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Seahawk Doug Baldwin Backs Change To Washington's Deadly Force Statute

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"Doug Baldwin" by Keith Allison. Licensed by CC by 2.0.
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Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin

A Washington state task force on Monday recommended lowering the state's unusually high bar for prosecuting police officers suspected of misusing deadly force.

State law requires prosecutors to show an officer acted with “malice” and did not act in "good faith." It's a standard unique to Washington state. Police accountability activists say it makes it nearly impossible to prosecute an officer who shoots someone in the line of duty.

Members of the task force voted 14-10, with two members absent, to amend the statute, over the objections of representatives from law enforcement agencies. The vote follows five months of meetings by members of the Joint Legislative Task Force on the Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing.

Task force members recommended an officer not be held criminally liable "if a reasonable officer would have believed the use of deadly force was necessary in light of all the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time." 

The recommendations go to the state Legislature, which may enact or reject them. Lawmakers convened the task force this year in response to an uproar over shootings by police across the United States. 

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin called on the task force earlier Monday to strike the "malice" standard and clarify language on "good faith." In his testimony, he referenced his father's career as a police officer in Florida. 

Baldwin said changing the law "is not only the logical thing to do, it's the right thing to do" and "sends a very clear message to the community that law enforcement agencies are understanding the gravity of the decisions that they make." 

Task force members weighed a long list of recommendations aimed at reducing fatal shootings by police. They narrowly rejected a call for a special prosecutor to investigate instances of deadly force by police but passed a recommendation that the state collect data on all such incidents, whether someone dies or not.

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Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin's full testimony on November 21, 2016, before Washington state's Joint Legislative Task Force on Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing.

Will James reports and produces special projects, including podcasts and series, for KNKX. He created and hosted the Outsiders podcast, chronicling homelessness in Olympia for more than a year, in partnership with The Seattle Times.