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Bill requiring police officers to intervene when they see excessive use of force heads to Inslee

OLYMPIA — The state Legislature passed a bill that would require an officer to intervene when witnessing a fellow officer using excessive force.

The Senate concurred 31-18 on changes made in the House, sending the bill to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for signature.

The bill passed Tuesday, less than an hour after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. Floyd, who is Black, died while Chauvin, who is white, pinned Floyd to the pavement with his knee on Floyd’s neck. Floyd’s death sparked outrage across the country, led to massive Black Lives Matter protests and prompted Washington Democratic lawmakers to propose a broad police accountability package.

Bill sponsor Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, has said the force bill is about empowering officers.

“It’s about making sure that when they intervene, they have the training that allows them to do it well,” Dhingra said when the Senate first passed the bill in late February.

The bill requires an officer to intervene, if they are able, when they see another officer attempting to or using excessive force. It also requires officers to report any wrongdoing to the witnessing officer’s supervisor. “Wrongdoing” is defined as “conduct that is harmful or contrary to law or a violation of professional standards or ethical rules,” according to the bill.

Law enforcement agencies must adopt written policies on the duty to intervene, and ensure that all officers obtain training through the state’s Criminal Justice Training Commission.

Law enforcement organizations have said they were supportive of creating a statewide duty to intervene but expressed concerns that this version creates too much ambiguity.

Spokane Valley Republican Mike Padden said on the floor Tuesday that there were still major issues with the bill, expressing concerns with the punishment for an officer if they do not follow the procedure exactly and the timing of the training. Current law enforcement officers must be trained no later than Dec. 31, 2023, which Padden said he did not think would be enough time.

A law enforcement agency must report action for the failure to intervene or report wrongdoing to the Criminal Justice Training Commission to determine if the officer’s conduct is grounds for suspension or decertification.

Other bills awaiting final passage include one to limit certain police tactics, such as chokeholds or neck restraints, and one to implement a decertification process for officers who use deadly force. Others, such as a proposal to create a state office of investigations for use-of-force incidents, and one to create a use-of-force database statewide are awaiting the governor’s signature.

The legislative session is scheduled to end Sunday.

Eagles are doing more than landing at Horan Natural Area

WENATCHEE — To passersby, a bald eagle nest in the Horan Natural Area offers a rare chance to see the country’s national bird up close.

But out of concern for the eagles, wildlife officials have erected temporary fencing near the nest to prevent observers from getting too close and to encourage them to move along.

“That distance that we put up we’ve kind of, we’ve tried to make it amenable to everyone and safer to eagles too, but (Washington State Parks) is requesting that folks just kind of move through that area,” said Von Pope, senior wildlife biologist for Chelan County PUD. “If they’re gonna take the photos, do them at a distance, and just kind of move through and not linger right at the front of the nest site for any period of time.”

The 100-acre natural area is owned by the PUD and managed by State Parks. The PUD purchased the land in 1990, then a pear orchard, from the Horan family and then created a wetland.

Bald eagle populations are on the mend. They were on the endangered species list for 40 years until they were delisted in 2007. Hence the precautions.

When Pope joined the PUD 16 years ago there were three nesting pairs in the PUD's service area. Now there are about 10. And specifically in the Horan, eagles raised one bird in 2019 and three in 2020.

“They have been successful and we hope that will continue to be the case,” Pope said.

Pope said the fencing was recently placed near the Olds Station nest and will remain in place until one of two things happen. First, when the chicks have fledged, meaning they’re no longer dependent on the nest.

“There’ll be a point where we just don’t see the young in that immediate nest vicinity anymore,” Pope said. “At that point, we can take it down.”

Second: the nest fails to produce chicks.

“In five or six weeks if we don’t ever see any chicks, then that means that, you know, they didn’t have eggs, which I believe they do, or those eggs didn’t hatch or something happened to the young immediately after that,” Pope said.

Too much commotion can disrupt egg incubation and early development of chicks.

If the eagles “have really young chicks the egg temperatures are very susceptible to change, so you don’t want them to be off the nest for any length of time during incubation,” Pope said.

He added that eagle chicks are sensitive to temperature changes, too.

“If they’re being disturbed to the point where they’re leaving, then that introduces the potential for nest failure,” Pope said.

It’s also important that those young aren’t forced from the nest tree prematurely by too much activity immediately adjacent to the nest.

“You don’t want eagles leaving the nest before they’re able to fly,” Pope said. If they “become skittish because of too much activity or something, then they can get on the ground and then they’re susceptible to other predators or issues that can be a problem.”

