Families of those shot by police speak out for I-940

Supporters hope Initiative 940 will change Washington state policy so fatal police shootings happen less often and so there’s more accountability when they occur. Gathering on a few Seattle City Hall steps Friday, a crowd representing 33 different families impacted by police killings gathered in support of I-940 in the hopes of preventing future deaths.

The Puget Sound region witnessed a slew of police killings in the past year: Renee Davis October 21, 2016, Jacqueline Salyers on January 28th, Daniel Covarrubias in April, Tommy Le June 13th, Charleena Lyles June 18th, Giovonn Joseph-McDade June 24th. All of them were people of color. Salyers, Davis and Lyles were all pregnant when killed.

“What else did we think would come with this when the police are investigating themselves,” asked Katrina Johnson, Lyles’ cousin. “They keep killing people and getting away with it.”

I-940 aims to hold police accountable for violent actions. The initiative, changing the malice standard for and self-investigation by police, stems from Che Taylor’s  fatal shooting from February last year.

Earlier this week, The Seattle Times reported the conclusions of an official review that showed the officers actions were within department policy when the 30-year-old Lyles was shot to death. SPD officers Steven McNew and Jason Anderson shot Lyles seven times at her apartment on June 18 while responding to a burglary call.

Johnson said the family is “beyond devastated” but not surprised.

“If her death is within policy, policy needs to change,” she said.

I-940 would require and change a number of police practices and standards. It calls for police to have de-escalation, first aid and mental health training. Officers must also provide first aid at the scene under certain circumstances. I-940 would establish a good faith standard for the use of deadly force and requires a completely independent investigation when it results in death or injury. The initiative requires tribal involvement in investigations if a tribal member is killed or injured. The language mandates community involvement in policy for police curriculum, training hours, guidelines for rendering first aid and procedures for independent investigations.

Since 2005, police killings in Washington have risen dramatically but only one officer has ever been criminally charged, according to The Seattle Times. That is the only fatal police case brought forward in a Washington court for over 30 years.

This is in part due to Washington’s 1986 law (RCW 9A.16.040) that says police cannot be criminally liable for employing deadly force if they did so without malice and with a good faith belief that such an act is justifiable under the following permitted-deadly-force items:

  • When obeying competent court judgement
  • When overcoming actual resistance to a legal process, mandate, court order, or discharge of legal duty
  • When arresting or apprehending a person who the officer reasonably believes has committed, attempted to commit, is committing or attempting to commit a felony
  • When preventing escape of an inmate or prisoner
  • When lawfully suppressing a riot if the actor or another participant is armed with a deadly weapon

All of this requires probable cause that a suspect, if not apprehended, poses a threat of serious physical harm to an officer or others.

“Unless you can read minds,” Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant said, “nothing is going to be proved.”

Johnson, Lyles’ cousin, has been at the forefront of public discussion on behalf of her family.

“I think when this happens, you don’t really have a choice,” Johnson said. “You have to be able to grieve and fight. So, for me, I just want to fight because I’m still angry. I haven’t even processed my cousin’s death, still. It’s too painful to think about it. And I cannot begin to grieve until I feel like there’s some sort of justice that’s going to be brought about so that when I look at her kids, I’m like ‘okay we did something.’ Because right now, with the way things are going, nothing’s gonna happen. She’ll just be another person killed by the Seattle Police. And we will not stand for that, not my family, we’re not.”

Lyles’ four kids, who were split up for a short amount of time following her death, still live with family. But they will never get to meet Lyles’ fifth child who died with her as she got shot.

Sonia Joseph, Joseph-McDade’s mother, shares Johnson’s painful experience. Joseph-McDade was shot multiple times as a police officer felt Joseph-McDade was going to run him over.

“It’s hard trying to explain to the kids,” she said. “They’re scared. They’re scared every single day. ‘When are you coming home?’ They’re scared that you’re not going to come home. Every time they see a police officer, they’re scared and that’s a shame. That’s a shame because that’s not how it should be. Every time we talk about it, it’s hard. It’s reliving it.”

Despite their pain, both Joseph and Johnson said they’re not anti-police. They’re “anti- bad behavior.”

“I believe there are good police officers but they just kinda get lost in the shuffle,” Johnson said. “I think that when I-940 gets passed, it will bring about more accountability than people actually think before they pull the trigger because there’s actual consequences. Right now, there’s no consequences for their actions. So, just like children after they have no consequences, they tend to do whatever they want to do. And that’s what’s happening now.”

