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Policies and Public Rules

King County Policies, Procedures, Public Rules, and Interlocal Agreements

 

Conducting Inquests in King County

Document Code No.: PHL 7-1 (AEO)
Department/Issuing Agency: County Executive Office
Effective Date: April 29, 2002
Approved: /s/ Ron Sims
Type of Action: Supersedes PHL 7-1-1 (AEP) , "Conducting Inquests in King County" October 6, 2001

Signed document (PDF, 3.38 MB)

This Executive Order was superseded by PHL 7-1-1 (AEO) on March 16, 2010.


WHEREAS, Revised Code of Washington (RCW) Chapter 36.24 authorizes the county coroner to summon a jury to inquire into the death of a person by suspicious circumstances; and

WHEREAS, Section 895 of the King County charter provides that "[a]n inquest shall be held to investigate the causes and circumstances of any death involving a member of the law enforcement agency of the county in the performance of his duties"; and

WHEREAS, King County Code (KCC) Chapter 2.24 created a division of the medical examiner within the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health and assigned to it most of the coroner's duties under RCW Chapter 36.24, "except for the holding of inquests, which function is vested in the county executive" under KCC 2.24.110(A); and

WHEREAS, the County Executive, in the exercise of his authority to hold inquests, has discretion to determine how inquest proceedings are to be conducted, and to delegate the duty of presiding over an inquest to another impartial public official, and

WHEREAS, the County Executive retains the ultimate responsibility for the exercise of the inquest power and the performance of the delegated duty.

NOW, THEREFORE, I Ron Sims, King County Executive do hereby order, direct, and implement the following policy and procedures for conducting inquests:

1.0 SUBJECT TITLE: Conducting Inquests in King County

2.0 PURPOSE:

2.1 To establish policies and procedures for the conducting of inquests into the causes and circumstances of any death involving a member of any law enforcement agency within King County while in the performance of his duties and into other exceptional cases as determined by the County Executive.

3.0 ORGANIZATIONS AFFECTED:

King County Executive; King County Prosecuting Attorney; King County District Court Judges; King County District Courts; King County Superior Court; King County Superior Court Judges; Medical Examiner's Office, King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention and the King County Sheriff.

4.0 REFERENCES:

4.1 RCW 36.24 Counties: County Coroner

4.2 King County Charter, Section 320.20 - The Executive Branch: Powers and Duties

4.3 King County Charter, Section 895- General Provisions: Mandatory Inquests

4.4 King County Code 2.24.110(A)

5.0 DEFINITIONS:

5.1 "King County Executive" means the official, or the designee of the official, who is elected and serves as the County Executive of King County pursuant to Article 3 of the King County Charter.

5.2 "King County Prosecuting Attorney" means the official, or the designee of the official, who is elected and serves as Prosecuting Attorney for King County pursuant to Article XI, Section 5 of the Washington State Constitution.

5.3 "Incident In Question" means the date on which the decedent came to meet death, or the date on which the body of the decedent was discovered, whichever is later.

5.4 "Inquest" means an inquiry into the identity of the decedent, as well as when, where and by what means the decedent came to meet death, and the circumstances attending the death of the decedent.

5.5 "Law Enforcement Agency" means any agency having police powers as authorized under federal or Washington State law. For the purposes of this policy, "a member of any law enforcement agency" shall mean commissioned officers and non-commissioned staff of all local, state and federal police forces, jails and corrections agencies.

5.6 "Attorney for the Family of the Deceased" means a privately-retained or pro-bono attorney. Washington State law provides that publicly funded attorneys may only be appointed to represent indigent individuals who may be incarcerated as a result of the court action. This condition does not apply for any party to the inquest.

5.7 "Rules of Evidence" means the evidentiary court rules adopted by the Supreme Court of the State of Washington governing proceedings in the courts of the State of Washington.

5.8 "Voir Dire" means an examination of a prospective juror.

5.9 "In Camera" means an examination of materials by the Judge in the privacy of chambers.

6.0 POLICIES:

6.1 There shall be an inquest into the causes and circumstances of any death involving a member of any law enforcement agency within King County while in the performance of his/her duties. While the term "involving" is to be construed broadly, there may be circumstances where law enforcement's role is so minimal as to not warrant an inquest. Factors to be considered include: whether a decision to prosecute has been made; whether the death was the result of a condition existing prior to and/or apart from the police involvement; whether the deceased was in custody at the time of the death; whether the family of deceased desire an inquest; and any other factor that touches on the connection between the manner of death and the actions of law enforcement; however, ordinarily there shall be an inquest in all cases where death results from the use of force by a member of any law enforcement agency or where the deceased was incarcerated at the time of death.

6.2 These policies and procedures shall normally apply to cases involving a law enforcement agency within King County, but may also apply in exceptional cases at the discretion of the County Executive.

7.0 RESPONSIBILITIES:

7.1 The King County Prosecuting Attorney shall advise the King County Executive whenever an investigation into a death involving a member of any law enforcement agency in King County is complete and shall also advise concerning whether an inquest is required pursuant to these policies.

7.2 The County Executive shall determine whether or not an inquest shall be held. If an inquest is to be held, the County Executive shall request that the King County Superior Court or the King County District Court conduct the inquest on his behalf. If the King County Superior Court or the King County District Court accepts the responsibility, the inquest shall be conducted pursuant to this Executive Order and to R.C.W. 36.24, as amended.

8.0 PROCEDURES:

Action By: Prosecuting Attorney

Action:

8.1 Receives information and documentation that a death has occurred which may require an inquest.

8.2 Reviews the information and makes a recommendation to the County Executive as to whether the facts require an inquest be held.

8.2.1 Forwards information and documentation to Executive if so requested by the Executive.

Action by: County Executive

Action:

8.3 Upon receiving Prosecuting Attorney's recommendation, determines whether an inquest is to be held.

8.4 If inquest is to be held, then in his discretion requests that either the King County Superior Court or the King County District Court conduct the inquest on his behalf according to the Procedures in Appendix 9.1.

8.4.1 Requests the Presiding Judge of King County Superior Court, in conjunction with other judges, to furnish a judge to conduct the inquest; or

8.4.2 Requests the Presiding Judge of King County District Court, in conjunction with other judges, to furnish a judge to conduct the inquest.

Action by: King County Superior Court/District Court

Action:

8.5 If the Superior Court accepts the responsibility for conducting the inquest, the Court schedules a date for the inquest to begin and conducts the inquest according to the procedures in Appendix 9.1.

8.6 If the District Court accepts the responsibility for conducting the inquest, the Court schedules a date for the inquest to begin and conducts the inquest according to the procedures in Appendix 9.1.

9.0 APPENDICES:

9.1 Procedures for Conducting Inquests (PDF, 26 KB)

Dated this 19 day of April, 2002.

/s/ Ron Sims, King County Executive

ATTEST:

/s/ Bob Roegner, Manager

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