Category: criminal justice

Arrests of “Prolific Shoplifters” Netted First-Time Offenders, People Previously Deemed Incompetent

Photos distributed by SPD showing items recovered during recent shoplifting arrests downtown
Photos distributed by SPD showing items recovered during recent shoplifting arrests downtown

By Erica C. Barnett

Capping off a year of renewed focus on low-level street crime such as shoplifting, the Seattle Police Department announced just before the new year that it had arrested 11 “prolific shoplifters” in an operation targeting downtown retail theft, booking eight of them into the downtown jail.

In a post on the department’s blog, SPD described a carefully orchestrated operation in which officers worked with security staff at three stores to identify prolific thieves and apprehend them after they “gather[ed] items like clothing, makeup, food, and liquor, and then walk[ed] out of the store with no attempt to pay.”

SPD declined to provide police reports for the arrests, and information about the eight bookings hasn’t shown up yet in the Seattle Municipal Court’s public portal. However, the department did post images of the recovered goods, which included beer, ice cream, sandwiches, lip gloss, and toilet paper. With the exception of a case of beer and what looks like two sample bottles of cologne, none of the items appear to be worth more than several dollars.

Of the three people with multiple prior arrests or charges, two were deemed incompetent to stand trial in the past because of mental illness, including one whose history of paranoid, delusional outbursts, attributed to schizophrenia in court documents, is described at length in police reports.

Indeed, while the SPD post makes it sound like police targeted some of the city’s worst offenders, our review of the court history of the eight booked offenders shows that most of them have scant criminal records or well-documented histories of mental illness and addiction—conditions that aren’t addressed by sending people to jail for a night or taking them to trial. At least two people on the list have been declared incompetent to stand trial because of mental illness in the past. None appear to be on the city’s “prolific offenders” list.

SPD released three of the suspects without booking them, and booked the remaining eight into jail; the department provided the names of those eight to PubliCola in response to a request.

Of the eight, one—as SPD noted in its post—had several outstanding warrants and faced additional charges, including possession of auto theft tools.

Among the remaining seven, only three have been charged with, or arrested for, more than one misdemeanor in Seattle in the past, according to court records—an extremely minimal definition of “prolific.” The remaining four had either zero or just one prior case in Seattle Municipal Court records, which go back decades.

Of the three people with multiple prior arrests or charges, two were deemed incompetent to stand trial in the past because of mental illness, including one whose history of paranoid, delusional outbursts, attributed to schizophrenia in court documents, is described at length in police reports.

Almost every person who was booked into jail as part of this highly publicized operation was released within a day, and City Attorney Ann Davison’s office declined to file charges in seven of the 11 cases.

In other words: The great holiday Retail Theft Operation of 2022 was a bit of a bust.

Because SPD, and Mayor Bruce Harrell, have placed such an emphasis on the need to prosecute people who engage in frequent shoplifting from downtown stores (a practice that, as we’ve documented, can be prosecuted as “organized retail theft” even if the person is stealing something for their personal use), it’s worth taking a closer look at the cases in which the city previously arrested or charged the people picked up last month for other misdemeanors.

The only clear-cut case of a “prolific offender,” the Northgate Target shoplifter, was arrested repeatedly for stealing clothes, including 10 incidents in 2020. In the December bust, SPD picked him up for taking $51 worth of items from a downtown Bartell drug store, including pens, two sodas, and a notebook.

According to court records, the man had been referred to community court for several of his previous cases, but didn’t follow through; in a mental health evaluation in 2020, he acknowledged a history of drug abuse and claimed he was having auditory hallucinations, but was found competent to stand trial.

The other two cases involve people whose mental health issues and struggles with addiction were well documented.  In one, the court referred an alleged serial shoplifter to mental health court; the man, who is homeless and reported daily drug use and heavy drinking, was recently found incompetent to stand trial in several cases and referred for a mental health evaluation. All but one of those cases involved shoplifting from downtown stores; the other was an alleged assault at the downtown library in 2016.

A spokeswoman for SPD noted that officers don’t always arrest people identified as shoplifters by store security guards. It’s also true that security guards don’t always call police when they witness or confront someone shoplifting, so the number of arrests doesn’t represent the actual number of shoplifting incidents.

The second involves a man court records describe as schizophrenic. The man had been arrested, most recently, in August, after neighbors called the police when he was “standing in the street and screaming” in a “possible mental crisis,” according to police reports. Officers who responded to that call arrested the man for subsequently walking out of a nearby drug store with three board games. His criminal history included many arrests for harassing and attacking members of his family, who lived nearby, when he was “off his medication” and using drugs.

Asked to comment on the downtown arrests and the details of specific suspects’ legal histories, a spokeswoman for SPD noted that SPD doesn’t always arrest people identified as shoplifters by store security guards, so some of the people could been repeat offenders without being arrested. Additionally, security guards don’t always call police when they witness or confront someone shoplifting.

“The Retail Theft Operation was conducted to assist in identifying prolific offenders, but also deter shoplifting in the stores overall,” the SPD spokeswoman said. “Detectives, Officers and Loss Prevention teams often contact suspects, who have shoplifted liquor or other items multiple times, but may not arrest these suspects for various reasons. Most often the contact is reported as a terry stop, shoplift or trespass by officers.”

The City Attorney’s Office did not respond to requests for comment about their charging decisions.

King County Plans to Move Up to 150 Inmates to Address Capacity Issues at Downtown Jail

By Erica C. Barnett

Earlier this year, King County Executive Dow Constantine quietly added $3.5 million to the county’s budget for “potential contracted services to address jail capacity issues”—a reference to understaffing at the King County Correctional Facility in downtown Seattle, which is currently facing a shortage of about 120 officers. Despite offering bonuses of up to $15,000, the county Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) has found it challenging to hire and retain jail guards, thanks in large part to long shifts and poor working conditions; the more guards leave, the worse the problem becomes.

