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Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Please refer to the 2021 Executive Order (EO), Appendix 1 (A1), and/or Appendix 2 (A2) for specific citations.

  • The purpose of an Inquest Hearing is "to ensure a full, fair, and transparent review of any such death, and to issue findings of fact regarding the facts and circumstances surrounding the death. The review will result in the issuance of findings that satisfy the mandatory duties imposed by RCW 36.24.070 as well as other determinations specified in this order, including whether the law enforcement member acted pursuant to policy and training." 2021 EO, A1, § 2.2.
  • The purpose of an Inquest Hearing is "to investigate a death, not make any binding adjudicative determinations of civil or criminal liability." 2021 EO, A1, § 2.3

Yes. Inquest Hearings and proceedings are open to the media and the public. They may be held virtually, in person, or in a hybrid format. All proceedings are also recorded. Recordings are available on each individual Inquest's page.

An Inquest Hearing is an administrative hearing intended to be a fact-finding, non-adversarial process, different from court proceedings. However, because the King County Superior Court is in charge of the jury process, the Inquest Program works with Superior Court to obtain jurors and appropriate facilities to conduct Inquest Hearings. As such, Inquest Hearings may take place in a courtroom setting or other appropriate location. The location is arranged in a manner that promotes transparency to the public and fair treatment of all participating parties. In addition, Inquest Hearings and other proceedings are also livestreamed and recorded.

Yes, the Inquest Hearing is an investigative proceeding, not an adjudication.

  • The Family of the person who died
    • "The Family" refers to members of the family of the person whose death (decedent) is the subject of the inquest. The Inquest Administrator will determine which family member(s) have a right to participate as the family of the decedent. The family has the right to representation. The family will be assigned to a contract attorney by Performance Strategy and Budget (PSB) per  King County Code 2.60.052 and King County Charter Section 895 if they so choose.
  • Law Enforcement or Corrections Officers involved in the death (Involved Officers)
    • The Involved Officers are the officers believed or suspected to be directly involved in the death of the decedent.
    • The Involved Officers may have an attorney who may participate in the Inquest proceedings.
  • The Law Enforcement Agency, Corrections Agency, and/or Municipality that the Involved Officers work for
    • The Law Enforcement Agency, Corrections Agency, and/or Municipality may have a separate attorney(s) from the officers who may participate in the Inquest proceedings.
  • Tribal Representative
    • If the decedent was a member of a federally recognized Indian tribe, a tribal representative may be a party.
    • The tribe may have an attorney who may participate in the Inquest proceedings.
  • Inquest Program Manager
    • The Program Manager is in charge of running the Inquest Program and supervising the Inquest Administrators and the Inquest Program Attorneys.
    • The Program Manager assigns each Inquest case to the Inquest Administrator and the Inquest Program Attorney.
  • Inquest Administrator
    • The Inquest Administrator presides over the Inquest Hearing and any pre-hearing conferences. The Administrator acts as a neutral hearing officer for the Inquest proceedings. This role is often filled by retired judges.
  • Inquest Program Attorney
    • The Inquest Program Attorney (IPA) is an attorney licensed in Washington who helps the Inquest Administrator run the Inquest proceedings.
    • Like the Administrator, the IPA is a neutral party in the proceedings.
    • The IPA helps prepare the Inquest case ahead of time.
    • The IPA issues subpoenas for witnesses for the Inquest Hearing at the direction of the Inquest Administrator.
    • The IPA may ask the King County Superior Court to issue pre-hearing subpoenas for witnesses and documents at the direction of the Inquest Administrator.
    • During the Inquest hearing, the IPA introduces witnesses, elicits testimony from witnesses, and introduces evidence to the jury.
    • The IPA might make a statement of summary to the jury at the end of the Inquest Hearing.
  • Jury Members
    • At the beginning of the Inquest Hearing, the Inquest Administrator will select a panel of jurors from the Superior Court's general jury pool to answer questions about the circumstances surrounding the death of the individual.
    • When the participating attorneys are finished asking questions of a witness, the jurors are allowed to submit questions that the jury would like to ask the witness. The Inquest Administrator will review the proposed juror questions with the participating attorneys and will determine whether the witness will be asked the proposed question(s).
    • At the end of the presentation of evidence, the jury will deliberate and give a verdict by answering questions, called interrogatories, in writing about what happened.
    • The jury will make findings regarding the cause, manner, and circumstances of the death including whether the death was occasioned by criminal means per RCW 36.24.070
    • The jury will make findings regarding whether the officer complied with applicable law enforcement agency training and policy as they relate to the death.

No, the only people required to participate in an inquest are the Inquest Administrator, Inquest Program Attorney, jurors, and witnesses who are subpoenaed. Family members of the decedent, tribal representatives, law enforcement or corrections agencies, and law enforcement or corrections officers have no obligation to participate except insofar as they must comply with subpoenas for testimony and/or documents. Because inquests are mandated by the King County Charter, an inquest will take place even if some parties permitted to participate choose not to participate.

  • The law enforcement agency that investigated the incident generally provides a witness who will give a comprehensive overview of the forensic investigation into the incident.
  • The Chief or Director of the involved Law Enforcement or Corrections Agency must testify or designate someone to testify about the applicable trainings and policies as they relate to the death.
  • The Inquest Administrator will determine who the other witnesses are and can issue subpoenas for their testimony. This will generally include the involved officers and any other persons present at the time of the decedent's death but may also include other witnesses with knowledge of the facts.

Yes, any person can be subpoenaed to testify as a witness if it is determined that the person has knowledge of the facts and circumstances of the death.

Yes. Any person in our community may exercise their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Because an inquest is not a criminal proceeding, this right must be exercised and determined on a question-by-question basis. If the right is determined to not apply to particular questions, the witness will be directed to answer such questions.

The King County Prosecuting Attorney lets the King County Executive know when an investigation into a death involving a member of any law enforcement or corrections agency in King County is finished. The Prosecuting Attorney also advises the Executive whether an inquest should be held for the death and, if so, provides a complete copy of the investigative file to the Inquest Program Manager.

No. The restorative justice process may not be done instead of an Inquest Hearing because the King County Charter requires that an Inquest take place for any death involving a law enforcement or corrections officer in King County. However, there is nothing in the inquest process that prohibits the parties from engaging in restorative justice processes if they so choose.

The King County Executive will ensure that the involved parties are offered an opportunity to connect to resources and processes within King County that are designed to facilitate peace and promote healing.

The purpose of the inquest is to determine the facts about what happened in the death of a certain person. Discipline history does not generally give the jury information about the facts of a particular incident.

However, the Inquest Administrator may allow the jury to hear about limited discipline history if it is determined to be directly related to the use of force in the Inquest. This determination will be made on a case by case basis. 

There are several sets of laws and policies that apply in an Inquest proceeding. The primary references for King County inquests are:

The parties will have a copy of the policy manual in effect at the time of the death and copies of the training materials that are determined to be relevant to the case.

The documents and discovery materials in the Inquest proceeding can only be used by the attorneys for the inquest proceedings. The documents could include agency investigative file(s) of the incident that resulted in the death, the report of the medical examiner, crime laboratory reports, and the names, addresses, and summaries and/or copies of statements of any witnesses obtained by any party.

If a party asks for confidential materials in the possession of any person or agency, the Inquest Administrator may privately review the documents to decide if the documents are relevant to the incident and if they must be shared with the other participating parties. Confidential materials that are shared may be subject to a protective order.