By Karen Koehler
This is the tale of two inquests.
No. 1. Police body slammed a young man into a wall in Belltown. He is now permanently brain injured and cannot care for himself. The police were not in uniform. They thought he was a suspect. They were wrong. An inquest was held – sort of a mini trial – to see if their actions were justified. Almost all inquests uphold the actions of the police. Their actions were upheld.
No. 2. An Indian woodcarver was shot and killed. The young police officer thought the man posed a threat because he did not put down his knife. At inquest
four jurors felt the officer was wrong. One felt he was right. Three were undecided.
In the first example, the police had no risk of being criminally prosecuted. In the second, the policeman may be prosecuted but only if the government so chooses.
The families of people injured and killed by police in cases like these, currently have the right to bring civil lawsuits. Regardless of whether the government pursues criminal charges. Civil lawsuits prevent government secrecy or “protection of their own.” Police departments have to open their files and records. They have to go to court and justify their practices. At the end of the day – a jury of twelve decides whether government should be held responsible. The police are not allowed to be above the law.