Last month, DAJD director Allen Nance provided more details about what that $3.5 million would pay for. In a memo to all DAJD staff, Nance explained that the department is “pursuing a contract with the South Correctional Entity (SCORE),” a misdemeanor jail in Des Moines, to house some of the 1,250 or so people currently incarcerated at the downtown Seattle jail. SCORE is a public development authority, a type of government-funded nonprofit, that was established to provide jail services to seven South King County cities. The department plans to start in January by moving about 50 people to the jail about 15 miles south of Seattle, a number that could grow to 150 later on. SCORE, which provides jail services for six south King County cities, has a capacity of 802.

“The partnership with SCORE is being piloted to see if it might ease the workload on our staff and prevent a need to expand booking at the [Maleng Regional Justice Center (RJC) in Kent], given the Department’s limited resources and our current reliance on overtime to cover shifts,” Nance continued. About 260 people are currently incarcerated at the RJC, which is only accepting bookings by appointment. “At the same time, we will continue to explore other strategies to run our two jails more efficiently.”

Noah Haglund, a spokesman for DAJD, said that “if we finalize an agreement with SCORE, we would prioritize people with extended time between court dates or those who are serving jail sentences.” King County’s jails would “continue to house people with greater medical needs and those deemed to pose a higher security risk,” he said.

Most of those housed in the downtown jail face felony charges; about 9 percent have been charged with misdemeanors. Although SCORE is currently a misdemeanor jail, its director, Devon Schrum, said the facility is “constructed and staffed to hold any classification of arrestee, including those accused of felony-level offenses.”

Defense attorneys and the jail guards’ union—odd bedfellows that have increasingly found themselves on the same side of issues related to crowding and understaffing at the jail—oppose the move. “We’re already facing a staffing crisis,” said Dennis Folk, head of the King County Corrections Guild. “Let’s say we’re housing 50 or 100 inmates down there, and now they need to go to the hospital—who’s going to be responsible for taking them? How are they supposed to get to the court if that work falls back on us?”

Haglund said the department has not worked out an agreement with SCORE to transport residents from Des Moines to Seattle; according to a rate sheet provided by Schrum, the jail charges $75 an hour for transportation by an officer.

The union that represents King County Department of Public Defense employees, SEIU 925, has similar concerns. Molly Gilbert, the the president of the SEIU 925 chapter that represents DPD staffers, said SCORE’s location and hours of operation could make it hard for attorneys to meet with clients and for clients to get to the downtown Seattle courthouse for in-person hearings. Bonnie Linville, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services,

In a recent survey of public defenders, many attorneys said moving downtown jail inmates to SCORE would make it more challenging for them to manage their caseloads, because they would have to drive between three jails instead of two; others, however, said SCORE has more reliable video visitation than either King County jail. The union has filed a demand to bargain over the change—the first time the union has ever moved to challenge a management decision through bargaining outside the regular contract negotiation process, Gilbert said.

Schrum says SCORE —unlike the King County system—is fully staffed and has had little trouble recruiting “highly trained” guards and staff. But some who oppose relocating inmates point to previous evidence of poor conditions at the jail, including a highly publicized 2018 case in which a woman experiencing a mental health crisis died in her cell later spending four days consuming huge amounts of water.

In 2016, Disability Rights Washington’s AVID (Amplifying Voices of Inmates with Disabilities) Jail Project released a report outlining significant problems with SCORE’s treatment of inmates with mental illness, including excessive use of solitary confinement and lack of access to psychiatric care. The report also outlined steps SCORE had taken to address some of the issues AVID raised; a spokesman for DRW said he could not speak to current conditions in the jail.

Many advocates say relocating 50 (or even 150) people from the downtown jail to SCORE will do little to address deteriorating conditions in the jail. For months, people in the jail have limited access to medical care, showers, laundry, and recreation outside their cells.

“There are requirements that people be provided adequate medical and mental health care, be taken to outside medical appointments and be allowed a certain amount of out of cell time per day and it is clear that the jail is not meeting those requirements. Pursuant to the Hammer settlement agreement, the jail is required to meet certain benchmarks regarding each of these issues.”—La Rond Baker, legal director, ACLU of Washington

“We’re hearing routinely from folks that they’re sending [requests for physical or mental health care] that aren’t getting answered, or the answer is, ‘sorry, we’re understaffed,'” said Bonnie Linville, an attorney for Columbia Legal Services, which provides legal aid to low-income clients. “We’re also hearing about fewer transfers and delays in transferring people to Harborview [Medical Center] for necessary care, which is really concerning.” Suicide has become such a problem in the jail that the department has removed bedsheets from all cells. The county’s 2023-2024 budget includes $1 million for “jump protection panels” at the jail.

With conditions inside the jail at a breaking point, advocates say the county may be in violation of an agreement it signed almost 25 years ago called the Hammer settlement. In 1988, the ACLU of Washington represented a man named Calvin Hammer who said he was denied medical care after an assault at the jail left him with a badly fractured skull. Eventually, the ACLU and King County reached a settlement that required the county to increase staffing and improve conditions at the downtown jail. Now, the ACLU believes the county may be in violation of the Hammer settlement, and could challenge the county’s compliance with the agreement.

