ANative American man was shot and killed in Poulsbo July 3 by a police officer at a crowded pre-Independence Day celebration at Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park. The tragic events of that day have weighed heavy on the minds and hearts of the people of Poulsbo and surrounding communities.
At around 9:30 p.m. Poulsbo Police responded to a call of a man reportedly lunging at people in the park with a screwdriver. When police approached the man a struggle ensued. At some point during the struggle, and officer, later identified as Craig Keller of Poulsbo Police Department, fired his weapon at the man, hitting him in the torso and head.
The man, identified by family as Stonechild Chiefstick of the Chippewa Cree Tribe in Montana, died at the scene.
The incident has become a blemish on the City of Poulsbo’s record as one of the few cities in the state of Washington that has actively worked to develop relationships with the local tribes, such as the Suquamish.
There is understandable anger, frustration and sadness for all parties involved and it leaves open many questions as to how these two communities will move forward once the investigation has concluded.
While this incident will claim a significant spot in Poulsbo and Suquamish history, it also has left a notch in Washington State history as these two communities were the unwitting testing grounds for recently implemented legislation.
On Feb. 9, the Washington State Legislature passed Initiative 940 following the approval of amendments from House Bill 1064. This legislation went into full effect on July 1.
I-940 was designed to create a “good faith” test that determines whether the use of deadly force by law enforcement was justifiable in a given situation. It also requires that law enforcement implement de-escalation efforts, and mental health and first aid training in their departments. It also removed the requirement for prosecutors to show that the law enforcement officer acted with malice in order to be convicted.
Though it went into effect July 1, law enforcement around the state has a one-year grace period to establish programs and train officers to respond to situations using de-escalation tactics, mental health measures and to provide first aid to victims and suspects, if necessary.
HB1064 amended I-940’s provisions that dictate the “good-faith” standard for the use of deadly force.
In the initiative’s original language, an officer would have to show they believed they were acting in “good faith” when using deadly force. HB1064 changed the language to qualify the test by asking what a “reasonable” officer would do in the same situation, given all the facts and knowledge the officer who used deadly force knew at the time.
“A reasonable law enforcement officer, in light of all the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time, would have believed that deadly force was necessary to prevent death or serious physical harm to the officer or another person; and the particular officer intended to use deadly force for a lawful purpose and in good faith believed that the use of deadly force was warranted under the circumstances,” according to the bill’s explanatory statement.
HB 1064 also amended I-940 to require that in cases of an officer-involved shooting, an independent investigation be conducted.
“To help determine whether the good faith test is met, the measure would require an independent investigation any time an officer’s use of deadly force results in death or substantial or great bodily harm. The investigation would be done by someone other than the agency whose officer was involved in the use of deadly force,” the legislation’s statement explained.
As has been reported, law enforcement agencies from Kitsap County, excluding the Poulsbo Police Department, have formed the investigative team looking into the July 3 incident.
This has brought out concerns from some in the community, who believe that because these law enforcement departments work closely together on a regular basis, there will not be enough oversight to objectively handle the investigation.
Another piece of legislation requires that if deadly force is used on a tribal member, the investigation must include consultation with the Tribe.
The Suquamish Tribe has stated that it is closely watching the investigation, even though it isn’t apparently part of the investigative team.
The investigation into this incident and its outcomes will not only impact the families of Stonechild Chiefstick and Poulsbo Officer Craig Keller but will have an impact on this legislation and its effectiveness.
What happens with this case in Poulsbo will also impact what happens in other cases going forward across the state.
It shouldn’t be surprising to see this issue end up in a courtroom in the coming months and attempts made to add amendments to the legislation during the upcoming 2020 legislative session.