This story was corrected to show population increases throughout the Chelan PUD's service area.

Why some health care workers were reluctant to get COVID shots

SEATTLE — After a horrific onslaught of COVID-19 killed the majority of residents at a small nursing home in Grant County, facility director Erica Gaertner couldn’t wait to roll up her sleeve when the first vaccines rolled out.

“I thought, naively I suppose, that everybody else would just fall in line,” she said. “But here I sit with less than 50% of my staff vaccinated.”

Gaertner, who hasn’t fully recovered from her own bout with the novel coronavirus, organized three on-site vaccination clinics at McKay Healthcare & Rehab in Soap Lake. She had one-on-one conversations with every reluctant staffer. Still, when Gaertner confided to her management team that she would mandate the vaccine if she could, many threatened to quit.

“The reality is that if I say: ‘You will all get the vaccine or else you won’t be able to work here,’ I could lose half my staff and I wouldn’t be able to keep the doors open for even a day,” she said.

Despite being first in the nation to qualify for COVID-19 vaccination, health care workers in hospitals, long-term care facilities and other settings haven’t uniformly rushed to take advantage of their position in the queue.

No statewide figures are available for Washington, but a Kaiser Family Foundation/Washington Post poll found slightly more than half of front-line health workers across the country were vaccinated as of early March. Another 19% said they planned to get the shots. Twelve percent describe themselves as undecided, while more than 1 in 6 — 18% — aren’t interested.

“I think everybody in health care, at least in the leadership ranks, was surprised we didn’t see 95% of our people go out and get vaccinated,” said Dr. David Knoepfler, chief medical officer for Overlake Medical Center & Clinics in Bellevue.

Informal reports from hospitals across Washington over the past two months suggest an uptake rate of 60% to 70%, with the highest levels among physicians and among staff who cared for COVID-19 patients, said Cassie Sauer, president and CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association.

For skilled-nursing and assisted-living organizations, there’s a distinct geographic divide, said Robin Dale, president and CEO of the Washington Health Care Association. West of the Cascades, between 60% and 90% of staff at most facilities are vaccinated. On the east side of the state, rates as low as 30% are not uncommon.

The concerns raised by vaccine-wary medical workers aren’t unique and mostly revolve around safety. The rare clotting problems that led the U.S. to temporarily halt administration of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine last week, coupled with similar concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe and other parts of the world, are sure to add to those fears.

“It literally makes my job that much more difficult in trying to persuade my staff, residents and community to take any vaccine,” Gaertner said.

Not ‘deniers,’ but ‘defer-ers’

Rather than mandate the shots — which raises legal questions since none has full FDA approval yet — most organizations are trying to win their workers over through educational outreach, Q&A sessions and role-modeling.

“The quickest way to get somebody to close their mind is to make demands,” said Knoepfler. Name-calling doesn’t help either. Knoepfler never refers to reluctant staff as “vaccine-deniers,” preferring the term “defer-ers.”

It’s also important to acknowledge the many unknowns about the new vaccines, including uncertainty over how long protection will last and the lack of long-term safety data, he said.

Overlake’s approach is to keep chipping away at the resistance with regular updates and briefings on new evidence. In emails, telephone calls and in-person chats, Knoepfler poses open-ended questions so employees can express their uncertainties. When he can, he provides answers.

“There is not a single day at this institution where we don’t discuss the importance of vaccination at every staff meeting, in every newsletter,” he said.

About 70% of Overlake’s 3,500 employees have received the shots as of early April. Among them is Brandy Slade, 41, a registered nurse and director of medical surgical nursing services and clinical education, who initially leaned toward the “no thank you” camp.

Not only was she suspicious of vaccines developed on a “warp speed” timeline, but she’d also experienced a past bad reaction to the flu vaccine, with body aches that persisted for months.

Slade’s change of heart started with a personal tragedy: Her 53-year-old aunt contracted the coronavirus and died within two weeks. “That was my biggest eye-opener,” Slade said.

She was also impressed by anecdotal evidence shared in a safety meeting: The experience of a vaccinated colleague who never got sick despite caring for her stricken husband and kids.

But Slade still harbored misgivings.

“I asked a lot of questions of friends and colleagues who already had it, and truly listened to their answers without any judgment of my own,” she said. Discussions with a staff pharmacist helped allay her concerns about messenger RNA technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and provided the final nudge she needed to get to “yes.”

“I just realized that the risk of catching this virus and potentially dying, or passing it on to a loved one who could potentially die, outweighed my fears.”

