Bill eases autopsy disclosures


OLYMPIA — A proposal to allow law enforcement officials to discuss details of autopsies from officer-involved shootings cleared its first hurdle Friday.

Senate Bill 5256 is designed to address a problem Spokane law enforcement officials say they have clearing up misinformation in controversial cases when a suspect is killed by a deputy or police officer. The Senate Law and Justice Committee gave unanimous support to a revised version of the bill, paving the way for a vote by the full Senate.

It would lift some confidentiality restrictions on autopsy reports if the death occurs in the custody of a law enforcement officer or during police contact, or for deaths that occur in a prison or jail.

Under an amendment approved Friday, a medical examiner could discuss his or her conclusions about the cause and manner of death, but wouldn’t be required to release photos.

Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has said he’d be able to explain details of cases like the Sept. 5 death of Edward Gover, who returned to the home of a woman he’d held hostage and encountered deputies who thought he had a knife. They said they fired when he charged them, but no knife was found and two of the bullets struck Gover in the back.

Knezovich said the deputies responded appropriately, but couldn’t discuss the autopsy findings because of orders from the county medical examiner’s office.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, who is the sponsor of the bill and chairman of the committee, said there’s a legitimate public interest in details surrounding deaths that involve police actions.