La Rond Baker, the legal director for the ACLU-WA, declined to get into the details of any potential legal challenge. However, she said, “many of the conditions at the jail show that the jail is out of compliance with the Hammer settlement.” For example, “there are requirements that people be provided adequate medical and mental health care, be taken to outside medical appointments and be allowed a certain amount of out of cell time per day and it is clear that the jail is not meeting those requirements. … Pursuant to the Hammer settlement agreement, the jail is required to meet certain benchmarks regarding each of these issues.”

Continue reading “King County Plans to Move Up to 150 Inmates to Address Capacity Issues at Downtown Jail”

Council Budget “Balancing Package” Cuts Vacant SPD Positions, Restores Human Service Worker Raises

The city council’s budget “balancing package” still leaves a large gap the city will have to address in the future, possibly through new progressive taxes that have not yet been identified.

By Erica C. Barnett

Twelve days after a late-breaking revenue forecast punched new holes in the city of Seattle’s biennial budget, city council budget committee chair Teresa Mosqueda released a two-year “balancing package” that amends Mayor Bruce Harrell’s October budget proposal by eliminating proposed new programs and initiatives, allowing revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax to fund programs that would not ordinarily qualify for  JumpStart spending, and reducing the number of vacant police positions the city will continue to hold open next year from 200 to 120.

Mosqueda’s plan would eliminate proposed new funding for Shotspotter (or another gunshot detection system); reduce the proposed increase in police recruiting efforts; reduce the amount of new funding SPD will receive for new guns and ammunition; and reduce the amount of new spending on SPD’s Develop Our People leadership academy, a management training program for sergeants.

Harrell’s budget assumes that the 120 vacant positions Mosqueda’s proposal leaves untouched won’t be filled, and “reinvests” those on-paper savings back into other police programs. Mosqueda’s budget proposal doesn’t touch this “reinvestment” and still funds the vast majority of Harrell’s police hiring and recruitment plan, which still includes large bonuses for new recruits and enough money to hire a net 30 new officers over the next two years—an ambitious plan that would represent a rapid reversal of police hiring trends over the last several years.

At Monday’s initial council meeting to discuss the proposal, Councilmember Alex Pedersen said any proposal to cut vacant positions from SPD’s budget amounted to “revisiting the debate in 2020 and 2021” about “defunding” the police department. “I see in the [budget] proviso that it takes away the police department’s flexibility to use savings to address overtime needs, despite the fact that they have a severe staffing shortage,” Pedersen said.

Mosqueda anticipated the objection that eliminating funding for positions that will never be filled amounts to a “cut” in the police department. “We are not touching the 120 [police positions] and we are not touching the hiring plan,” Mosqueda told PubliCola Sunday. But “we know we are never going to fill [the remaining 80], so we are going to put those dollars back into the general fund.”

Councilmember Alex Pedersen said any proposal to cut vacant positions from SPD’s budget amounted to “revisiting the debate in 2020 and 2021” about “defunding” the police department.

Then, Mosqueda said, she looked at the items Harrell proposed funding with the money from the remaining 120 positions, and asked “what is above and beyond on that list. It was things like [the gunshot detection system] Shotspotter— gone. They wanted a PR firm that was in charge of the [police] recruiting plan. That’s gone. They wanted a website redesign investment. That’s gone. Anything that was not essential for the policy that was passed—gone.” 

Eliminating Shotspotter, SPD’s marketing plan, and a new $1.2 million-a-year anti-graffiti program would save about $3 million a year. Cutting and delaying capital projects funded by the city’s Real Estate Excise Tax, which stands to take a $64 million hit over the next three years, would save millions more. Another source of unanticipated funding—about $5 million a year—will come from the money the city planned to spend expanding an existing shelter in SoDo, a project King County Executive Dow Constantine abandoned earlier this year.

And then, of course, there is the JumpStart payroll tax, which the council originally earmarked for housing, Green New Deal programs, equitable development, and small businesses. Harrell’s budget would have empowered the mayor to use JumpStart for non-JumpStart purposes in perpetuity, by overturning a law, passed just last year, that only allows JumpStart spending for general government purposes if the city’s general fund falls below $1.5 billion.

Although Mosqueda’s budget provides a two-year exemption to this rule, she says she’s confident the council won’t have to do the same thing after 2024,, because by then a revamped progressive revenue task force will have come up with new funding sources to make the annual budget less susceptible to economic downturns.

The balancing package also shifts some funds around so that JumpStart will mostly go to its intended purposes; for example, instead of using the payroll tax to 14 new city employees to staff Sound Transit’s light rail expansion plan, as Harrell proposed, Mosqueda’s proposal would use money from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, funded mostly with vehicle license fees, to pay for those positions.

Although Mosqueda made some concessions on JumpStart, her budget also funds full inflationary wage increases for human service workers, rather than the sub-inflationary 4 percent increase Harrell proposed. Harrell’s plan would have required the council to overturn a 2019 law requiring cost of living adjustments that keep up with inflation; as Harrell, then council president, said in a speech supporting the measure at the time, the point of the law was to ensure that wages keep up with inflation during “hard times,” not just when things are going well.

The balancing package also keeps the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation, rather than transferring them back to the Seattle Police Department, as Harrell proposed. This plan, like Mosqueda’s proposal to stop funding 80 vacant police positions that cannot be filled, could end up a target for disingenuous accusations that the council is “defunding the police.”

PubliCola has heard that Councilmember Sara Nelson plans to resurrect Harrell’s original proposal to open up JumpStart spending permanently, including legislation originally sent down by Harrell’s office that would pin the threshold for JumpStart to go to non-JumpStart purposes to the rate of inflation, rather than a fixed $1.5 billion amount.

The balancing package also keeps the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation, rather than transferring them back to the Seattle Police Department, as Harrell proposed, and sets up a process for determining where parking enforcement will ultimately live at the city by next April.

