State Auditor’s Office releases first audits of police use of deadly force investigations

Sep 28, 2022

OLYMPIA – Today the Office of the Washington State Auditor released two first-of-their-kind audits related to law enforcement officers' use of deadly force. The reports compare the investigations of such incidents to state rules and professional best practices.

“These audits represent a new level of transparency for law enforcement, one that benefits everyone in our state,” said State Auditor Pat McCarthy. “They are the first use of deadly force investigation audits in the nation, and like all our audits, they are focused on the facts. We believe they offer valuable information to the public, lawmakers, affected families and the law enforcement community.”

When law enforcement officers cause the death or substantial or serious injury of a person in Washington state, the incident is reviewed by an independent investigation team (IIT) made up of personnel who are not affiliated with the involved officers or their agencies.

Beginning with use-of-force incidents on or after Jan. 6, 2020, the State Auditor's Office will compare the subsequent investigations against rules and best practices established by the state Criminal Justice Training Commission. The resulting reports detail to what degree the investigations were independent, transparent, credible and communicated to the public and affected parties.

The audits do not determine whether the officers were justified in using deadly force. Prior to the audits, the local county prosecutor reviews evidence submitted by the IIT and decides whether any charges against an officer are warranted.

The audit reports released today review two cases in Kitsap County, both of which were investigated by the Kitsap Critical Incident Response Team. One incident involved David J. Pruitte, who was killed by a Kitsap County Sheriff's Office deputy on Aug. 4, 2020. The other incident involved Sean Howell, who died on May 15, 2020, after being forcibly restrained while in custody at the Kitsap County Jail. The county prosecutor declined to pursue criminal charges in both cases.

The use of deadly force investigation audits found that, for the most part, the IIT followed state rules and best practices. We identified areas where its process could be improved, however, and both reports include recommendations for the IIT and the state commission. For example, the IIT should adopt policies that prohibit involved officers from discussing use of deadly force cases with each other until they provide statements to investigators.

“I want to thank the Kitsap Critical Incident Response Team for volunteering to be the first to participate in these new audits,” McCarthy said. “They showed a commitment to accountability and improvement, and I believe the recommendations we offer are valuable to them, and to every team tasked with investigating police use of deadly force.”

The reports can be found at the State Auditor's Office website – for Pruitte here and for Howell here. The office has also created an explanatory web page about use of deadly force investigation audits.

MEDIA CONTACT: Adam Wilson, SAO Communications – | 360-890-2125