(The Center Square) — A bill regulating crowd control tactics and other techniques used by Washington police saw praise from civic activists and frustration from officers during public testimony Tuesday.
Introduced by Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way, House Bill 1054 represents a broad overhaul of police reform which bans officers from no-knock warrants and firing at a moving vehicle unless it presents an imminent threat. It also requires officer badge numbers to be clearly displayed.
"We just want really wanted to tighten the standard and just have it in writing and in law," Johnson said.
According to Johnson, the bill was written with consultation from The Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism organization which reports on criminal justice and biased policing.
Washingtonians who lost loved ones to police testified virtually to state lawmakers on the Public Safety Committee Tuesday in support of the bill.
Among them was Sonia Joseph, whose son, Giovonn Joseph-McDade of Auburn, was shot to death by Kent police in June of 2017 after a hot pursuit which saw Joseph-McDade drive away from a traffic stop conducted by Kent police officer Matthew Rausch.
Rausch was joined by another Kent police officer, William Davis, in the pursuit which ended in a residential cul de sac where Davis twice shot Joseph-McDade.
According to a civil rights lawsuit filed by his parents in May, Joseph-McDade was unarmed and posed no threat to other people.
"There was no objectively reasonable basis to believe the officers or any other individual was in immediate danger of death or great bodily harm," the lawsuit states.
Davis later claimed in a statement that he feared for his life at the time when Joseph-McDade began to accelerate the vehicle.
Des Moines police, who led the investigation into the incident, reported 5 grams of methamphetamine were found in Joseph-McDade’s wallet and about 70 grams of cannabis in his vehicle.
Sonia Joseph told state lawmakers on Tuesday that her son, a Black man, had every right to be alive today and would be had he been white.
“He was a young man who tried to get away to save his life and these officers murdered him," Joseph said. "Running away does not warrant a death sentence. Sure, he fled the scene. They identified him. They should have mailed him a ticket.”
According to public records obtained by InvestigateWest, race and ethnicity data of motorists stopped by Washington state troopers were submitted only three times over 15 years despite state law requiring semiannual reports.
Based on data from 8 million traffic stops from 2009 to 2015, InvestigateWest studied 22,000 incidents of "high-discretion searches" in which state troopers had the greatest opportunity to conduct searches or pat-downs.
The nonprofit journalism newsroom concluded Black drivers were twice as likely to be searched than white drivers. Latinos and Pacific Islanders were about 80% more likely to be searched.
Spike Unruh, president of the Washington State Patrol Troopers Association, said Tuesday that increased training was the answer to mitigating abuses of power by law enforcement.
“Being a trooper and meeting the needs of society is much more complex and sophisticated than recognized in the past,” Unruh said. “720 hours is simply not enough time to educate and train troopers properly on complex issues as racism, crisis intervention, and deescalation.”
Spokane City Council president and civil rights attorney Breean Beggs, praised HB 1054 overall on Tuesday.
“What I’m most impressed with by this bill is that it takes on state standards and I really think that’s critical,” Beggs said. “I’m convinced that there are few bad apples, just poor tactics and training.”
HB 1054 also bans the use of chokeholds and neck restraints less than a year after George Floyd was killed by Minnesota police while put under the latter.
Assistant Ranking Minority Member Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, pressed Johnson on Tuesday to justify banning neck restraints altogether, bringing up the killing of Monroe Correctional Complex officer Jayme Biendl by an inmate in 2011.
"So you’re telling me she could not have used a lateral vascular neck restraint to save her life when a much larger man was attacking her and, in fact, killed her?" Klipper said.
In response, Johnson stressed that neck restraints are often difficult to do safely.
“I think one of the things that we’ve learned in this process is that chokeholds and neck restraints are not properly trained across our state as well as across the country,” Johnson said. “For something that is not being trained on, I don’t think we should have it as a standard that can be used unless it is for deadly force.”
Sgt. James Schrimpsher, vice president of the Washington Fraternal Order of Police, said Tuesday that neck restraints are deadly force, but did not support banning them completely.
“These are extremely dangerous maneuvers that could easily result in serious bodily harm,” Schrimpsher said.
Included in the bill are bans on tear gas and military weapons ranging from .50 caliber guns and armored vehicles to bayonets and rocket launchers.
Michael McPhearson, a Gulf War combat veteran, testified in support of the bill, saying military weapons are not only unneeded by police, but welcome violence.
“We must not use weapons of war to police our community,” McPhearson said. “The point of lethal force is to use overwhelming force against the enemy, thus the lethal equipment used for war is developed to do precisely that. Our cities and town are not battlefields and citizens are not enemies of the police.”
James McMahan, Policy Director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said he considered a ban on armored vehicles unacceptable and shared his colleagues' sentiments that more limitations were preferable to bans.
“We acknowledge that ‘no-knock warrants’ present a weighted risk of danger to the public and to the officers carrying them out,” McMahan said. “It’s easy to question the use of a ‘no-knock warrant’ in a simple drug possession case. It’s not so simple to do so in cases of kidnapping, human trafficking, child sexual exploitation, and other human depravities that our officers fight against.”
Schrimpsher did not offer an opinion Tuesday on banning military weapons and tear gas. Speaking for the order, he did back a ban on no-knock warrants, but asked that state task forces stay out of the policy writing process.
Public Safety Committee Chair Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said Tuesday he expects hours more testimony on the bill during the 2021 legislative session, which continues through April 25.