King County, WA, council members voted 9-0 last week to offer publicly-funded legal representation during inquest proceedings to the families of suspects killed by police.
Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles says she was asked to sponsor legislation that would help the families of suspects shot by police and agreed to do so. “Basically, it’s a matter of fairness,” she told the Seattle Weekly.
King County law enforcement involved in shootings are provided legal counsel during inquests, the fact-finding hearings held after police shootings that create a record of what transpired during the incident. Yet, the county doesn’t provide counsel for the families of those killed. “Whether or not the family of the decedent is able to [hire a lawyer] is really problematic,” said Kohl-Welles. “Many of the families of individuals who are killed by a police officer don’t have a lot of money.”
A lack of legal representation can preclude families from fully participating in the inquest process. Attorneys provide a means of eliciting information that would otherwise remain unknown to the family. “This is a very confusing process for family members, especially when they’re grieving,” she added.