Pursuit through Yakima

Police detain four people after a 2019 pursuit through Yakima which ended near the corner of 5th Avenue & Peach Street.

Hank Mann of Yakima raised questions in his March 28 letter to the editor that we believe warrant a response and some explanation.

Mr. Mann begins by asserting that we show disdain for the intelligence of the public in our responses to the failure of Washington Senate Bill 5919. In fact, the title of the letter is, “Do law enforcement leaders take us for fools?”

The simple answer is, no, we do not. We are both highly engaged and respectful of our communities and the law.

Mr. Mann later requests an explanation of why we both made the comments to Yakima Herald-Republic reporter Donald W. Meyers in his March 24 article, “Yakima County sheriff, police chiefs say more suspects will elude arrest as bill fails.”

Washington state law RCW 10.116.060 became effective in July 2021 (the original House Bill was 1054). In essence, the law required law enforcement officers to have “probable cause” (the amount of proof necessary to make an arrest) rather than the “reasonable suspicion” standard that came from the 1963 Supreme Court decision, Terry v. Ohio.

The court (in Terry) determined that officers do not require the higher standard of probable cause to stop, detain, and in some cases search a person if, in their experience as a police officer, they had reasonable suspicion that a crime had occurred, was occurring, or was about to occur. Senate Bill 5919 would have rolled the standard back to the standard set by the Supreme Court and used in all other states.

Further, law enforcement officers in Washington “may not engage in a vehicular pursuit, unless: there is probable cause to be believe that a person in the vehicle has committed or is committing a violent offense, or sex offense, or an escape. ...” This was why Chief Murray used the example of the school shooting at Garfield Elementary School in 2019.

The facts of that case are: There was a shooting, the suspect vehicle (stolen) fled the scene and was observed approximately two hours later by a YPD lieutenant, the lieutenant attempted to stop the vehicle, but the driver fled.

Under the new law, YPD could not pursue. Therefore, Mr. Mann is mistaken. The lieutenant had reasonable suspicion, but due to the length of time that had elapsed he could not establish probable cause that the person who fired the shots was still in the car.

Mr. Mann describes a “stop” (when a person willfully pulls over and submits to lawful authority), not a pursuit, where they flee. Further, the fact that the car is stolen does not meet the Washington legal standard for a “violent crime,” so again a pursuit would not be legal under the new law.

Mr. Mann wrote, “Did they have a reliable description of the vehicle involved in the shooting?” They did. But again, that is reasonable suspicion, not probable cause.

The law enforcement profession and laws governing their conduct is quite complex and it is easily misunderstood. Therefore, we appreciate these questions and are happy to clarify.

Matthew Murray is Yakima’s police chief and Robert Udell is Yakima County sheriff.