“We’re asking them for a little bit of time to take the temperature down, have a conversation, and ask them what they need,” Mosqueda told PubliCola. “And then we’ll figure out which department has that structure. Is it SPD? Is it [the Community Safety and Communications Center? Is it a totally different department?” This plan, like Mosqueda’s proposal to stop funding 80 vacant police positions that cannot be filled, could end up a target for disingenuous accusations that the council is “defunding the police.”

The new budget proposal also includes funding to hire up to 90 parking enforcement officers and pay for supplies and new uniforms for the parking enforcement unit, which had to cut costs when the city moved parking enforcement to SDOT. The move increased administrative costs for the department by about $5 million due to a quirk in how  way general fund spending is allocated on administration; Mosqueda said neither SDOT nor then-mayor Jenny Durkan were honest with the council about the extra costs.

Other highlights of the balancing package, which the council will discuss in detail over the coming week:

• Instead of funding the mayor’s “Seattle Jobs Center,” which Harrell described in his first State of the City address as a portal “connecting workers and employers to new opportunities, workforce development, and apprenticeships,” the balancing proposal would use JumpStart revenues to fund the MLK Labor Council’s existing online “hiring hall,” while requesting a report from the city’s Office of Economic Development on what a city-run jobs site would look like.

Looking at Harrell’s budget proposal, which does not include any new details about the jobs center, “we were like, ‘what’s the plan here? What’s this going to look like? Have you consulted with labor partners?'” Mosqueda said. “And there wasn’t a lot of there there.”

• The proposal eliminates cash spending on large projects that would be funded by the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) and proposes funding them instead with long-term debt, which increases the cost of projects but allows the city to fund them over time, rather than paying for entire big-ticket items up front. These include the redevelopment of Memorial Stadium, at Seattle Center, in collaboration with Seattle Public Schools, and the purchase of a building on the downtown waterfront for a new, 10,000-square-foot tribal interpretive center for the Muckleshoot Tribe.

• The balancing package would preserve most of the funding Harrell’s budget added for the new Unified Care Team, a group of city staffers from several departments that cleans up around and removes encampments. As we reported, Harrell’s budget adds 61 permanent positions to this team, the majority of them in the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Parks Department—the two departments primarily responsible for encampment sweeps.

However, the package would take most of the funding Harrell proposed spending to expand the HOPE Team, a group of city staffers that does outreach at encampments, and reallocate that money to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority to pay for contracted outreach providers, such as REACH. The plan would still add one new “system navigator” to the UCT, so that there will be one outreach worker for each of five areas of the city where the UCT will operate. The proposal also outlines clear, distinct roles for the city’s own system navigators and KCRHA’s outreach teams.

The formal request poses a list of 23 questions and sub-questions about “emphasis patrols” and the city attorney’s “high utilizers” list, such as “Does SPD have a theory of change for emphasis patrols?” and “How much has the City spent on jail beds for those arrested via emphasis patrols on the high utilizers list?

• As we reported on Monday, the regional homelessness authority approached the council in October, five months after submitting its annual budget request, to ask for more than $9 million in new funding to pay for ongoing programs that were originally funded with one-time federal dollars during the COVID pandemic. The balancing package provides $3.9 million—the sane amount KCRHA said it needs to continue federally funded rapid rehousing programs—and says KCRHA will use $5.4 million from its own 2022 “underspend” to fund these programs.

• The proposal includes $4 million in 2023 alone for the LEAD and CoLEAD programs, which provide case management, services, and, in the case of CoLEAD, hotel-based lodging for people who are involved in the criminal legal system, including people experiencing homelessness. The Public Defender Association, which runs both programs, has said it will need to make dramatic cuts to either or both in the absence of full funding for both. Harrell’s budget provided just $2.5 million over two years for CoLEAD, stipulating that the money was supposed to be spent moving CoLEAD clients from hotels into tiny house villages; the balancing package increases the city’s total contribution to both programs but says the PDA must come up with “other ongoing funding sources” after next year. Continue reading “Council Budget “Balancing Package” Cuts Vacant SPD Positions, Restores Human Service Worker Raises”

Inmates Say Jail Water Still Coming Out Brown; Morales Opposes Expansion of “Inequitable” Seattle Promise Program

1. Last week, King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) announced that it had resumed the use of tap water for drinking and cooking “after new tests, like all other tests performed recently, confirmed that tap water in the jail meets EPA and Washington Department of Health drinking water standards.” The jail began distributing bottled water after complaints that the tap water in cells, ordinarily the only water source for drinking, hygiene, and heating packaged foods, was cloudy or brown.

According to DAJD spokesman Noah Haglund, the county’s facilities division “has worked diligently with water quality experts to assess the quality of the water and attempt to determine the cause of any discoloration or turbidity in the water.” (PubliCola reported exclusively on the water shutdown last month). Inmates at the jail lacked tap water for more than a month while the county was doing tests, and two current inmates told us they did not have access to adequate bottled water.

Haglund provided copies of testing results that indicated the water is safe to drink. However, multiple reports from inside the jail continue to indicate that the water is brown and cloudy. According to one defense attorney, a client at the jail reported that running the faucet in his cell “causes it to turn brown/black with visible film on top and particles in it.” The mother of another inmate said her son reported that “the water is still brown” and that guards are no longer handing out water.

Haglund confirmed that the jail is no longer handing out bottled water, and said that after following up on a complaint about water quality, a jail captain “did not observe any discoloration, abnormalities, or any other inconsistencies in the water” in the south wing of the jail. “We will continue to follow up if we receive additional reports about water issues,” Haglund said.

