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Seattle police killed Charleena Lyles. Now her cousin works to reform deadly force investigations.

Katrina Johnson, cousin to the late Charleena Lyles, spoke at a rally on June 18, 2020, the three-year anniversary of Lyles' death.
Parker Miles Blohm
/
KNKX
Katrina Johnson, cousin to the late Charleena Lyles, spoke at a rally on June 18, 2020, the three-year anniversary of Lyles' death.

Katrina Johnson had prepared for a career in nursing. Then Seattle police shot and killed her cousin, Charleena Lyles, on June 18, 2017.

"From that day, it's just been a constant fight trying to understand and come to terms with what happened," said Johnson, a Tacoma resident.

She changed her career plans, devoting her time and energy to holding police accountable for using deadly force.

Johnson helped advocate for and then shape Initiative 940, which passed in 2018. It required police to undergo de-escalation training and overhauled a state law that had made it practically impossible to prosecute an officer for killing someone.

It also resulted in rules aimed at making investigations into deadly use of force more independent and transparent. 

But recently, advocates and leaders have questioned whether the reforms under I-940 are working. The Pierce County Sheriff's Department has been criticized for apparently not following some of the new rules while investigating Tacoma police in the case of Manuel Ellis, who was killed in police custody in March.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has launched a probe into whether law enforcement agencies have been following rules governing use-of-force investigations. 

"What we discovered is that there are lots of gaps in 940," Johnson told KNKX in an interview. "But 940 wasn't going to be the end all be all."

Gov. Jay Inslee has appointed Johnson to a new task force looking into further reforms in the way police are investigated for using deadly force. She said she's one of at least two people on the task force representing families who have lost loved ones to police violence.

"That is a special kind of insight," Johnson said. "I don't want another person to experience what I experienced."

She spoke to KNKX about her hopes for the task force and her vision of reform. You can listen to that conversation with Johnson above.

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