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Police: Give Wash. Judges More Leeway to Deny Bail

The AP via YellowBrix

January 20, 2010

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Law enforcement officers asked lawmakers Tuesday to support several bills introduced in response to the murder of four Lakewood police officers, including a constitutional amendment that would give judges leeway in denying bail.

“The question is ‘Would these bills have made a difference?’” in preventing the murders of Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards, asked committee chairman Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw. “And from what we heard today, that answer is yes.”

A group of police officers and other law enforcement officials worked with the governor’s office to decide on issues that lawmakers could address in response to the Nov. 29 shooting. Most of the focus is on a constitutional amendment that would let judges deny bail in cases that do not involve capital crimes.

“It’s our job as a Legislature to protect the public and keep them safe, it’s my job as a police officer to protect the people and keep them safe,” said Rep. Mike Hope, a Lake Stevens Republican and Seattle police officer who is sponsoring one of the measures.

Maurice Clemmons posted bail just days before the officers were shot at a Parkland coffee shop before they started their shift. He was shot and killed by a Seattle police officer two days later.

Lakewood police officer Brian Wurts said giving judges the ability to deny bail would help keep dangerous criminals off the streets.

“We have to look at the changing landscape of the criminal justice system,” he said.

The committee heard emotional testimony from the families of the officers, along with facts of the case from investigators on Monday night.

“We want the best legislation possible to protect the public, we aren’t doing it out of fear,” said Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe. “We have an obligation.”

Members of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington Association of Defense Lawyers were among the opponents that spoke at the hearing, warning lawmakers to avoid rushing into making decisions and be wary when attempting to amend the state’s constitution.

“We have a presumption of innocence and we have the right to bail based on that presumption of innocence,” said ACLU Legislative Director Shankar Narayan.

Two other proposed bills would create a mandatory minimum sentence for offenders who assault a law enforcement or corrections officer, or for a violation of community custody. The last would strengthen the charge of rendering criminal assistance, an issue in the Clemmons case because several of his friends and family are accused of helping him.

Lawmakers also announced other changes, including a review of the bail bonds system, improved benefits for officers killed in the line of duty and improved communication among law enforcement on jail bookings and releases.


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