Puyallup, WA – Pierce County sheriff’s deputies couldn’t try to track a homicide suspect on Wednesday night because of the state’s new use-of-force law that went into effect on Sunday.
Deputies responded to the Kohl’s in the 16,900-block of Meridian East at about 10:20 p.m. on July 28 for a report of shots fired, KOMO reported.
When deputies arrived on the scene, they found one man dead on the north side of the parking lot.
A Pierce County Sheriff’s Department Facebook post said witnesses described “a male in a black shirt and black pants running from the shooting.”
Deputies checked the immediate area but did not find anyone matching that description, KOMO reported.
A K9 officer arrived on the scene within minutes and could have tried to track the murder suspect, but officials decided against it.
Officials said that because probable cause had not been developed for a particular individual, they could not use force to detain him if they found him under the new police reform laws, KOMO reported.
A K9 Deputy was on scene within minutes, but with only having a description of the suspect and no probable cause for a specific individual, he was unable to track with his K9 to search for the suspect who was seen fleeing by witnesses.
— Pierce Co Sheriff (@PierceSheriff) July 29, 2021
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department had actually warned the community ahead of the implementation of the news laws that residents would see deputies handling calls for service differently than in the past.
The sheriff’s department explained the new use-of-force law in a Facebook post on July 23 and called it a “significant change” that limited “police interaction with non-compliant members of the public.”
“Under the new law, police officers are required to have ‘probable cause’ before using ‘physical force’ to detain someone, as opposed to the previous standard of ‘reasonable suspicion,’” the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department wrote.
“Physical force can also be used by officers to prevent an escape or to protect against an imminent threat of bodily injury to the officer, another person, or the person against whom force is being used,” the post continued. “In some situations this means that we must let potential suspects walk away from a crime scene until we have developed a high standard of having enough facts, information, and/or evidence for a reasonable officer to believe that a person is more likely than not to have committed a crime.”
Then the law enforcement agency went on to describe an example scenario that was eerily similar to what happened on July 28.
“Please consider the following scenario*: Dispatchers receive a 911 call from a person who reports hearing screaming and loud noises from an apartment next door,” the sheriff’s department wrote. “The caller reports that it sounds like the woman next door is being assaulted by her boyfriend, but is only able to provide a vague description of what the boyfriend looks like and does not know his name.”
“As the first responding officer approaches the apartment, he sees a man running through the parking lot wearing clothing that is similar to the description provided in the 911 call,” but under the new state law, “officer cannot use any type of ‘physical force’ to detain the suspect until ‘probable cause’ has been established,” the post continued.
“This means that officers must let the man walk away from the scene until they can interview the victim and/or witnesses to determine with a high level of certainty that a crime has occurred and the person is a suspect in that crime,” the sheriff’s department explained.
The sheriff’s post also pointed out that the term “physical force” was not defined in the new law and said what constituted force – from holding someone’s arm to grabbing someone during a foot pursuit – varied from department to department.