King County Executive Dow Constantine issued an executive order that further refines the inquest process and clarifies the role each party plays in the proceedings. Inquests, which are administrative, fact-finding inquiries into the causes and circumstances of a death at the hands of law enforcement, could resume shortly in King County. On July 15, the Washington State Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling that upholds the county’s process for conducting inquests.
“After years of delay, we can finally begin to deliver answers for the public, and for the families of those who have died in an interaction with the state,” said Executive Constantine. “With today’s action, I am also directing our Inquest Program to move with all deliberate speed to restart inquests so that we can start to take steps toward clarity, accountability and closure.”
In its ruling, the state Supreme Court said that members of the inquest panels can be asked to determine whether a person killed by law enforcement died by “criminal means.” The latest executive order brings King County’s inquest process into alignment with the court’s ruling and state law. Additionally, inquests can review policy and training of law enforcement, a critical component that can help inform policy and training to prevent future tragedy.
“I am so happy that these community driven changes are finally being instituted into law,” said Renton City Councilmember Ed Prince. “Thank you to Executive Constantine for fighting to make sure these changes stayed put. Now let’s help the families who have waited so long for closure get answers.”
“Not This Time applauds King County’s efforts to reform the inquest process and look forward to the reformed process that families have been waiting on for far too long. I, and the many others who have lost a loved one at the hands of law enforcement, find some peace knowing that our hard fought victory will finally allow a fair, transparent, and public airing of the facts,” said DeVitta Briscoe, Executive Director of Not This Time and Inquest Review Committee member.
Six inquests were called and ready to be heard when the process was brought to a halt by lawsuits challenging reforms that were detailed in a 2018 executive order, and 16 more are in the queue. Now that the legal challenges to the process have been settled, inquests will resume as soon as scheduling with involved parties permits. The status of each case is available at kingcounty.gov/inquests.