Office will examine officer-involved cases of deadly force
Published: December 26, 2021, 6:04am
For years, Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik has been among those in the criminal justice system who have discussed trying to increase independence in investigations of police use of deadly force.
“We’ve seen this as something we should work on, an area the public is much more concerned with,” he said.
Now, he’s part of an 11-member panel that will oversee the state’s newly created Office of Independent Investigations. The office, under the purview of Gov. Jay Inslee, will look into officer-involved cases of deadly force and injury.
The advisory board is tasked with providing advice to the office’s director about its establishment and operations. The director has not yet been appointed. Golik said the board has put forward three candidates from a national search for the governor to consider.
“The Office of Independent Investigations will help provide communities, families, individuals and law enforcement with reassurance that their cases are being examined and reviewed in an unbiased way,” Inslee said in a news release announcing the office’s advisory board. “While we cannot fully heal the wounds of the past, we can work to support those impacted going forward.”
Inslee’s office approached Golik about serving on the panel. Golik, in turn, discussed it with the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys membership, where conversations were already happening about seeking independence in both the investigative and review processes.
“I’ve been of the opinion that’s a part of the system that needs reform,” Golik said, adding that his fellow prosecutors saw him as an “obvious and reasonable choice” for the advisory board.
Last spring, Golik came to the membership and asked for a panel of prosecutors to review the February shooting of Jenoah Donald, a Black motorist killed by a Clark County sheriff’s deputy.
The first-of-its-kind review assessed whether the deputy’s actions were legally justified. It included the elected prosecutors from Lewis, Yakima, Pend Oreille, Snohomish and Pierce counties.
Golik is seeking the same type of review in the October fatal shooting of Kfin Karuo by Clark County sheriff’s deputies.
That review method has been a good process, he said, but its future is unclear. He expects to see an office for independent reviews addressed in the upcoming legislative session.
“Questions people raised about local law enforcement investigating each other and local prosecutors being the ones to make the reviewing decision is a very legitimate concern,” Golik said. “There’s an appearance that needs to be dealt with there.
“These cases are important to the public. Investigators and prosecutors should make these reasonable changes to truly increase independence. True independence should give the public a higher degree of confidence in the outcome of these cases, and that public confidence is absolutely critical,” he added.
In recent years, there’s been a national spotlight on law enforcement’s use of deadly force.
“The murder of George Floyd was certainly a flash point in that national discussion,” Golik said.
Locally, public scrutiny intensified after Vancouver police shot four people in 2019, leading the department to seek an independent assessment from a third-party organization.
A law firm representing Donald’s family and the family of Kevin Peterson Jr. — a 21-year-old Black man fatally shot by Clark County deputies in October 2020 — filed tort claims for wrongful death against Clark County earlier this year.
Last month, advocacy groups, including NAACP Vancouver and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Vancouver Police Department, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the agencies’ joint drug task force for what the groups described as discriminatory policing.
Golik said he hasn’t heard any complaints from local law enforcement about the creation of an office for independent investigations.
“I think this is a positive for law enforcement. Law enforcement officers want a good, professional investigation and review, and they want for a case to be closed and have closure. This process is a way to avoid the constant second-guessing that comes with these cases to a significant degree,” Golik said. It will also free up some local resources, he added.
Golik envisions the office having dozens of investigators stationed around the state so they can respond quickly to an incident.
But it’s going to take time to get fully staffed and trained before investigators start responding, he said. He won’t be surprised if the office has trouble hitting some of the statutory dates. The office is looking for people with investigative backgrounds, particularly in homicide cases.
Advisory board members
The advisory panel so far has met a few times so members can get to know each other and discuss how the meetings will run.
“We have a really strong board with excellent diversity and diversity of experience and very relevant experience,” Golik said. “I think everyone on the board will have an equal voice, but we all bring something different to the board. The goal is to listen to each other and consider the experience individuals have.”
In addition to Golik, board members include:
- Philip Harju, a former tribal attorney for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.
- Monica Alexander, the executive director of the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission and retired captain and former spokeswoman for the Washington State Patrol.
- Monisha Harrell, LGBTQ activist, board chair of Equal Rights Washington, and campaign manager for (and niece of) Seattle Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell.
- Breean Breggs, a defense attorney and Spokane City Council president.
- Eric Drever, Tukwila police chief.
- Norma Gallegos, an immigration services coordinator from Leavenworth.
- Susie Kroll, a mental health expert from Monroe.
- Faapouaita Leapai, a general public member from Burien.
- James Schrimpsher, Algona police chief and vice president of the Washington Fraternal Order of Police.
- Fred Thomas, whose unarmed son, Leonard Thomas, was killed by a Lakewood police officer in 2013.
Golik said being a prosecutor and his experience with police shooting reviews bring a critical perspective to the board.
“And I think my approach of seeking additional independence certainly dovetails well with the goal of this legislation and entire board,” he said.