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A Few Questions On No-fuss Systems

A King County committee is calling for significant changes in the way inquests into the police use of deadly force are conducted, including giving jurors the option of suggesting ways to prevent fatal confrontations. In an 89-page report , the six-member review committee recommended that county judges and prosecutors no longer oversee inquests and that they be replaced with hearing examiners and staff attorneys. Jurors also should be given the opportunity to hear summary statements from various attorneys, including those representing the families of those killed by police. The move would add an element of debate to a narrow process that has been seen by some as biased toward law enforcement. Inquests should continue to focus on fact-finding, but with a clear message that jurors should not affix fault on police or the person killed — a definition that has been somewhat lost in the process as people look for a verdict. But inquests should not serve as a “passive consumer” of the underlying investigation into the death, but as “robust, probing and public review mechanism,” the committee said in a report submitted to King County Executive Dow Constantine over the weekend. Constantine, who formed the committee in December to examine how the county conducts inquests into shooting deaths and other fatalities at the hands of police, was to unveil the panel’s key proposals during his state of the county speech Monday morning. But the speech was canceled when demonstrators protesting construction of a new county youth jail disrupted the event. Constantine plans to review the report and seek public comment before making any changes to the inquest process. Declaring that families, law enforcement and the community need to know the facts, Constantine said he will craft a directive that provides the “greatest opportunity to understand what happened in these tragic circumstances, and help ensure future inquests — and the incidents that make them necessary — are as rare as we can possibly make them.” In January, several pending inquests were temporarily halted — and no new inquests were to be ordered — until the review committee completed its work. And, in the same month, the Metropolitan King County Council dealt with one issue when it unanimously adopted legislation to provide publicly funded legal representation during inquest proceedings to families of those killed — something police officers have been routinely provided. In a statement responding to the report, Corey Guilmette, an attorney at the Public Defender Association, said, “The Inquest Review Committee has rightfully highlighted the widespread community concern that the current inquest process is one sided in favor of law enforcement, and too narrow in scope to answer the most important community questions in the aftermath of police killings.” He commended the committee for its hard work, saying it incorporated many key reforms identified by community leaders that will “create a fairer and more meaningful inquest process.” “We will be reviewing this report with the community partners who came together with our office to suggest changes to the process,” Guilmette added. “Upon an initial reading, we are concerned that it is not clear that a question of key community interest, whether a use of deadly force comported with officers’ actual training and their agency’s actual policies, will be within the scope of the inquest.” That issue was among the highest priorities for community leaders, and Constantine will be asked to provide clarification in any final action he takes, Guilmette said.

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