2. As part of the city budget deliberations that are still ongoing, City Councilmember Tammy Morales, who represents Southeast Seattle, has proposed several amendments that would claw back most of $5.7 million in unspent dollars from the Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise (FEPP) levy, which funds preschool, college assistance, and other programs. Mayor Bruce Harrell has proposed investing this underspend in Seattle Promise, whose scholarships have turned out to disproportionately benefit white students, rather than the preschool programs for which the funding was originally intended.

Morales’ amendments would reduce Harrell’s proposed new spending on Seattle Promise by $1 million in 2023 and $3.7 million in 2024 and require the city’s Department of Education and Early Learning to come up with a new plan to prioritize low-income kids, first-generation immigrants, and students of color for Seattle Promise enrollment. The amendments would not reduce overall funding for the program, and it wouldn’t eliminate funding Harrell’s office has already allocated for Seattle Promise purposes in advance of this year’s budget process.

“White students get more access to more [Seattle Promise] dollars. They also have better retention rates and better outcomes than scholars of color. Until the structural problem is fixed, we shouldn’t be expanding it.”—City Councilmember Tammy Morales

The Seattle Promise program, which provides scholarships (“Tuition”) and financial assistance (“Equity Scholarships”) to Seattle high school students who attend a local college in Seattle. Most of the funding for Seattle Promise goes toward tuition, with a smaller portion paying for grants to help kids of color and low-income kids, who often don’t qualify for scholarships because they receive tuition assistance through state and federal programs, to pay for other college necessities like food and transportation.

The implementation plan for the levy says that if demand for tuition exceeds available funds, “tuition funds will be prioritized for low-income, first-generation” students and students of color. It also says that any levy funds that go unspent at the end of the year, including tuition and scholarship funds, will supplement the preschool programs that make up the bulk of FEPP levy spending. However, this language has never been adopted into law, which is why Harrell was able to propose rolling $5.7 million in unspent Seattle Promise dollars back into the tuition side of the program, rather than spending it on preschool.

Seattle Promise was explicitly designed to close race-based opportunity gaps that keep kids of color from attending college. In reality, according to Morales, almost half the program’s tuition funding has gone to white students. “The way that it is currently structured is inequitable,” Morales said at a committee meeting late last month. “White students get more access to more dollars. They also have better retention rates and better outcomes than scholars of color. … Until the structural problem is fixed, we shouldn’t be expanding it.”

So Much for That Backlash: Voters Saying “Yes” to Progressive Local Candidates

By Erica C. Barnett

Anyone hoping for a continuation of 2021’s local backlash election, when Seattle voters chose a slate of candidates who promised to crack down on crime and visible homelessness, should have been disappointed by Tuesday’s early election results, which showed progressive and left-leaning local candidates defeating their more conservative opponents by solid margins.

As of Tuesday night, public defender Pooja Vaddadi was defeating incumbent Seattle Municipal Court judge Adam Eisenberg by a margin of 56 to 43 percent; embattled progressive municipal court Judge Damon Shadid was beating assistant city attorney Nyjat Rose-Akins 69 to 30 percent; and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s chief of staff, Leesa Manion, was defeating Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell 55 to 44 percent.

In fairness, it’s tough to directly compare the results of an odd-year (“off-year”) local election to those of an even-year midterm when progressive voters, in particular, are keyed up and perhaps unusually attuned to electoral politics. (Creeping fascism and the imposition of forced-birth laws tend to inspire a renewed interest in democracy).

And there is a major dropoff between high-profile, ballot-topping national races and those lower down the ballot—people simply vote in the national races and ignore the local ones. For example, in King County, nearly 50,000 people voted in the US Senate race between incumbent Patty Murray and Republican Tiffany Smiley (which Murray, defying some polls, was winning handily) and then chose not to cast a vote for King County Prosecutor—a dropoff of about 10 percent. In Seattle, King County Elections has counted about 218,000 ballots; yet fewer than 130,000 of those voters bothered choosing a candidate in either of the competitive Seattle Municipal Court races.

Still, those voters who did bother to vote in local races behaved differently than last year’s electorate, choosing more progressive candidates, and by larger margins, than many (including me) predicted. Conventional wisdom before the election was that Manion would face a tough challenge, if not outright Election-Night defeat, from Ferrell, a tough-on-crime former prosecutor who had the backing of local police guilds, suburban mayors, and the Seattle Times.

Manion, though no lefty crusader, supports alternatives to prosecution and incarceration, including the Restorative Community Pathways diversion program for young people accused of first-time felonies; Ferrell called RCP a “look-the-other-way program” that lets kids off without consequences and criticized the entire concept of pre-filing diversion.

The municipal court races offer clearer ideological splits, along with margins that are unlikely to close enough to reverse the outcome after more votes are counted.

Vaddadi, who has to bring a public defender’s perspective to the bench, has accused Eisenberg of being excessively punitive toward some defendants and inflexible in his approach to domestic violence cases. Although Eisenberg has touted his work establishing the Domestic Violence Intervention Program for DV offenders who want to change, he belongs to a faction of the court that leans toward conventional, punishment-based approaches to crime, while Vaddadi represents a sharp left turn.

Shadid, meanwhile, faced what initially looked like a daunting challenge from Rose-Akins, whose primary campaign issue was the incumbent’s management of community court—a therapeutic program that enrolls qualifying misdemeanor defendants in services, including health care and case management, instead of jailing them. The city attorney’s office office battled with Shadid earlier this year when he declined to exclude Davison’s list of about 120 “high utilizers” of the criminal justice system from community court, and Rose-Akins announced her candidacy shortly after Davison won that battle.

