Inslee Taps Former Judge to Lead New Agency Investigating Police Use of Deadly Force


Gov. Jay Inslee has appointed a former federal prosecutor and King County Superior Court judge to lead the new Office of Independent Investigations, which was formed by the Legislature to probe shootings by police statewide.

Roger Rogoff was recommended for the post after a national search by an advisory board of 11 people, chosen by Inslee last year, that included county prosecutors, police trainers, defense attorneys, police reformers, experienced investigators and the father of a victim of police violence.

Intent language passed with the measure said the office was needed to address "an outpouring of frustration, anger, and demand for change from many members of the public over the deaths of people of color resulting from encounters with police."

"The most recent deaths in the United States and within Washington are a call to lead our state to a new system for investigating deaths and other serious incidents involving law enforcement officers," the measure says.

The formation of the office is in its nascent stages, and Rogoff will be responsible for setting up and managing a series of regional teams —  similar to the multiagency task forces that currently investigate incidents in which police use deadly force — that are composed of independent investigators who will present their findings to local prosecutors.

The current system involves teams of detectives from surrounding law enforcement agencies, often with ties to the involved officers' department, raising concerns about conflicts of interest.

It's rare for police officers to face charges for killing people. In addition to creating the   Office of Independent Investigations, the Legislature has implemented significant reforms, including mandating de-escalation, requiring officers to intervene when a colleague acts inappropriately, and changing deadly force laws to make it easier to charge officers who act recklessly or negligently.

Four officers currently are facing homicide charges in Washington from incidents that occurred after the passage of I-940, a citizens' initiative that changed police deadly-force laws. Auburn officer Jeffrey Nelson is facing charges of second-degree murder and assault in the death of Jesse Sarey in May 2019, and Tacoma officers Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine are charged in the death of Manuel Ellis in March 2020. Burbank and Collins are facing second-degree murder charges; Rankine is charged with first-degree manslaughter.

Aside from a single Snohomish County deputy charged with manslaughter in 2009 — he was acquitted at trial — no officer in the state has been charged in connection with a police killing in 40 years.

The new office will be overseen by the governor's office, not the state attorney general, and will consist of regional teams of trained investigators who can respond to a deadly use of force within one hour to secure the scene and process evidence.

According to a release last year from Rep. Debra Entenman, the measure's sponsor, the office's staff "will be trained in the history of racism in policing, tribal sovereignty, implicit and explicit bias, intercultural competency, a racial equity lens, anti-racism, and undoing institutional racism."

According to Hector Castro, a spokesperson for the agency, no staff has yet been hired and some of Rogoff's first duties will include organizing the office and undertaking the hiring process.

The law establishing the office states that it will have jurisdiction to investigate any law enforcement use of deadly force that occurs after July 1, 2022, although Inslee has identified a number of deaths that occurred since the passage of I-940 that may be reviewed by the agency.

The agency will also  focus on communicating with the families and communities of people who are killed.

Rogoff worked as a senior deputy prosecuting attorney for King County from 1993 to 2007, when he joined the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle, prosecuting both white collar and violent crimes. He was appointed to the King County Superior Court bench in 2014 and spent six years as a judge.

Inslee announced Rogoff's appointment at a news conference Wednesday.