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When police kill in Washington state, what should the investigation look like?

Last year Washington voters approved I-940, which requires independent investigations when police use deadly force. Now a state commission must develop a framework for those investigations that both law enforcement and community members can trust.

But efforts to develop that framework ran into trouble this week.

Andre Taylor, founder of the group Not This Time, said that tempers flared when family members of shooting victims saw an initial draft from the state’s Criminal Justice Training Commission. Taylor's brother Che was shot and killed in North Seattle in 2016.

Taylor said that family and community members were angry because the draft " was only from the law enforcement perspective.”

Both Taylor and the commission’s executive director, Sue Rahr, said this week’s meeting was “not the end of discussions.”

But Rahr confirmed by e-mail that the meeting ended early.

“While there were definitely strong emotions expressed, we discussed the reasons for adjourning early in a very civil manner," Rahr said. "Many of those present agreed that it would just not be productive to continue the meeting.”

Rahr said that talking about “emotional and sensitive issues” with more than 50 people in the room was challenging, and they may meet in smaller groups next time.

The state commission is meeting Thursday to hear presentations on three different proposals for the investigations: from staff, community members, and the Fraternal Order of Police. They face a December deadline to approve a new process.

Currently, the Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff’s Office conduct investigations into police killings for one another. But a Seattle task force has recommended creating a new unit in the Washington Attorney General’s Office to conduct these investigations for cities and counties that opt in.

Taylor said that the commission’s varied stakeholders have been meeting all year and have collaborated smoothly around new policies for de-escalation training and first aid by law enforcement.

But now they face a tight time frame to find agreement on the highest stakes issue: how to investigate deadly police encounters.

Independent investigation is a major sticking point for both sides, and I think temperatures are a little higher because of the importance. -- Andre taylor

“Independent investigation is a major sticking point for both sides, and I think temperatures are a little higher because of the importance and the seriousness” of the issue, Taylor said.

Taylor and Jim Graddon, formerly of the King County Sheriff’s Office, are both helping craft the new state policies. They also co-chaired Seattle’s Serious and Deadly Force Investigation Task Force. They said that the task force was successful because they found shared values and then formulated policies from there.

"Those shared values are strong things," he said. "That’s the piece I’m most proud of.”

Without those discussions of values, Taylor said, people cling to their starting positions. Taylor said that something similar happens when someone dies at the hands of the police: “There’s this automatic ‘us against you,’” between law enforcement and the community — the idea that "we need to protect our own.”

Their Seattle task force presented recommendations to the Seattle City Council this week. They include offering the families of people who have died in police encounters the same notification, communication, and assistance that other families receive when someone in their family has died violently.

“That has often not been the case," said attorney Lisa Daugaard of the Defender Association. "And that can be rectified.”

Why you can trust KUOW