At the state level, Democratic Secretary of State Steve Hobbs was narrowly defeating nonpartisan challenger Julie Anderson in a race that is still too close to call.

One wild card this year is the vote to decide whether Seattle will adopt a new election system; as of Tuesday, Seattle voters were almost evenly split on this question, with slightly more saying we should keep our existing system than those saying we should adopt either ranked-choice voting or approval voting. (The ballot measure splits voting reform into two questions, asking voters whether they support changing the system and, in a separate question, whether they prefer ranked-choice voting or approval voting, regardless of how they voted on the first question.)

Seattle could end up rejecting both potential new systems by voting “no” on the first part of the ballot measure, but even if they do, the results for the second half of the question show overwhelming support for ranked-choice voting—the option supported by most local progressive groups, including all of Seattle’s Democratic legislative districts.

King County will release the next batch of ballots around 4:00 tomorrow afternoon.

PubliCola Questions: King County Prosecuting Attorney Candidate Jim Ferrell

By Erica C. Barnett

Current King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, a former Republican who embraced a rehabilitative approach to public safety unusual among prosecutors, will retire next year after more than two decades in office. His longtime chief of staff, Leesa Manion, played a critical role in his office, helping to set and implement the policies for which Satterberg was known, including the decision to stop charging people for low-level drug possession and the creation of a number of alternatives to incarceration, including Restorative Community Pathways, which allows young people to avoid charges for first-time felonies by connecting to community-based groups and enrolling in their diversion programs.

Manion’s support for RCP and other Satterberg initiatives has made her a target for a number of tough-on-crime officials, including a group of South King County mayors who issued a statement in August demanding “improved and timely juvenile and adult felony criminal accountability at the County level,” including more prosecutions and a greater reliance on incarceration as a response to “the rising tide of crime and violence in our communities.”

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, who’s also running for prosecutor, signed this statement, as well as a letter calling on legislators to adopt harsher penalties for drug use in response to the Blake decision, which effectively decriminalized simple drug possession. Ferrell has made Restorative Community Pathways a centerpiece of his campaign, calling it a “look-the-other-way” program because participants don’t have to face charges as part of their participation in the program. As mayor, Ferrell has used similar language to describe unsheltered people, supporting his city’s ban on encampments in public spaces and accusing people who live in encampments of embracing a “lack-of-accountability lifestyle.”

PubliCola sat down (virtually) with both candidates for King County Prosecutor in September.

PubliCola (ECB): Understaffing is a major issue at the King County Jail: People can’t visit with their families or meet with defense attorneys and incarcerated people are often locked in their cells for 23 hours a day. Do you support any policies that will reduce the jail population, like releasing people who are not being held for violent offenses?

Jim Ferrell (JF): When I was seeking the the endorsement of the King County Corrections guild, I actually got to hear about a lot of these issues that are just really very difficult for them. First of all, they’re about 100 officers down, according to the guild, so they’ve got to get aggressive about filling those positions.

So, to your question, what I would say is, you can’t say “we’re just going to reduce the population of the jail” in a vacuum. What people are concerned about in the region is this sort of revolving door, where people get brought over and over and over for property crimes. So where it makes sense for community safety and where you don’t have a chronic offenders getting booked multiple times, I can see exploring that. But when people get booked for an offense, and then they’re out that later that day, that really erodes the confidence of the community that something’s actually happening.

“[Keeping the youth jail open] isn’t about jailing kids, it’s about making sure that if you committed a violent offense in King County, you’re going to be held accountable. And you can’t eliminate that.”

ECB: You’ve been very critical of Restorative Community Pathways, the county’s pre-filing juvenile diversion program. One of your criticisms is essentially that it’s a pre-filing program, which means that there isn’t a case and it doesn’t go before a judge. Do you oppose pre-filing diversion in general, and would you want to institute a different kind of juvenile diversion program? What’s the evidence that RCP isn’t working?

JF: One of the things I’ve said over and over is, I could fix RCP in a day. You take about five or six crimes off the list and add a judicial component at the beginning.

I don’t think for felonies, certain types of felonies, that you should have a pre-filing diversion. If you bring a gun to school, if you’re in somebody else’s living room in a residential burglary, if you’ve committed a robbery or a felony assault, I don’t think you should be eligible for a pre-filing diversion. And at a minimum, you’ve got to have a judicial piece of this and a check back. I don’t think it’s asking too much to say, did the person show up? Did they do what they were asked to do? And that has been consistently my concern with RCP.

And it just needs to be recalibrated. I’m not against diversions—clearly, the idea is to get people get young people back on track. But when you’re talking about felons, and these felonies that I just rattled off the top of my head are not nonviolent, you’ve got very serious crimes that are part of this. They’re just not appropriate. So that’s my position.

And this was launched with zero notice to the communities. These are cases coming out of our cities. No notice of this huge change. There is no case number, no judge, no plan, no check back. We don’t have any idea of what happens [with these cases]. This isn’t a diversion program. This is a look-the-other-way program, literally.

My concern about RCP is, ultimately if you try to sort of coax young people in the right direction, you could be creating a different type of offender. I always say comfort is the enemy of change. And if somebody has made that mistake, you don’t want to extinguish someone’s hopes or dreams, and you also want to make sure that they’re not unemployable moving forward. But you also need to make sure that you have created some just some level of discomfort, so they won’t do it again, or at least are incentivized not to.

ECB: King County Executive Dow Constantine has set the goal of closing down the juvenile jail by 2025. Do you think the goal of zero youth detention is realistic?

