NCW Sheriffs issue statement regarding multiple reform bills

Incident highlights pursuit changes

Suspect Andrew Louden is photographed at the wheel of a yellow school bus reportedly stolen in Leavenworth. Courtesy Chelan County Sheriffs Dept.

An upended car, left, rests against the house wreckage.

A front-end loader sits in front of a destroyed Chewelah house.

Suspect in yellow dress is handcuffed by a Chewelah police officer.

BRIDGEPORT – The four sheriffs comprising the North Central Washington Law Enforcement Leadership Group have issued a public letter addressing the group’s continued commitment to community safety under new state laws that, in the words of their statement, “will profoundly impact policing across Washington State.”
Douglas County Sheriff Kevin Morris, Wenatchee Police Chief Steve Crown, Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett, and East Wenatchee Police Chief Rick Johnson cited some examples where service calls may be affected including welfare checks, mental health, and civil matters.
Following is the NCWLELG letter in its entirety.
''During the 2020-21 Washington Legislative session, the legislature passed multiple police reform bills following several tragic incidents involving interactions between law enforcement and the public in cities around the nation. In May, Governor lnslee signed these reform bills into law. The majority of these new laws took effect on July 25, 2021 and will profoundly impact policing across Washington State. These laws create substantial limitations that are more restrictive than federal law with regard to police use of force. This will drive changes to police response to and handling of calls for service and investigations. Additionally, many of these new laws are ambiguous and require detailed legal interpretation. Washington law enforcement agencies across the state have asked for clarification from the Legislature, and the Attorney General's Office. To date, there has been no clarifying response received. Absent responses to these official requests, your local law enforcement leaders believe it is important to inform our communities about how these laws will influence the way we deliver public safety services moving forward.
These new laws touch on many historically-effective methods of policing in our state. These laws impact search and seizure, use of force, vehicle pursuits, drug enforcement, mental health detentions, criminal investigations, tactics, and available tools for de-escalation. Some of these changes significantly limit law enforcement response to calls without criminal activity where we have historically had a role. We encourage you to learn about these new laws and contact us with your questions. The main reformative legislation includes House Bills 1054, 1140, 1223, and 1310, along with Senate Bills 5051, 5066, and
5476.

Sheriff Brian Burnett, Sheriff Kevin Morris, Chief Steve Crown, and Chief Rick Johnson have collectively discussed how the legislation will affect law enforcement responses in their jurisdictions. Law enforcement will assess each call for service to determine the appropriate legal response and other potential resources that may be utilized to provide services. In general, if no crime has been committed and no imminent threat of harm to others exists, Officers and Deputies may not respond or may leave the scene. Some examples of calls for service that may be affected include:
•    Welfare Checks - requests to check on a person in public, a private place, or who has not been heard from for an unusual period
•    Mental Health - calls for service of any type where there is information or potential that the involved subject suffers from a mental health condition
•    Civil Calls - non-criminal calls for service

Investigations may take longer and potential suspects may be allowed to leave the scene of an incident.

Prior to the passage of these laws, a reasonable amount of force could have been used to detain possible suspects to allow time for the initial investigation. In incidents where use of force may be needed to detain the subject, probable cause now must be established before force can be used. Furthermore, this may make the identification of suspects difficult as they could not be detained and identified at the scene of an incident if the suspect is uncooperative.
Local law enforcement agencies remain committed to the safety of our communities. We will make every effort to maintain public safety and maintain our high standards of service under these new laws.'' The letter was signed by Sheriff Brian Burnett, Sheriff Kevin Morris, Chief Steve Crown, and Chief Rick Johnson.

Chief Burnett summarized a vehicle theft incident from late last month that unfolded over two days and illustrates how one part of the new legislation is affecting law enforcement actions on the street.
According to Burnett’s report, 39-year-old Andrew S. Louden was released from a private mental health hospital in Western Washington on July 23 and transported by private vehicle to a local hotel adjacent to a bus station where he could board a bus that would return him to Eastern Washington. Mr. Louden decided to disembark in Leavenworth.
On the afternoon of July 24, Mr. Louden was observed wearing a yellow dress and walking eastbound on U.S. Highway 2 near milepost 102. Employees of Osprey Rafting witnessed Mr. Louden allegedly drive away in the company’s privately owned large yellow school bus and notified authorities. Burnett’s timeline documents the events that followed:
• July 24, 1948 hours (7:48 p.m.) - Located the bus eastbound on Hwy. 2. Driver fails to stop.
• 1955 hours - Chelan County deputies terminate pursuit after driver goes through a red light (near Monitor).
• Burnett notes that the new reform laws no longer allow law enforcement to pursue a fleeing vehicle unless there is probable cause that a serious felony has occurred.
• 2010 hours – Vehicle drives through Wenatchee.
• Burnett said Douglas County deputies followed the vehicle eastbound on State Route 28 after it traveled through the Wenatchee city limits and across the Senator George Sellar Bridge. They also discontinued the pursuit per the new reform laws.
• 2018 hours – Vehicle enters Douglas County.
• 2037 hours – Douglas County attempts traffic stop. Driver fails to stop.
• 2047 hours – Douglas County stops following the bus.
• Unknown time – Bus is left near Moses Lake. Suspect hitchhikes to Spokane and then Chewelah.
• July 25, 1853 hours – Suspect allegedly steals a front-end loader and drives it through his home in Chewelah, flipping a vehicle into the structure. Louden is subsequently arrested and booked into jail.
• Burnett said Louden’s wife had fled the home when she learned her estranged husband may be nearby. The Chewelah Police Department contacted his office to advise they had the suspect in custody. The Chelan County deputies confirmed Louden’s identity who was wearing the same yellow dress.
Louden is being held on charges of Theft of a Motor Vehicle, Possession of a Stolen Vehicle, Malicious Mischief First Degree/Domestic Violence, and Attempting to Elude Police Vehicle.
“The new law sets very strict guidelines for law enforcement that takes away our ability to pursue stolen vehicles,” said Burnett. “It states four elements required for law enforcement to pursue a vehicle.”
Burnett listed those guidelines as:
1. Probable cause for a violent offense, sex offense, or escape (from custody of detention facility) or reasonable suspicion of DUI.
2. Pursuit is necessary to identify or apprehend the person and,
3. The driver possesses an imminent threat to the safety of others, and the risk of failing to apprehend or identify the person is greater than the risks of vehicle pursuit and,
4. Supervisor has provided authorization.
“If these four prongs are not all met, we as law enforcement cannot pursue vehicles in Washington State any longer,” Burnett said.

 

 

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