Councilmembers ask 'Where's the Sheriff?' during meeting on use of force

At the request of King County's Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, 82 closed cases were recently examined to determine how the King County Sheriff's Office handles use of force complaints.

The results of that study, produced by "a team of experts in police practices," according to OLEO, were released Tuesday and included 26 recommendations for increasing transparency and fairness in the use of force complaint process.

The report determined the King County Sheriff's Office does not consistently "follow through with policies and procedures" and that "deficiencies exist" in interviews.

OLEO Director Deborah Jacobs told KIRO 7, one of the key takeaways from the internal review was to ensure in the future that “those processing complaints have adequate training and also have adequate appreciation for the experience of the complainant.”

The cases examined for the report, titled “Use of Force Complaint Processing in the King County Sheriff’s Office” were from 2015 and 2016, years before Tommy Le was shot dead by a sheriff's deputy -- in a shooting the Sheriff’s Office recently determined was "justified."

However, Le's family members were at the meeting Tuesday to hear the results of the study.  Their attorney, Jeffrey Campiche, told KIRO 7 “OLEO is truly the spokesman for the community and particularly for the disenfranchised community, the people of color that don’t seem to be getting a fair shake.”

Le's family members – and Campiche -- were surprised no one from the Sheriff's Office attended the meeting to hear the report’s recommendations.

So were King County Council Members.

Larry Gossett, chair of the council’s Law and Justice Committee, said “we asked the Sheriff to be here, but they declined to have anyone here.”

In a terse warning, Council Member Reagan Dunn said the King County Sheriff’s Office should include someone in the use of force oversight process if it wants to be represented by the council.

“I’ve made this clear to your department already,” Dunn told Sheriff’s Deputies in attendance for another agenda matter.  “We’re going into a budget cycle and if you’re not advocating for your interests, you will be left behind and FTEs (full time equivalent positions) will be cut.”

No one from the Sheriff’s Office was available for an interview Tuesday, but the department issued the following statement:

King County Sheriff’s Office full response to OLEO release of 2015-2016 report:

"Since Sheriff Johanknecht took office in January of 2018 she has made a number of changes to our Internal Investigations Unit. 

"There is new leadership. IIU is now under the command of Captain Rodney Chinnick. 

"IIU no longer reports directly to the Sheriff, so as to avoid any undue influence, or the appearance of such, regarding outcomes of cases. For the same reason, IIU has been moved out of the Sheriff’s Office suite to other office’s within the courthouse. Soon, IIU will leave the courthouse all together, to a location more comfortable and inviting for witnesses and members of the public. 

"Unfortunately, the information used as a basis for the report released by OLEO today is very dated (2015-2016). Therefore it does not provide the most accurate snapshot of our current IIU practices under this new administration. 

"Sheriff Johanknecht has consulted with other Sheriff’s Offices across the country regarding best practices for internal investigations. Sheriff Johanknecht said, 'I embrace independent oversight and am continuing to review best practices from across the country as we refine and improve our IIU policy and procedure.'"

In response to the Sheriff’s Office press release, OLEO Director Deborah Jacobs released the following statement:

"Although the Sheriff’s Office has begun moving the location of its Internal Investigations Unit, the shortcomings identified in the OLEO report relate to whether procedures and practices are being followed for documenting, investigating, and responding to use of force complaints. 

"Despite the 2015-2016 data used in the report, OLEO staff currently observes deficiencies in the processing of use of force complaints. For example, the Sheriff’s Office’s Internal Investigation Unit still largely relies upon written statements rather than conduct in-person interviews of deputies. 

"If implemented, the procedural recommendations made in this report will ensure that the quality of work will be consistent and lasting. 

"We hope that the Sheriff and her leadership team will see the merit in our review and recommendations, and take advantage of this expertise in assessing those systems and practices that most impact police and community relations. We welcome the opportunity to work through these recommendations with the Sheriff’s Office."

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