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Use of police force elicits emotional testimony

A proposed ban on the use of chokeholds, unleashed K-9 dogs and other use-of-force tactics by law enforcement is just the beginning of an effort by several state lawmakers to address police violence and its impact on marginalized communities.

If passed, House Bill 1054 would ban several tactics, including the use of tear gas on civilians, shooting at or pursuing a vehicle, and the use of military-grade equipment by officers. Several community activists testified in a public hearing Tuesday saying these changes would address racism in policing, while some law enforcement officials said the bill was vague and left officers at risk.

Rep. Jesse Johnson (D-Federal Way), one of the bill’s sponsors and vice chair of the House Public Safety Committee, said during the public hearing that this bill, along with upcoming legislation that would redefine “deadly force,” will acknowledge how police violence happens disproportionately to Black and Brown people, and in underserved communities.

“We know that systemic racism exists across all of our institutions, including law enforcement,” Johnson said. “In many cases, bad policing is a result of bad policy.”

Sonia Joseph from the Washington Coalition for Policy Accountability testified about the lack of police accountability especially in nonwhite communities.

Joseph said that in 2017, her son Giovonn Joseph-McDade, who is Black, was pulled over for driving with expired license tabs. When Joseph-McDade fled the scene, officers pursued him into a cul-de-sac, where Kent Police Officer William Davis shot and killed Joseph-McDade.

Davis testified in 2017 during Joseph’s civil lawsuit against the Kent Police Department that Joseph-McDade attempted to run him over as he fled. The incident was investigated and Davis was cleared to return to duty.

Still, Joseph remains unconvinced that the shooting was justified.

“Running away does not warrant a death sentence,” Joseph said.

Trishandra Pickup, a member of the Suquamish Tribe and the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability, also testified about her experience with police violence. Stonechild Chiefstick, a Native American and the father of four of her children, died in 2019 at the hands of police during a Fourth of July festival at a public park. Police responded to complaints that Chiefstick appeared to be intoxicated and he was threatening people with a screwdriver.

Poulsbo Police Officer Craig Keller confronted Chiefstick, who Keller said was lunging at him with the screwdriver. Keller’s body camera was knocked to the ground during an altercation with Chiefstick and a moment later, Keller shot Chiefstick twice from about nine feet away. An investigation cleared Keller of wrongdoing, and he returned to work in April 2020.

Pickup said the actions or police at the park endangered both Chiefstick and the public, and she expressed support for bans on forceful tactics.

“We must start to address the history of policing and take off the table those tactics that oppress and demoralize entire communities,” Pickup said.

Johnson pointed to lack of training for officers on how to use tactics like chokeholds, and said that the state should establish standards about use of force.

In opposition, James McMahan, policy director at the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said during the public hearing that bill 1054 does not acknowledge how certain tactics can help officers defend themselves in unique or deadly situations.

“Simply put, Bill 1054 removes many opportunities for de-escalation,” McMahan said.

Arman Barros, a Port of Seattle officer, said during the hearing that he did support the ban on chokeholds, but not one on vascular neck restraints.

According to the bill, chokeholds refer to direct pressure applied to a person's windpipe, or any other tactic intended to restrict another person's airway. As defined in the bill, a neck restraint refers to pressure on the neck for the purpose of restricting blood flow.

“Removing the vascular neck restraint as an option for police officers increases the likelihood that an officer will be left to resort to more violent means to gain compliance from a resisting subject,” Barros said.

Rep. John Lovick (D-Mill Creek) said in a press conference after the hearing that he wants to address concerns of officers being left too defenseless. However, he said he would feel safe working under the standards described in the bill.

“I do not think this goes too far … We have to build some trust and accountability in the community,” Lovick said.

The House Public Safety Committee will hear more public comments on House Bill 1092 regarding police accountability at 10 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 15.

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