JF: That policy is not tethered to reality. It just isn’t. What do you do with a juvenile who pulls a trigger and shoots somebody? What do you do with the juveniles that are committing violent offenses? Where are they going to go? I mean, in fact, actually, we had the two juveniles that committed a robbery here at a pawn store, in Federal Way this year. They got electronic home detention after they held everybody in this pawn store captive for a while. And then they go out and kill somebody in Pierce County.

Unfortunately, there is a segment of the juvenile population that commits violent gun-related crimes, and you need a place to hold these individuals to protect the public, victims, and even themselves before they commit offenses that they just are never going to be able to take back. So this isn’t about jailing kids, it’s about making sure that if you committed a violent offense in King County, you’re going to be held accountable. And you can’t eliminate that.

And they just need to get serious about hiring people. And it is hard. You’ve got to incentivize and you’ve got to just get the job done. And that needs to happen. But it’s not all about locking people up. I mean, I’ve got a 15-year-old son, I would never want him locked up, ever. And I think, really, we’re talking about where you find an offender, or a juvenile, or even an adult criminal defendant on the spectrum of seriousness of the offense, priors, and danger to the community.

“Sometimes, with people that are in crisis and decompensating, you can get them back on a regimen of the medication that they need. It just depends on where you find people, where they’re at in the process, and what kind of support they had with family and friends.”

ECB: The King County Jail is not known as being a particularly therapeutic place. And a lot of people are currently in a cycle where they’re in jail for a couple days and released, only to get arrested again and repeat the cycle. Do you support keeping people in jail for short periods of time on minor offenses, even if it means they might lose their job, health care, or housing?

JF: Well, they used to say that the seventh floor of the King County Jail was the second largest mental health ward in all of Western Washington. And it’s certainly not a way to treat mental illness. Oftentimes, at the end of the month, when people would run out of their medication, whether they’re bipolar or have some sort of co-occurring mental health issue, they would essentially decompensate and end up in custody. And you don’t make these decisions in a vacuum—it’s individualized in regard to the decision to hold somebody or not hold somebody. But sometimes, with people that are in crisis and decompensating, you can get them back on a regimen of the medication that they need. It just depends on where you find people, where they’re at in the process, and what kind of support they had with family and friends.

ECB: What about situations where people are held in jail for no other reason than that they can’t afford bail?

JF: My last assignment at the prosecutor’s office was in CTI, the car theft initiative. And some of these guys would go from stolen car to stolen car to stolen car, and dump it in a parking lot, and then grab the one right one to it. So those high-impact offenders do constitute a lot of the caseload. And they do have impact. I mean, if my car gets stolen, I couldn’t have this meeting with you right now. I couldn’t get to work, I couldn’t take my son to school. It has a huge impact on people.

I think that somehow or another, we got this idea that property crimes, nonviolent offenses, we’re going to allow that. But if you’re committing a felony crime, you’re going to be impacting other people. And when I talk to people, they really feel like the systematic response has been inadequate, because the community is getting victimized repeatedly. There should be some punishment for that—reasonable punishment based on a person’s prior record, but there should be some punishment.

ECB: Seattle Municipal Court recently agreed to restrict so-called high utilizers from accessing community court. I’m curious what you thought of that decision and if you think the county’s therapeutic courts, like drug court and mental health court, are doing a good job, particularly with people who may not be ready or able to comply with the conditions established by the court.

JF: I think drug court, mental health court, all of those type of courts are really the model for alternative dispositions. And it’s not zero tolerance—they really do want people to succeed. I talk a lot about drug court, because I think drug court is really the model for how to do this. It’s just so difficult for people to get off drugs and alcohol. They mask other issues that are that are also present. So we’ve got to get to the root causes. And you need to give people enough latitude, where if they have some sort of relapse, as long as it’s not flagrant, if they’re still willing to try, you don’t give up on them. But ultimately, what’s critically important about drug and mental health court is there’s a checkbox, there are accountability steps, and you can see whether somebody is going in the right direction or wrong direction.

ECB: You’ve talked about the case backlog at the prosecutor’s office, which has been largely due to cases piling up during COVID and the fact that the courts are still not operating at full capacity. What policies would you propose to get through that backlog more quickly?

JF: The first thing is, if you think of it like a pipeline, you’ve got a capacity issue. And there’s only a certain number of judges. And you’ve got speedy trial concerns. So you’ve got to expand the pipeline. And the way to do that is you got to hire more pro tem [judges].  And the prosecutor’s office has got to come up with a discernible plan. And the homicides and sexual assault cases, those absolutely have to go first. Continue reading “PubliCola Questions: King County Prosecuting Attorney Candidate Jim Ferrell”

PubliCola Questions: King County Prosecuting Attorney Candidate Leesa Manion

King County Prosecutor Candidate Leesa ManionBy Erica C. Barnett

Current King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, a former Republican who embraced a rehabilitative approach to public safety unusual among prosecutors, will retire next year after more than two decades in office. His longtime chief of staff, Leesa Manion, played a critical role in his office, helping to set and implement the policies for which Satterberg was known, including the decision to stop charging people for low-level drug possession and the creation of a number of alternatives to incarceration, including Restorative Community Pathways, which allows young people to avoid charges for first-time felonies by connecting to community-based groups and enrolling in their diversion programs.

Manion’s support for RCP and other Satterberg initiatives has made her a target for a number of tough-on-crime officials, including a group of South King County mayors who issued a statement in August demanding “improved and timely juvenile and adult felony criminal accountability at the County level,” including more prosecutions and a greater reliance on incarceration as a response to “the rising tide of crime and violence in our communities.”

