On Friday, Feb. 26 Attorney General Bob Ferguson released the I-940 Independent Investigation Inquiry Report. Ferguson’s inquiry into investigations reviewing police use of deadly force in the first half of 2020 found that the majority of investigating teams complied with most of the state’s new independent investigation requirements. However, some investigations failed to include at least two non-law enforcement community representatives and comply with other key requirements.
The independent investigation requirements apply to investigations of officer-involved use of deadly force incidents that result in significant bodily harm or death, occurring after Jan. 5, 2020. The requirements include appointing a family liaison, providing weekly updates to the public, and involving at least two non-law enforcement community representatives. Additionally, every investigation must be completely independent of the involved agency.
Ferguson published a one-page summary of the I-940 independent investigation requirements.
Ferguson launched his independent inquiry after the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office revealed months into its investigation into the death of Manuel Ellis that it was an involved agency because a Pierce County Deputy was involved in restraining Ellis at the scene. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office subsequently acknowledged additional non-compliance with the independent investigation criteria. For example, the Sheriff’s Office failed to appoint non-law enforcement community representatives or a family liaison. These violations led to Gov. Jay Inslee directing the Washington State Patrol to lead the investigation.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office refused to participate in Ferguson’s inquiry by completing a survey on the Ellis investigation.
“The people of the state adopted these requirements to ensure completely independent investigations into officer involved deadly force incidents,” Ferguson said. “They are important, and it is incumbent on investigative teams to comply with the law.”
The Attorney General’s Office identified 22 in-scope investigations into police use of deadly force between January and June, conducted by 14 investigative teams that were required to comply with the new rules on independent investigations.
In addition to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, the Region III Critical Incident Investigation Team also refused to complete surveys regarding its three investigations. Consequently, Ferguson’s report covers 18 investigations.
Key findings and takeaways
Ferguson’s report found:
- The involved agency did not participate in any of the 18 investigations;
- Five of the 18 investigations fully complied with the I-940 independent investigation requirements, including involving at least two non-law enforcement community representatives;
- Several investigative teams that failed to comply with all of the requirements subsequently reported improved processes to comply with the new regulations; and
- Community representatives who shared their experiences with the Office of the Attorney General reported that serving as community representative was a positive experience, noting the transparency and professionalism of the investigative teams.
Ferguson’s report includes a letter to Executive Director Sue Rahr of the Criminal Justice Training Commission. The letter, prompted by the findings of the report, recommends several ways to strengthen the independent investigative criteria by improving clarity.
Last month, Rep. Bill Ramos, D-Issaquah, introduced House Bill 1089 with 31 co-sponsors. Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, introduced a similar bill in the Senate. HB 1089 authorizes the State Auditor to review a deadly force investigation to determine whether the involved actors complied with the independent investigation requirements. On Feb. 10, HB 1089 passed the House 80-18.
Deputy Legislative Director Brittany Gregory led the agency’s work on the inquiry.