Sep 28, 2022 - Politics

New police oversight agency unable to investigate killing by Olympia officer

A memorial to Timothy Green, set up at the spot where he was shot by Olympia police. Photo: Melissa Santos/Axios

Millie Green says that if a new state office to investigate police was up and running, an Olympia officer would have thought twice before killing her son last month.

Driving the news: Timothy Green died on Aug. 22, after an Olympia police officer shot him next to a Starbucks drive-thru.

  • A team — composed mostly of law enforcement officers from neighboring police agencies — is now investigating the shooting.
  • But Millie Green questions why the investigation into her son's death is being handled by other officers, rather than the new civilian office the Legislature approved last year.

Catch up quick: Lawmakers created the civilian-staffed Office of Independent Investigations to provide more accountability — and a more impartial review — when police kill someone in the line of duty.

  • The agency, which exists within the governor's office, was granted authority to investigate police uses of deadly force starting July 1.

Yes, but: The office is not ready to take on cases yet — and there's no clear timeline for when it will be.

  • "We are still in the beginning stages of hiring the staff we need," spokesperson Hector Castro told Axios Seattle last week.
  • The delays stem partly from Gov. Jay Inslee taking until May to select the new agency's director, Roger Rogoff, who didn't start until mid-June. A spokesperson for Inslee said the governor didn't want to rush the selection process.
  • The new agency also needs to develop its investigatory policies and procedures, Castro said.
  • "We, just as much as the communities we serve, want to be operational now," Rogoff said in a statement. "However, the mistakes that come with speed at the expense of credibility are mistakes we do not wish to make."
Terrell Green, wearing a shirt with a picture of his brother Timothy, while speaking to his mother, Millie Green, at right. Photo: Melissa Santos/Axios

Zoom in: The delayed launch has been more than just a bureaucratic issue to Millie Green.

  • Standing in the parking lot where her son was killed, she said that had the civilian-led office been operational by July 1 — as she and many others expected — she believes the police would have behaved differently.
  • "If it was up and running, Tim would probably still be alive, because they'd have that in the back of their minds — that they'd have to be accountable to their actions," Millie Green told Axios Seattle.
  • Last week, she sprinkled lavender buds on an area where Timothy's blood still stained the asphalt. Then she stood silently by a small memorial, which she and others set up on the curb.

Background: Records related to the case aren't being publicly released because of the ongoing investigation. But this is what police say happened:

  • At about 10:20am on Aug. 22, officers responded to the Starbucks on Martin Way East near the corner of Sleater Kinney Road, after receiving a report of a man locking himself in the bathroom, who was "agitated and shouting," per a police news release.
  • Police say once they arrived, Timothy Green walked into busy traffic, again shouting, before returning to the parking lot.
  • The officers say Green had a knife and walked toward them — details his family questions.
  • Police say they told Green to drop the knife several times, then tried tasing him twice. But Green continued to walk toward one of the officers, who then shot him, per the release.
  • The Olympia Police Department has put four officers on administrative leave while the incident is being investigated.

What they're saying: Millie Green said her son, a 37-year-old father of two, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 17.

  • She says she believes the combination of his mental illness and that he was Black contributed to the police shooting him, rather than finding another resolution.
  • The family also questions whether the officers adhered to a new law, which says police uses of deadly force must be "reasonable and proportional" — and limited to when someone poses an immediate threat of killing or seriously injuring someone else.
  • Laura Wohl, a spokesperson for the multiagency investigations team, said the probe may eventually reveal that additional de-escalation tactics were used.
  • But Terrell Green, Timothy's brother, said he doesn't think other officers should be the ones judging whether police adhered to the rules.
  • While the investigation by the local Capitol Metro Independent Investigations Team doesn't include officers from the same agency as the shooter, it includes about a dozen police officers from nearby agencies. That's not independent enough, Terrell Green told Axios Seattle.
  • "There's going to be some bias," he said. "It's brothers investigating each other."

What's next: Eventually, the Capitol Metro Investigations Team will release its findings, at which point additional case records should become publicly available — though it's unclear how long that will take.

  • Meanwhile, the state Office of Independent Investigations has been working to hire people, but it's slow going. Besides the director, 13 people have been hired so far at the agency, which ultimately expects to employ 80, Castro said.

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