Letter Sign-On: Elected Officials Must Withdraw Lawsuits That Seek To Destroy Community Review of Police Killings
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Mayors of Auburn, Federal Way, Kent, and Renton, along with King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, are suing to stop public review of police killings, also known as the inquest process.
We are marching in the streets demanding justice for Black people murdered by the police, and King County and its mayors want to make sure all cops and sheriffs are protected when they commit murder in our communities.
Add your name and demand our elected officials withdraw their lawsuit and make sure there is police accountability in our communities.
The full text of the letter:
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph, Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, Renton Mayor Armando Pavone, King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, and King County Executive Dow Constantine:
We demand that the King County Sheriff’s Office and the Cities of Seattle, Auburn, Kent, Federal Way and Renton withdraw their lawsuits to end public review of police killings in King County, thereby destroying the inquest process.
As thousands march in the streets to demand an end to police brutality against Black people, these lawsuits conspire to deny the community and families of those killed by police violence any transparency into the facts surrounding a law enforcement officer's decision to kill a community member. Your attempt to blind the community to police violence constitutes a continued assault on Black communities as well as other communities of color. Your decision to continue these challenges to the King County inquest process dishonors the memories of victims of police violence and insults families seeking truth and justice for their loved ones and their communities.
The inquest process revealed critical information about the murder of community members John T. Williams, Che Taylor, and many others. Without this process, vital information would never have come to light or been seen by the public. These lawsuits, brought by King County law enforcement entities, seek to destroy a significant instrument of police accountability and community safety from excessive police violence. The inquest process is the public’s only forum in which witnesses, photographs, and other information are presented to a jury. Through this forum a community of our peers independently assess the evidence and make a determination of whether an officer’s actions were aligned with training, policy, and our community’s standards regarding the deadly use of force.
Law enforcement agencies are seeking to undermine the inquest process and leave current inquests and investigations on hold. If your lawsuits are successful, you would prevent public and community review of relevant police policy and training and undermine vital changes Black leaders and other police accountability advocates are demanding. You aim to prevent family attorneys from conducting meaningful pre-inquest investigation—including the ability to obtain critical information about an officer’s past use of deadly force like Christopher Myers who killed Damarius Butts and two other Seattle community members. Further, your lawsuits also seek to limit public video access to the hearing (now more necessary than ever in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic).
As if that were not enough, your lawsuits go as far as to ask that the entire inquest process be eliminated. If successful, you would deny the families of Damarius Butts, Isaiah Obet, Charleena Lyles, Curtis Elroy Tade, Robert Lightfeather, Eugene Nelson, and the King County community a public review of law enforcement’s use of deadly force.
Your lawsuits aim to shield the very officers who have killed community members from taking the stand to testify during an inquest. This is done consistent with King County Executive Dow Constantine’s guidelines for inquests, and obstructs inquest hearings from being a full and fair vetting of police actions. When Charleena Lyles was murdered, officers were the only witnesses to her death. If they cannot be required to testify, there can be no public investigation into her killing.
Further, while State law requires that the inquest jury be allowed to determine whether they believe that the use of force might have been a criminal act, an essential part of these families’ quest for justice, you seek to block the inquest jury from answering this very question.
The severity of this situation is illustrated all too well by the death of the Isaiah Obet, who was killed by Officer Jeff Nelson. Since 2011, Officer Nelson has been responsible for three of the City of Auburn’s five police killings. In fact, since 2011 he has used force against members of the community on no less than 65 separate occasions. This demonstrates an unacceptable culture of law enforcement silence in the face of police violence. The community members who make up an inquest jury must be allowed to state whether they believe a particular instance of deadly force was likely criminal or not.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced recently that the City will cease recent efforts to end the Consent Decree in response to widespread community condemnation. Yet she has allowed SPD to continue to limit transparency in police killings as she challenges the inquest process. Recently, other local government leaders have stated a commitment to racial justice and have condemned police violence against Black communities. However, these words ring hollow as long as government actions directly oppose community-led efforts for police accountability and attempts to change policies and affirm the value of Black lives.
Words are not enough. You will be judged by your actions. In support of the families of Damarius Butts, Isaiah Obet and Charleena Lyles, we demand the following:
1.Withdraw your lawsuits that seek to destroy King County’s inquest process which is our community’s best tool for public assessment of police use of deadly force;
2.Cease your attempts to shield officers who have killed community members from testifying under oath; and
3.Cease your attempts to block the inquest jury from determining whether an officer’s use of deadly force may have been criminal conduct.