Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Oct. 20, 2020

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Washington’s police accountability law doesn’t work, say families of people killed by officers

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SEATTLE — The families of three people killed in Washington came together Tuesday to express anguish at their loss and to say what they think needs to be done to bring accountability and stop more deaths at the hands of law enforcement.

Initiative 940 was a particular sore spot for relatives of Shaun Fuhr, Manuel Ellis and Charleena Lyles. The initiative, passed in 2018, was supposed to bring independent investigations of law-enforcement killings and ensure communication with families of those who died.

In reality, it has not, they said.

“I don’t even know what justice is anymore,” said Katrina Johnson, a cousin of Lyles, a pregnant, mother of four who was shot seven times by Seattle officers in 2017 after she called about an attempted burglary and, police say, came at them with a knife.

Lyles may have been going through a mental-health crisis, but, her cousin said, it should not have condemned her to death.

Those who spoke at a news conference, put on by the Alaska Oregon Washington State Area Conference of the NAACP, also called for swifter investigations and prosecutions of officers, demilitarization and defunding of police, and firings of local officials they think have not made good on their promises of police accountability.

“This man is at home, and he’s not been charged,” said Jason Fuhr, referring to the Seattle police SWAT officer who in April shot Fuhr’s son in the head while he was holding his baby daughter. Police said they had received a call from a woman who said she was beaten by her boyfriend, Fuhr, who had then taken off with the child.

But Fuhr said his son was shot while he was running away from police, and he didn’t see why it took months to investigate what happened. “If it had been me or anybody else, we’d be in jail immediately,” Fuhr said, referring to the SWAT officer.

“My worst fear in raising Black children happened,” he added, his voice breaking and sitting next to another son at the news conference. “I watched my family fall apart, and all my kids are, you know, worried about their safety.”

Marcia Carter, the mother of Manuel Ellis, killed by Tacoma officers in March while he was being restrained, said she was tired of crying every day.

Now, she said, she wants action.

“Quit killing Black men,” she said. “I say go through the whole damn police department, get rid of all of ’em and do it again.”

As the family members spoke one by one, as well as attorney James Bible, who is representing the Ellis and Fuhr families, I-940 came up again and again.

A Seattle Times investigation found that the initiative’s provisions are not being enforced, and these families said the same.

While the investigating department is supposed to provide a family liaison under the law, Monet Carter-Mixon, Ellis’ sister, said she never heard from anyone at the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, which was initially charged with looking into the case. Carter-Mixon said she called a sheriff’s detective in March and has yet to receive a phone call back.

Asked about this, Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, did not directly address it but said “individual questions related to the application of I-940 to this investigation will be addressed after the state’s investigation is complete.”

The office’s investigation of Ellis’ death was stopped abruptly when it was discovered that sheriff’s deputies were on the scene in addition to Tacoma police, and the Washington State Patrol last week began a new investigation.

“I-940 has failed everybody mainly because there’s no enforcement mechanism within it,” said Bible, the attorney. “The only thing that is worse than unfairness is the creation of the illusion of fairness when things are still unfair.”

Bible also said there needs to be an independent entity that investigates and prosecutes cases involving law-enforcement killings.

State Attorney Bob Ferguson announced Tuesday that his office would conduct an inquiry into all investigations of law — enforcement killings in 2020 to determine whether they complied with I-940. Bible called the inquiry “necessary.”

At times, speakers at the news conference put local officials on the spot. “Where you at Jay Inslee? Where you at Bob Ferguson?” asked Gerald Hankerson, president of the NAACP state area conference.

He also called for an end to what he called “these distractions of all these occupations everywhere,” presumably a swipe at the Capital Hill Organized Protest area, known as CHOP. This was about the killing of “our people,” both men and women, he said.

Johnson called for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan to resign. Lyles’ cousin said the mayor lied when she promised before she was elected that she would hold officers accountable.

Others, including Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant, have also called for the mayor to resign. Durkan has said that she will not, and that despite recent police killings the Seattle department under court-ordered reforms has made great progress in reducing its use of force.

“Black lives definitely matter,” Johnson said near the end of the news conference. “There are Black people being killed by police at a very high rate. But let’s not get it misconstrued.”

She said police also killed Native Americans at a high rate, and white people sometimes died too.

“It’s not about race at the end of the day,” Johnson said. “It’s really about good versus evil.”

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