Jaime Herrera Beutler mailer claims police reform hindered investigations

Glossy mailers from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, landed in residents’ mailboxes claiming that recent police reform laws prevented officers from pursuing and detaining the alleged killer of a local sheriff’s detective.

Herrera Beutler wrote in the flyer that the arrest of Guillermo Raya Leon, prior to the fatal shooting of Clark County sheriff’s Sgt. Jeremy Brown, was hindered because of state policies enacted in 2021. It also alluded that the reform indirectly led to Brown’s death because there wasn’t probable cause to pursue Raya Leon before the shooting.

It should be noted that officers needed reasonable suspicion to pursue suspects prior to the state’s police reform, according to reporting from Crosscut. The bills that were contested include HB 1054 and HB 1310, both of which went into effect two days after the detective’s slaying on July 23.

Raya Leon is accused of shooting Brown while Brown was surveilling an east Vancouver apartment complex, according to reporting from The Columbian. Officers had been following Raya Leon and others because they were the subjects of an investigation involving stolen guns, court records state.

On the morning of the shooting, officers pursued Raya Leon and others, but the suspect car got away. Undercover officers found it near Interstate 205 and 134th Street, and followed it to a Target parking lot in Oregon. As officers followed the suspect car back to Vancouver, they lost it after getting stuck in traffic on the Interstate 5 Bridge, court records say.

Craig Wheeler, communication director for Herrera Beutler, wrote in an email to The Columbian that the sheriff’s office adopted policies based on the state laws prior to the date it was deemed effective on July 25.

The sheriff’s office did not return calls from The Columbian seeking comment.

Wheeler also claimed HB 1054 restricted the vehicle pursuit of the suspects when they were seen earlier in the day. However, officers’ pursuits appeared to have been halted due to traffic, not the policy.

Washington lawmakers passed HB 1310 in 2021, which governs when and how police can use force. The ACLU of Washington wrote that prior to its passing, the state law allowed police to complete arrests by “any means necessary,” which could be interpreted broadly with unlimited power.

Specifically, this bill illustrates how peace officers are expected to use de-escalation training with an option to use force as a last resort. This course of action is only allowed if it’s used to prevent serious injuries or death to the officer or others present, according to the bill.

The Herrera Beutler flyer claims that HB 1310 restricts an officer from detaining a person fleeing from a crime scene regardless of whether they match the description of the suspect.

It also claims that HB 1054 restricted police officers from car chases, conducting traffic stops and impedes their use of non-lethal weapons.

This bill bans certain tactics and equipment that are disproportionately used against people of color. Examples of the harmful uses of force include chokeholds, neck restraints, and the use of police dogs and tear gas. It also prohibits the purchase and use of military equipment, as well as no-knock warrants.

Officers still have authority to pursue a person if they have an arrest warrant or there’s probable cause that they have committed a crime, according to the bill.

Lauren Ellenbecker

Lauren Ellenbecker

Lauren Ellenbacker is a politics reporter for The Columbian.

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