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Recommendations from 2012 officer-involved shooting to King County Council Committee

The agency created by the King County Council to provide independent civilian oversight of the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) today presented members of the Council’s Committee of the Whole its recommendations from a review of a 2012 officer-involved shooting in Auburn.

In February 2012, in joint operation with state Department of Corrections officers, King County Sheriff Deputies arrested a probationer in a home in Auburn for failing to report to community supervision. After detaining him, the deputies searched the home, locating Dustin Theoharis in a bed in a separate room. The officers, believing that Theoharis was reaching for a weapon fired on Theoharis, striking him several times. In the investigation after the shooting, no weapon was found near Theoharis.

The Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) commissioned the report, “Review of Officer Involved Shooting of Dustin Theoharis,” which was doneby the Los Angeles-based Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC). PARC is a nationally-recognized organization that—in cooperation with law enforcement agencies and governments— strengthens police oversight and advances effective, respectful, and publicly accountable policing.

PARC’s report focuses on the tactics and decisions of King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) members who were involved in the incident, the investigations by KCSO that followed, and the assessment as a result of these investigations. The report examined KCSO investigation files and evidence, statements and interviews of the involved officers and witnesses, photographic and video evidence, and evidence collection documentation. The report also provides a Decision Point Analysis and recommendations for change to match national best practices. Some recommendations from the report include:

  • Policies that call special attention to the trauma suffered by deputies should be extended to address trauma suffered by civilian witnesses and victims as well.
  • KCSO should implement a policy that compels officers to participate in a scene walkthrough to help investigators develop a plan for collecting and preserving evidence.
  • KCSO should compel involved officers to complete a recorded interview under a deadline, and compel a written statement the same day the incident occurred.
  • Investigators should use metal detectors at crime scenes to locate shell casings.
  • Crime-scene video should be time-stamped to clarify when the footage is recorded.
  • Pre-interviews should be strictly prohibited, and interviews should be thorough and conducted in a neutral tone.

 

“Quality oversight and accountability are essential to effective law enforcement and building public trust,” said Julia Patterson, Chair of the Committee of the Whole. “Briefings such as the one we heard today are an indication that we take oversight seriously, and I’m glad that the Sheriff joined us in the Committee of the Whole to field questions and address this issue. I look forward to continue working with my colleagues, the Sheriff’s Office, and OLEO to ensure that we have an excellent system of law enforcement, one that includes top-notch oversight.”

“I am very pleased by the job the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, with the assistance of the Police Assessment Resource Center did in thoroughly assessing policies and practices involved in this shooting and their recommendations for improvements. I am also pleased that Sheriff John Urquhart not only concurs with many of the recommendations, he has already taken steps to resolve them,” said Council Chair Larry Gossett. “I am deeply concerned that it took a tragic shooting such as this to illuminate the deficiencies outlined in the report. However, I am confident that between our Office of Law Enforcement Oversight and the King County Sheriff’s Office, we will continue to make the improvements we had in mind when we began working towards the creation of independent citizen oversight years ago.”

“It was informative to be able to review the facts of this particular case,” said Councilmember Reagan Dunn. “I will continue to follow this process as the Sheriff’s office implements new steps to increase transparency and accountability.”

In September 2012, OLEO released a risk assessment report that examined use of force policies and employee misconduct oversight in the Sheriff’s Office, and made 25 recommendations for reforms. The risk assessment report’s recommendations were intended to provide a practical guide to implementing best practices in the law enforcement community and to ensure accountability. Following a briefing of the report, Councilmember Patterson co-sponsored legislation to track accountability reforms.

Earlier this year, Sheriff John Urquhart briefed councilmembers regarding oversight and accountability reforms underway in the KCSO. Today’s briefing builds upon prior work towards reform and establishing transparency and accountability within King County law enforcement.

“In testifying before council today, Sheriff Urquhart outlined the changes in the Sheriff’s Office he has made in response to the findings of this report,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, Chair of Law Justice, Health and Human Services Committee. “We will monitor these changes and work with the many union bargaining issues involved so that King County can provide the utmost quality in service to our citizens.”

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