After a top-to-bottom revamping of the process initiated by King County Executive Dow Constantine, inquests into law enforcement-involved deaths are set to resume in King County on March 15.
After a delay of more than four years from lawsuits that led to an eventual Washington Supreme Court decision and new executive order by Executive Dow Constantine, inquests into deaths caused by law enforcement officers will resume this week in King County.
In 2018, Executive Dow Constantine paused inquests to address concerns of fairness and transparency and pushed forward with a new process built on stakeholder and community input. When local jurisdictions challenged the new process in court, the new program was delayed until the Washington Supreme Court reaffirmed the Executive’s order in July 2021. With the legal challenges concluded, King County is now set to resume the inquests to provide clarity, accountability, and closure to the public and to the families of those killed by law enforcement.
"The road has been long, but I am thankful we can begin conducting inquests and providing the public with answers,” said Executive Constantine. “The pandemic and legal challenges aside, building a process that the public can have faith in has been a difficult but necessary task, and I hope it can provide closure in these difficult and heartbreaking cases.”
Inquest Program staff have been engaged over the last several months to implement the executive order and develop new procedures for conducting inquests, including scheduling and pre-inquest hearings. This work was complicated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced nearly all work to happen virtually.
The purpose of an inquest is to shed light on the facts and circumstances surrounding a death at the hands of law enforcement and facilitate public understanding of these events. At the conclusion of the proceedings, an inquest jury answers a series of questions called interrogatories as directed by the inquest administrator. These interrogatories result in the issuance of a series of findings. The findings may include whether the law enforcement officers acted in line with their agency's policies and training and whether the death was a result of criminal means.
The first inquest hearing to take place involves the death of Damarius Butts, who was killed by Seattle Police officers in April 2017. The proceedings will begin on March 15 at 9 a.m. and are expected to last two weeks. Michael Spearman, a retired King County Superior Court and Washington Court of Appeals judge, will serve as the inquest administrator.
Currently, there are 7 inquests called. Two inquests, in the deaths of Albert Fredericks and Robert Lightfeather, are expected to move forward in the next several months. Others will soon follow. Dozens of cases are still under review by the Prosecuting Attorney's Office for referral to the Executive for inquest proceedings to be ordered.
Additionally, King County's commitment to an open, public process includes making available documents relating to each inquest. While a permanent storage system is under development, a Document Library for the Butts inquest are available on the inquest page. Future inquest pages will be updated to include all available documents as well.
All inquests are live streamed for public transparency. The link to the hearing can be found here.
- King County Inquest Program
- Inquest Calendar
- July 2021: Constantine signs new executive order to restart inquests of officer-involved deaths
The road has been long, but I am thankful we can begin conducting inquests and providing the public with answers. The pandemic and legal challenges aside, building a process that the public can have faith in has been a difficult but necessary task, and I hope it can provide closure in these difficult and heartbreaking cases.
For more information, contact:
Cameron Satterfield, Dept. of Executive Services, 206-263-9758