Countering misinformation, rumors

For Keith Jackson, the decision to get vaccinated was also a gradual process. At 27, he wasn’t very worried about dying from COVID-19. But his job as a dishwasher at Alijoya Thornton Place, an Era Living assisted-living community in North Seattle, brought him in contact with vulnerable residents.

He asked his naturopath about the vaccines and got a disturbing answer about possible allergic reactions. Conspiracy-minded friends also raised doubts, fanned by social media.

”It was really mind-melting to me,” Jackson said. “I didn’t know who to believe or who to talk to.”

Videos of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who he trusts, helped. But the clincher was a conversation with his building supervisor. She got the vaccine even though she was nursing and worried — and didn’t have any adverse effects. Nor did any of the elderly residents.

Jackson, who was also concerned about passing the virus to his mother, booked his appointment.

”It feels good, like I made the right decision,” he said.

Brittany Bell, executive director of Ida Culver House Broadview, another Era Living retirement community, also found one-on-one conversations to be a powerful way to counter misinformation and dispel rumors.

”There’s a lot of scary information out there,” she said.

Some staff members heard the vaccines would make them sterile. Others thought it contained live virus. Bell sat with one employee at a computer to investigate a video clip that claimed a person had dropped dead immediately after getting a shot.

”We Googled it together, and it was a fake video and we talked through ways to determine whether things that like are true or not,” Bell said.

More than 80% of her staff, many of whom are immigrants from Africa, Latin America and the Philippines, are now vaccinated.

A lot of ‘maybe’ and ‘not yet’

The Kaiser/Washington Post survey found much lower vaccination rates among Black and Hispanic health care workers — 39% and 44%, respectively — compared to the 57% rate among their white peers. Several health organizations are hoping to correct that imbalance with outreach efforts tailored for employees with varied ethnic and racial backgrounds.

UW Medicine and Harborview Medical Center hosted online sessions in multiple languages and with translators for employees and their families.

Confluence Health, which operates hospitals in Wenatchee and a dozen clinics in North Central Washington, enlisted Latino physicians and nurses to champion vaccination and share their rationale for getting the shots. Kidney specialist Dr. Mabel Bodell has become a local celebrity with her own YouTube channel and Spanish-language videos for colleagues and the community at large.

Vaccinations are slowly ticking up, and Confluence hopes to reach 75 percent coverage among its 4,400 employees, said Senior Vice President JoEllen Colson. Rates remain lowest in administrative departments like human resources and finance, where most employees are still working remotely and many have been reluctant to take vaccines that could go to front-line workers.

“We’re not hearing a lot of firm ‘no’s,’ Colson said. “We’re hearing a lot of: ‘maybe’ and ‘not yet.’ ”

Patient demands a big motivator

At least one hospital in Washington has already hit its 75 percent target, after months of persuasion, education and cajoling.

”I will tell you, I was skeptical we would ever get there,” said Jeannie Eylar, chief nursing officer at Pullman Regional Hospital on the state’s eastern border. But she discovered that peer pressure, both subtle and overt, can be a very effective tool.

Vaccinated employees declared their status with pins, and some recorded videos explaining their decision. Departments that reached their goals were celebrated, but those that lagged were never shamed. The hospital’s internal website featured a fever chart that tracked companywide progress like a United Way Drive.

Most of the remaining unvaccinated employees are pregnant, nursing or trying to get pregnant and waiting for more evidence of the vaccines’ impact and performance — and Eylar still has hopes of getting them on board.

With the rate of new staff vaccinations slowing down in many places, some health organizations are trying to figure out their next steps. Multicare, which has hospitals and clinics across Pierce and several other counties, hit a plateau at about 55 to 60% vaccinated, said June Alteras, senior vice president and chief quality, safety and nursing officer.

”We just put out a survey, trying to understand what the barriers are and what else we can do to help move people through their vaccine hesitancy,” she said.

Some health systems in other parts of the country offer incentives like bonuses or gift cards for workers who get jabbed. A few, including Houston Methodist and Atria Senior Living, will mandate vaccination.

Patient demand may eventually prove to be the most powerful motivator.

One Seattle resident said he dropped his longtime dentist after learning the man wasn’t yet vaccinated. At Pullman Regional Hospital, some pregnant patients insist all their caregivers be inoculated. A similar dynamic is beginning to play out in at least a few other hospitals, assisted-living and nursing homes across the state, administrators said, even though full protective gear is still required.

Privacy is an issue, since federal law protects both patient and staff medical records, said Dale, of the Washington Health Care Association. But requests for vaccinated caregivers are reasonable, he added.

