Lawmaker plans amendment if a bill re-emerges to ‘erode’ qualified immunity for police

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(The Center Square) – State Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, says he plans to introduce an amendment that would strike provisions of a proposed bill that – if it reaches the House floor — could allow civil actions to be brought against police for alleged misconduct resulting in injuries to victims.

That bill, HB 1025, was sponsored last year by a number of Democratic lawmakers but failed to advance for a floor vote.

Walsh, who also chairs the state Republican Party, said HB 1025 may be reintroduced when the 2024 session starts Monday in Olympia. If so and the bill advances, Walsh said he will put forward a “striking amendment (that) will remove nearly everything after the title and insert a new bill.”

“My striking amendment changes virtually every element of the ill-advised HB 1025,” Walsh said in a press release Wednesday. “You can think of this amendment as a ‘best of’ compilation, a set of enhancements to a bill sorely in need of improvement ― many of which were submitted during last year’s legislative session.”

“The ultimate goal is transforming a potentially destructive bill into a positive force,” he continued. “That’s the essence of the amendment. Rather than making things worse for law enforcement officers acting in good faith, it turns the bill into something that will help officers, communities, and people throughout our state.”

Persistent tensions over law enforcement actions resulting in serious injury or death to individuals were heightened again last month when a Pierce County Superior Court jury acquitted Tacoma police officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine on criminal charges – including second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter – in connection with the death of 33-year-old Manuel Ellis.

State prosecutors alleged that Ellis, a Black man, died as a result of being shocked, beaten, and restrained face-down on a Tacoma sidewalk. Defense attorneys argued the three officers were justified in their use of force and that Ellis’ death resulted from a pre-existing heart condition and use of methamphetamine.

Walsh voiced apprehension that “certain legislators, influenced by public sentiment and outcry” by the acquittal verdicts would endorse HB 1025, which he described as “an ill-considered and ultimately harmful proposition.”

As proposed in 2023, the measure called for establishing a “meaningful legal remedy,” including compensation and payment of attorney fees, for persons who sue after allegedly being injured when a police officer or the officer’s employer violates state law or the state constitution. Currently, officers and police agencies often have “qualified immunity” against civil actions.

Walsh contends the ability of police to perform their duties and maintain law and order has been “systematically eroded” over the past six years in Olympia, resulting in increased crime while discouraging recruitment and retention of officers by law enforcement agencies across the state.

“Messing up qualified immunity has resulted in fewer police and more crime. This striking amendment transcends mere desirability; it’s an imperative,” said Walsh.

Walsh said his provision would offer “a meaningful legal remedy under state law for individuals injured due to violations by a law enforcement officer or their employer while safeguarding police from malicious lawsuits that could otherwise financially cripple them and deplete law enforcement departments.”

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