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Originally published June 13, 2013 at 8:18 PM | Page modified June 13, 2013 at 10:58 PM

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Team to probe police shootings in King County

The formation of a multiagency task force to investigate officer-involved shootings in King County is intended to increase transparency, objectivity and trust.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A new multiagency team of law-enforcement officers has been created to investigate police shootings in King County.

Formation of the King County Investigative Response Team (KCIRT) was spurred by a desire for greater transparency and objectivity in investigating police shootings, according to Bellevue Police Department Maj. Mike Johnson, who will head the new unit. In the past, many police departments investigated shootings involving their own officers.

In addition to Bellevue police and the King County Sheriff’s Office, the King County team will include representatives from the Washington State Patrol and police departments from Kirkland, Redmond, Issaquah, Mercer Island, Bothell, Snoqualmie and Black Diamond.

The Seattle Police Department, which investigates its own officer-involved shootings, is not part of the team.

The multiagency task force was announced at a news conference Thursday at the Criminal Justice Training Center in Burien, where chiefs from the police departments involved, as well as King County Sheriff John Urquhart and a representative of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, gathered.

Mercer Island Police Chief Ed Holmes noted that the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs has said that the use of an independent investigative team for major incidents involving police officers is the best practice model.

The response team will not incur additional costs for the agencies involved, Johnson said. Team members will continue to work their regular jobs until their expertise and services are needed, he said.

Johnson said the response team is composed of some of the region’s most experienced investigators and supervisors and will have access to the latest technological equipment and techniques.

Bellevue Police Chief Linda Pillo said thorough, objective and transparent investigations conducted in a timely and professional manner are critical to building and maintaining trust within the community.

Johnson said some law-enforcement agencies did not have enough officers to commit an investigator to the team, but that doesn’t mean those departments will not be able to call on KCIRT for help. He said the response team’s resources and expertise would be available by request to any King County law-enforcement agency.

The King County team is similar to the Snohomish County Multi-Agency Response Team (SMART) that has investigated incidents involving law-enforcement officers since its inception six years ago.

Most of the shootings examined by SMART were ultimately found to have been justified, but not all.

In 2009, former Everett police Officer Troy Meade was charged with first-degree manslaughter after he shot and killed Niles L. Meservey who was intoxicated and behind the wheel of his car in a parking lot when Meade fired on him.

Meade was acquitted in the criminal trial but was fired from the police force.

It was the first time a Snohomish County police officer had been criminally prosecuted in connection with an on-duty shooting.

Nick Metz, assistant Seattle police chief, said that while SPD was involved in crafting the response team’s policies, Seattle police plan to continue conducting their own investigations into officer-involved incidents.

Metz said that in its 2011 investigation of Seattle police, the Department of Justice (DOJ) found no fault with SPD’s procedures for investigating officer-involved incidents, he said.

“They told us to keep doing what we were doing,” he said.

He also said that under the DOJ settlement, Seattle police are probably the most heavily scrutinized department in the state with oversight from the DOJ, the department’s Office of Professional Accountability and the public.

“If we find ourselves in a situation where we find there could be a conflict of interest then we would call KCIRT in and ask them to do that investigation for us,” he said.

Christine Clarridge can be reached at cclarridge@seattletimes.com

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