The Washington State Office of Independent Investigations is accepting requests to review prior cases of the use of deadly force by law enforcement, if new evidence is brought forth not included in the original investigation and the incident resulted in a fatality.
The new agency’s Prior Investigations Program is now live on the agency’s website at oii.wa.gov/investigations, where requests can be submitted to review specific cases, according to a state Office of Independent Investigations July 10 news release.
“Many members of the public have asked us to look into previous investigations of use of deadly force,” Office of Independent Investigations director Roger Rogoff said. “When we do so, we are committed to taking a careful, methodical, and unbiased approach to these reviews and will only re-open an investigation after significant consideration to determine whether material new evidence exists.”
The law directs the agency to review these older cases. The authority to do so was one of the recommendations made by the Governor’s Task Force on Deadly Use of Force Investigations, which first suggested creating an independent investigations agency.
Submitting a case is not a guarantee that the agency will review it nor re-open an investigation, according to the news release. For that to occur, there are some key initial steps that the agency must take.
Steps in the prior investigation program
The complete policy on the agency’s prior investigations review is available at oii.wa.gov. The program has three main steps:
• Preliminary screening: All requests will be assessed by a member of the agency’s review team to determine if a submission identifies new material evidence. The agency will conduct a conflict-of-interest check before assigning these preliminary screenings.
• Full review: If the request meets the initial threshold, a three-member team will formally review all available records related to the case, including the investigation file, court records, and any additional documents needed to review the matter thoroughly. The agency’s investigative team will review these records to determine whether material new evidence exists.
• New investigation: After completing their review, the agency team will make a recommendation to the director as to whether or not a new investigation is merited. The director will make the final decision.
When a case is submitted seeking a review, the agency will notify the involved family or their representative and the involved officer. Accepting requests to review prior investigations of use of deadly force is a critical step in the agency becoming operational. It also helps the agency meet the statutory requirements and the expectations of the Legislature and public who worked to create the agency.
The advisory board, including co-chairs Fred Thomas, whose son was shot and killed by police in 2013, and Eric Drever, chief of the Tukwila Police Department, reviewed the agency’s policy on prior investigations review before it was adopted.
“This is a big step for Office of Independent Investigations and something a lot of us have wanted for a long time,” Thomas said. “Many of us believe some investigations in the past should have been handled differently and I am glad to see that a neutral, unbiased organization is in a position to look at some of these older cases.”
Co-chair Eric Drever added that he supported the policy Office of Independent Investigations has developed to manage these requests.
“These are difficult and challenging investigations, but I appreciate the hard work that Office of Independent Investigations put into developing a carefully considered policy that, I believe, will result in a fair review of the facts,” he said.
The state Legislature created the Office of Independent Investigations in 2021 to conduct independent and unbiased investigations of deadly use of force by law enforcement statewide. The agency is unique in the nation in that it is led by a civilian director. It also works with an 11-member advisory board that reviews and provides input on agency policies.
The agency is not yet investigating new use of deadly force incidents but has activated its hotline for law enforcement agencies to report use of deadly force incidents.