Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Report: King County Sheriff's Office failed to enact reforms after 2017 shooting

KNKX photo

A new report released Tuesday is raising questions about the way the King County Sheriff's Office investigates shootings by deputies.

The 41-page report digs into the 2017 shooting of Mi'Chance Dunlap-Gittens. Deputies fatally shot the 17-year-old in Des Moines as they were trying to detain his friendthrough a sting operation. The friend was a person of interest in a murder investigation. It was later determined that he had no involvement in the initial murder.

The report comes from the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, which is made up of civilians who report to the County Council. 

Although an inquest jury did not find grounds for charging the deputies, the OLEO report criticizes both the initial operation that led to the shooting and the internal use-of-force investigation. It also says the sheriff's office failed to enact reforms that were recommended by internal investigators almost three years ago.

"Those reforms were allowed to die on the vine," the report states.

County Council members were briefed on the report Tuesday morning. They also took public testimony.

Dunlap-Gittens' mother, Alexis Dunlap, told council members she appreciated the work that went into the report.

"But I definitely want to see some changes," she said. "I definitely want to hear some answers."

Council members responded to Dunlap and others by saying they would push the sheriff's office to do more.

"When we talk about systems and reforms, it can sound like cold, lifeless conversations," said Girmay Zahilay, the council member who chairs the law and justice committee. "But we have to keep in mind that it's people that we're talking about."

Ultimately it will be up to the sheriff, who is elected, to enforce internal policies and procedures that could help accountability. Changes could also be subject to collective bargaining.

Council member Rod Dembowski suggested the council should reject future labor contracts that do not allow for more civillian oversight of the department.

"It would be rare," Dembowski said. "We always approve labor contracts and they're tough to negotiate. But this is too important, and it's gone on in my estimation, Mr. Chair, too long."

Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, who was elected in 2017, was not able to attend the council meeting because she was at a conference. In a letter, she told council members her office felt "constrained in the ability to respond" in part because the shooting is the subject of a civil lawsuit. She also noted the sheriff's office use-of-force polices were amended last year.

"Ideally, the oversight discussion is collaborative rather than adversarial," Johanknecht wrote. "Imposing an opinion or belief without using the well tested collective bargaining process severely undermines collaboration and creates a lack of trust."

OLEO Director Deborah Jacobs told council members Tuesday that the report was the subject of a greviance from the sheriff deputies' union.

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.