Seattle Police officers Michael Spaulding, left, and Scott Miller, during last years inquest into the shooting death of Che Taylor.
Seattle Police officers Michael Spaulding, left, and Scott Miller, during last year's inquest into the shooting death of Che Taylor. Lester Black

King County Executive Dow Constantine announced this afternoon that the county will temporarily halt police shooting inquests, the unique fact-finding court process used in the region in the aftermath of deadly police shootings.

Police reform advocates and family members of police shooting victims have long criticized the inquest process, which only allows a narrow set of questions that don't determine culpability and don't guarantee legal representation for police shootings victims' surviving family members. Inquests take place in front of a jury and are overseen by a judge, but don't determine fault like a criminal proceeding would. Prosecutors, however, can use the results to decide whether to charge a police officer—something that's effectively impossible in Washington State.

Last month, Constantine announced that he'd be forming a task force to study whether inquests make sense, and if so, how they could be improved. He appointed a five-person committee, one that included Rick Williams, the brother of slain police shooting victim and woodcarver John T. Williams, to review the issue.

Five pending inquests will be affected by the temporary moratorium, including inquests over the deaths of 20-year-old Tommy Le and 30-year-old Charleena Lyles.

Lyles' surviving sisters and cousins released a statement through their attorney, Corey Guilmette, calling for reforms to the inquest process.

"Reform must start by designing a proceeding that answers the questions most important to Charleena’s family," the statement read. "Why was Charleena killed? What could have officers done to prevent Charleena’s death?"

Lyles' family members also said that families of police shooting victims must be provided public representation, and cited support for an upcoming piece of legislation from the King County Council that would address that particular issue.

"King County Executive Constantine’s decision to place the inquest into Charleena’s death on hold is an extraordinary step, which will delay Charleena’s family in their search for answers," the statement continued. "This delay will only be justified if it allows Charleena’s family to ultimately participate in a process that seeks to answer the most important questions relating to her death."

An attorney for Charles Lyles and Lyles' estate, Karen Koehler, also criticized the inquest process as one "stacked on behalf of the officers."

"I hope they make meaningful reforms and that they don't just rubberstamp some small procedural changes," Koehler said. "The system needs to be overhauled completely."

Andre Taylor, brother of police shooting victim Che Taylor and activist leader trying to change state and local deadly force laws, said he didn't want families of shooting victims to go through the same inquest process he witnessed for the death of his brother.

"I believe we should be able to call our own witnesses to challenge the perspective of law enforcement and what they saw," Taylor said. He added: "I don't want to be overly optimistic until we see some change."