OLYMPIA — The state Attorney General’s Office has been asked to define unclear terms in recently enacted police reform legislation.

Twelve new laws went into effect July 25 that change the way police investigate and respond to calls. State Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, and Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way, are seeking clarification to House Bills 1310 and 1054.

House Bill 1310 limits when police can use physical force and House Bill 1054 changed the tactics police are able to use. However, what constitutes “physical force” is not defined and authorities have raised questions about some tactics affected by 1054. House Bill 1054 bans neck restraints and chokes, but it’s not clear whether police can use a choke in self-defense.

The Attorney General’s Office said in a news release Wednesday it’s accepting input from the public to help shape its response to the representatives. Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee rejected a request from the Washington Sheriff’s Association for a special legislative session to clarify new terms.

Here are the questions asked by Goodman and Johnson:

  • What constitutes “physical force” in the context of the standard in House Bill 1310?
  • Does the standard in House Bill 1310 preclude an officer from using physical force in the context of an investigatory detention (based on reasonable suspicion and not probable cause) when it becomes apparent that an individual will not otherwise comply with the request to stop?
  • Are state laws regarding treatment of homeless, juveniles, those with mental illness and other statutes and court orders that authorize law enforcement take someone into custody to be interpreted as authorizing the officer to use physical force when necessary for that purpose?
  • Is a law enforcement officer authorized to use physical force pursuant to the emergency aid doctrine, where there is no “imminent threat of bodily injury to the officer, another person, or the person against whom force is being used”? Does using physical force in this manner breach a legal duty to leave the scene, and would an officer’s efforts constitute an exception to the Public Duty Doctrine under the rescue doctrine?
  • Does House Bill 1310 authorize a law enforcement officer to use a chokehold or neck restraint “to protect against his or her life or the life of another person from an imminent threat” despite the specific prohibition of such tactics in House Bill 1054?
  • How should the terms “possible, “available,” and “appropriate” in House Bill 1310 be interpreted? Should those terms be interpreted according to their common definitions or according to the “reasonable officer” standard established under Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), which provides that “the ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight”?

In a letter provided to Goodman and Johnson, the AG’s office said it’s “exceedingly unlikely” the questions will be answered before the next legislative session due to the complexity of the queries. Responses to the representatives’ questions will be published individually as they’re answered, said spokeswoman Brionna Aho in an email. She noted that Attorney General opinions are not legally binding but are historically given “great respect” and “great weight” by the courts.

Comments may be submitted by email to opinioncomments@atg.wa.gov or by writing to Office of the Attorney General, Solicitor General Division, Attention Opinions Chief, PO Box 40100, Olympia, WA 98504-0100.

In the news release, the attorney general’s office noted that “comments that address the interpretation of the law are more helpful than comments that express an opinion as to what the law should be.”

Pete O’Cain: (509) 664-7152

ocain@wenatcheeworld.com or

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