 2015, testified, "For me these initiatives, these bills are an opportunity to build a bridge of trust."

The lawmakers are considering a recommendation by the governor's task force on deadly force that the words 'malice and good faith' be taken out of the law the prevents officers from being prosecuted criminally.

Committee chair Rep. Roger Goodman, D--Kirkland, said, "That's the prosecutors' concern is that the bar is too high right now. But that certainly is not an open invitation to go after the police. We need to protect the police. They have the hardest job out there."

Testified Kevin Stuckey, president of the Seattle Police Officer Guild, "I definitely don't want an 8-year-old child to fear me or 16-year-old boy who looks just like me." At this point police officers don't want any changes to the law. Stuckey, "We have to find a common ground. I don't believe this is going to get us there."

Officer Michael Sargent of the Fraternal Order of Police told the committee that "the current statute accounts for the fact law enforcement professionals must make those split second decisions based on imperfect and incomplete information and rightly provides limited protection from criminal prosecution."

It was a packed hearing. 60 people signed up to testify. Goodman said it could get a committee vote after being amended in a few days. and then go to the full House.

A similar bill (SB 5073) is set for a hearing at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Law and Justice Committee.

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