State law gives County Coroners broad authority to hold inquests into deaths which occur in their jurisdictions. An inquest is an administrative, fact-finding inquiry into the manner, facts, and circumstances of a death. In King County, the function of holding inquests is vested with the King County Executive.
Under an Order issued by the King County Executive, there shall be an inquest into the causes and circumstances of any death involving a member of law enforcement in the course of their duties. The purpose of an inquest is to shed light, in an open public forum, on the facts surrounding a death at the hands of law enforcement. A further purpose is to promote public understanding of these events in our community.
By executive order, inquests are managed by the Department of Executive Services and conducted by Inquest Administrators.
Status of the Inquest Program
Several cities, the King County Sheriff's Office, and individual law enforcement officers filed lawsuits challenging various aspects of the inquest process. Three families of the deceased also filed litigation.
On January 19 at 1:30 p.m. the Washington State Supreme Court held virtual oral arguments: The Family of Damarius Butts v. Dow Constantine (King Co Executive), Michael Spearman (King Co Inquest Administrator).
A hearing regarding the lawsuit about the Executive Order took place on July 17, 2020 in front of Judge Julie Spector via Zoom. Audio recordings of the hearing are available here: Part 1 Part 2. Judge Spector issued a ruling on August 21, 2020. Until any possible appeals are addressed and remaining legal issues are resolved, inquests remain on hold.