As it stands, I-940 has 230,000 signatures but needs 30,000 more to make it onto the ballot. The De-Escalate Washington campaign in charge of I-940, in joint with Not This Time, raised over $8,000. Per their own polling, 75% of voters say they would vote yes on I-940. Andre Taylor advocated for this piece of legislation on behalf of his brother, Che Taylor, who was shot by police.

“We didn’t know what to do, where to turn,” he said. “We had to fight and grieve at the same time because they put out this narrative about our family … In this country, officers are allowed to lie. Nobody, nobody, NOBODY wants to be a part of this group [of families whose relatives have been shot by police]. We wouldn’t wish it on our worst enemies.”

Johnson talked of her experience with Lyles’ inquest process, which Johnson calls “flawed.”

“It doesn’t really bring about any change,” she said. “We haven’t even gone through the process, but when I met with the deputy chief prosecuting attorney, he already told me that they’re not going to be prosecuted. So then you think to yourself, ‘what is the point of doing the inquest? You already told me there’s not going to be any accountability so it’s just a formality to save face for you more so than it is for the families.’ The fact that the families have to go up against this army of police attorneys and we don’t even have legal representation most of the time, but you guys are killing us.”

The King County prosecuting attorney’s office denied Johnson’s account of the conversation.

The inquest is set for April.

I-940 has until December 29th to get the number of signatures they need for the November 2018 ballot.

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6 thoughts on “Families of those shot by police speak out for I-940

  1. Here’s some Andre taylor truth:

    Lawyer: Warning sent to pimps
    Kim SmithTuesday, Sept. 7, 1999 | 11:07 a.m.

    Las Vegas pimps need to take note of what happened in U.S. District Court Friday, Assistant United States Attorney Tom O’Connell said.

    One pimp was convicted of seven prostitution-related charges and another got almost three years in prison after admitting he brought one underage prostitute across state lines.

    After seven hours of deliberations, a federal district jury rejected Andre Taylor’s claims that he had retired from the pimp business and convicted him of forcing women and underage girls to travel across state lines to commit sex acts.

    Taylor could face up to 10 years in federal prison when sentenced by U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben on Jan. 18.

    Jurors in the Taylor case heard testimony from two of his former prostitutes, one of whom was 16 when she went to work for him. The women said they worked seven days a week and turned all of their profits over to Taylor, who lived in a $300,000 house and wore $4,100 Versace suits and a $90,000 Rolex watch.

    Taylor’s attorney, Michael Kennedy, claimed that Taylor had retired from the prostitution business and was pursuing a career as a rap music artist.

    • What’s your point? Assuming it’s even the same Andre Taylor, and this story being from 1999 and he’s probably served any time he was sentenced to, and his dead brother has not been identified as a pimp— what’s your point?

    • He’s right. Che was just a convicted rapist, heroin dealer and in possession of an illegal fire arm while selling heroin. Andre was just a pimping 16 year old girls nearly 20 years ago.

      What’s your point?

    • My point is that defending (or not) the shooting of Che Taylor which may or may not have been justified, is not accomplished by attacking the character of his brother, whose convictions and rison time served seem to have nothing to do with what Che Taylor was shot for. Whether he did it or not. That’s like saying you get arrested and put on trial for crimes of any kind, and the DA can introduce supporting evidence the crimes your brother was tried and convicted on. That makes no sense.

    • Jim, Simon never said anything about the Che Taylor shooting. He was impugning the character of the Chair of De-escalate WA. It IS the same Andre Taylor. He has admitted it and is featured in the documentary, “American Pimp,” in which he says that the government was just trying to keep him down by making prostitution illegal (he trafficked underage girls). He says he’s found God and changed while in prison. Maybe he has, but pimps are pretty crafty. How else do you get people to enslave themselves to you?

  2. My heart goes out to the families impacted by these shootings. I am a former law enforcement officer and I recently wrote a book called Breaking the Code of Silence: A Cop’s Journey to Triumph and Truth. I detail some of the unaddressed factors that contribute to officers being quick to pull the trigger. This is a very sensitive and highly controversial topic in our country. My book provides solutions that will influence change on how police officers are currently trained and the law enforcement culture they work in.

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