”If it was me or my family member in a facility, I would want the staff to be vaccinated for sure.”

‘Human being, not a political cause’: Will Floyd’s death, Chauvin conviction spur reforms?

ATLANTA — Racial justice advocates and legal experts on Tuesday hailed former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction in the killing of George Floyd, expressing hopes the case could spur broader police reforms and help crack the “blue wall of silence” often adhered to by police when one of their own commits a crime.

“This is a positive step in signaling that there can be accountability for police officers who kill,” said Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota.

The Hennepin County jury found Chauvin guilty on all three counts against him, nearly a year after the white officer knelt on Floyd, a Black man, for more than nine agonizing minutes, killing him and setting off a wave of nationwide racial-justice protests.

Many longtime observers of law-enforcement issues saw a decisive indictment not only of the individual in question — Chauvin — but of the nature of policing in America, particularly the pernicious racial inequalities that the case came to symbolize for so many.

“Even though the system wasn’t on trial,” said Jonathan M. Smith, the executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, “the whole system really was on trial.”

Those who have long followed similar cases said they were braced for disappointment.

Stephanie Whitehead, an associate professor of criminal justice at Indiana University East in Richmond, Ind., said “I held my breath” waiting for the verdict.

“I feared this would end up like so many other cases involving police killings,” she said. “It was a clear-cut case, but so have others” been as well.

Justin Bamberg, a South Carolina-based lawyer who has been involved in several cases involving shooting deaths at the hands of police, said he hoped the conviction marked “a turning point in civil rights, and just as important, opens the minds of law enforcement that you can be held accountable for your actions.”

Bamberg, who is Black, called the case a “great day for Mr. Floyd’s family, and everyone across America who believes in equal justice for all.”

In many quarters, though, there was sorrowful acknowledgment that the conviction brought little real solace.

“The first thing we need to remember is that George Floyd was a human being, not a political cause,” said the Rev. William H. Lamar IV, the pastor of Washington D.C.’s historic Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. “This is not justice; it is accountability.”

Justice, Lamar said, would be “living in a world where a police officer would not think it possible to do what was done to George Floyd with impunity.”

For some, even a hoped-for verdict reignited a sense of fury and despair.

“Derek Chauvin isn’t just a bad apple, and we need not treat him like one to feed our anger or soothe our fears,” said Maurice Mitchell, the head of the Working Families political party. He called Chauvin “the latest manifestation of the utter rot that modern-day policing has become. “

Racial-justice advocates said they saw the outcome as a beginning, not an end.

“Justice has prevailed,” the NAACP tweeted, “but the work is not done!”

Several legal experts praised the prosecution’s courtroom presentation, pointing to particularly effective use of law enforcement officers as witnesses. Law professor Osler said the trial offered graphic proof of the “blue wall of silence crumbling.”

“You had not just the police chief, but you had other officers who testified consistently that what the officer did was wrong,” he said. “You had many different people with experience in the Minneapolis police department coming to a consensus that what Chauvin did was not consistent with his training.”

Others said the prosecution was wise to hew closely to what jurors saw with their own eyes: the harrowing video of Floyd’s dying moments May 25, 2020.

“The prosecution did a good job of making it very simple,” said Brandon Garrett, a professor of law at Duke University. “When you watch that video and you see that Floyd was held for nine-and-a-half minutes, during which he posed no threat to anyone and was fully restrained — that’s simply not policing.”

The trial’s outcome carried powerful symbolic overtones for Black law enforcement personnel, including Gregory Tony, the first Black sheriff of Florida’s Broward County.

“Chauvin’s conviction is a reminder to all who wear a badge that we are not above the laws which we swore to protect,” he said in a statement. He said Floyd’s death “moved the consciousness of America like never before.”

Some commentary on the trial’s outcome, though, pointed to the bitter national divides that remain. Erick Erickson, a white conservative radio talk-show host based in Georgia, railed on Twitter about “wokevangelicals” he said were disappointed the outcome did not provide them with more reason to complain about injustice and racism.

While this was a landmark policing trial, Garrett said the real significance would lie in whether it brought about enactment of broader police reforms at the federal and state level.

“Holding one officer accountable, whether civilly or criminally, doesn’t fix the system,” he said. “Criminal accountability after the fact doesn’t prevent egregious and improper police use of force.”

Floyd’s death, Garrett said, drew much-needed attention to the broader issue of “where and why policing happens” — how police interact with members of the community, and how handling of minor infractions can sometimes take such a horrifying turn.

“We shouldn’t be turning convenience-store encounters or traffic stops into deadly encounters,” he said.