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King County police shooting inquests resume after more than a year on hold

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Adrian Florez

King County's process of investigating police-involved deaths is resuming after it was on hold for almost a year and a half, while the county reformed its practices.

Several high-profile shootings in 2017 led King County Executive Dow Constantine to halt inquests while a committee reviewed potential changes. The pause has been in effect since January of last year.

Police accountability advocates and families of those who have died have said the old inquest process was confusing and biased in favor of police officers.

In October, Constantine announced new reforms. Jurors will no longer be asked if officers feared for their lives, instead answering whether they think officers complied with policy. Law enforcement officials will be asked to testify about use-of-force policies and training. Separately, the County Council passed an ordinance providing attorneys for the families of people who have died.

Since then, the county has been finalizing the new procedure and hiring staff. Part of the reforms included hiring administrators and a staff attorney separate from District Court and the prosecutor's office.

Constantine announced those hires on Thrusday. The administrators are Robert McBeth, a retired King County District Court judge; Terry Carroll, a retired Superior Court judge; and Michael Spearman, also retired from Superior Court. Matt Anderson, who has served as a pro-tempore judge in courts across King and Pierce counties, will be the pro-tem staff attorney.

Earlier this month, the executive initiated an inquest into the 2017 death of 19-year-old Damarius Butts in Seattle. Butts was shot and killed by Seattle Police after exchanging gunfire with officers following a robbery.

The date of that inquest has not been set. County officials say there are 11 other inquests pending since they were put on hold last year.

The inquest process is not a trial, and juries do not determine whether a shooting was justified or unjustified. Jurors are asked a series of questions, and the answers guide the prosecutor in determining whether charges should be filed.

In the revised system, the administrators will ultimately decide the questions posed to the jury. The staff attorney will assist and serve as a facilitator.


A Seattle native and former knkx intern, Simone Alicea has returned to the Pacific Northwest from covering breaking news at the Chicago Sun-Times. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.