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, who’s also running for prosecutor, signed this statement, as well as a letter calling on legislators to adopt harsher penalties for drug use in response to the Blake decision, which effectively decriminalized simple drug possession. Ferrell has made Restorative Community Pathways a centerpiece of his campaign, calling it a “look-the-other-way” program because participants don’t have to face charges as part of their participation in the program. As mayor, Ferrell has used similar language to describe unsheltered people, supporting his city’s ban on encampments in public spaces and accusing people who live in encampments of embracing a “lack-of-accountability lifestyle.”

PubliCola sat down (virtually) with both candidates for King County Prosecutor in September.

By Erica C. Barnett

PubliCola (ECB): I want to start by asking about the situation at the King County Jail. Among lots of other problems, understaffing is making it harder for public defenders to meet with clients. Do you support policies that will reduce the population at the jail, such as releasing people whose crimes aren’t violent? If not, why not?

Leesa Manion (LM): An important principle of our criminal legal system is that people have a right to counsel and that means they have to be able to meet with them. And also, if I’m thinking about the backlog of felony cases, we also want charged individuals to be able to meet with their attorneys, because we want to be able to resolve cases. And that’s in everyone’s interest—having people languish while they’re waiting to have their case heard is not helpful to anyone.

Second, I do believe in lowering populations for the right cases. I’ll be really honest with you, individuals who’ve committed violent crimes, sexual assaults, gun crimes, homicides—it’s really hard to argue for their release as individuals, and they’ve created great harm to an actual individual person, victim, family member. I don’t think we have enough robust, meaningful alternatives to detention in King County. We know from research that things like community housing, electronic home monitoring, text reminders, all have an impact, and they can protect public safety and secure the release of an individual and also help guarantee their return to court. We just don’t have enough of those.

ECB: Tell me a little bit about the adult diversion program that the county is planning to launch this year—is that the kind of meaningful alternative you’re talking about?

LM: There are a lot of similarities between the community diversion program and Restorative Community Pathways. The idea is to take first-time, nonviolent felony cases and to refer those individuals to community-based resources, so that they can get to the root cause of their poor decision making and behavior, and to offer those same types of resources to victims or harmed parties, including a loss recovery fund so that harmed parties have some of their out-of -pocket expenses taken care of.

Early reports show that RCP has a recidivism rate of 8 percent compared to either 21 percent or 58 percent, depending on what metric you’re looking at. Knowing that we can have success with juveniles, it kind of implies that we could try to have that same success with adults.

“I am proud of the fact that we file conservatively, that we want people to take accountability early on, and we’re not overcharging.”

ECB: The Seattle Times editorial board recently posted an interview with you and your opponent in which the Times said only 10 percent of sexual crimes reported to the sheriff’s office are prosecuted. The report they were citing actually reflected a much more nuanced picture than the way Times presented it, but it made me curious: Why do such a large number of sexual crimes never make it to the prosecutor’s office, much less lead to a conviction, and would you propose any steps to increase prosecutions of these cases?

LM: We participated in and fully cooperated with that audit. And one of the things they did is they looked at all the cases that we had declined. And the audit found that we did not declined a single case in error. And the recommendations that they had specific to [the prosecutor’s office], we were not only in agreement with, but were in the process of implementing by the time that the report was published. And one that was really meaningful to us was ensuring that a greater number of victims receive services earlier in the process. So we have [the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center], which is a great partnership. We also added 10 victim advocate positions in the office.

Once cases are reported, we have a shortage of police resources right now. The Seattle Police Department used to have 12 sexual assault detectives, and now they have four. And since they reduced, we have received 50 percent fewer referrals from SPD. I don’t think that there are 50 percent fewer sexual assaults that are going on. But I do think that their bandwidth and their capacity to respond and investigate sexual assaults was greatly diminished.

Then once those cases get referred to us, we have to look at the evidence, and we have to make that hard call about whether we have evidence sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. And if we don’t have evidence, it’s really not only responsible, but it’s unethical for us to file those cases. You know, people often are like, oh, you should just file the case and give it to a jury and see if it sticks. That’s actually not our ethical obligation. There have been movements in recent years to change the definition of consent, for example, so that it does a more systemic job of addressing some of the challenges in prosecuting sexual assault cases, because that’s often the really difficult thing to establish—that there was lack of consent.

ECB: Your boss, Dan Satterberg, said at a recent forum that the system basically wouldn’t work if more than 5 percent of cases went to trial, which is why prosecutors offer more lenient sentences to people who plead guilty without taking cases to trial. Do you think this is leading to unjust outcomes or excessive sentences?

LM: I wish I had a simple answer to that. There are two practices in our country. One: There are prosecutor’s offices where they’re like, we are charging everything up front, we’re gonna charge you with five counts of this plus enhancements. And it makes it really easy to drop charges or drop enhancements. And among public defenders or private defense counsel, there may be this sense of, yeah, that’s a pretty easy sell to my client. When you’re looking at, say,. 20 years versus 10, that’s easy math to do.

[Second, there’s] the way we do it, I am proud of the fact that we file conservatively, that we want people to take accountability early on, and we’re not overcharging. I’m really proud of that. I think the challenge with what I’ve heard described to me as the challenge of adding charges, is that yes, there are some who would characterize that as a trial penalty.

ECB: Are you open to eliminating or reducing the use of cash bail for nonviolent offenses? What do you see as the purpose of cash bail, and how to you respond to the criticism that it keeps people in jail for long periods on charges while they’re still presumed innocent?

LM: We don’t have that path in King County, I’ll just be really honest with you. Cash bail was developed as a means of ensuring someone’s return to court. And we know that the challenge around cash bail is that it disproportionately impacts the poor and BIPOC communities. That is less of a challenge here in King County than in other parts of the country. But that doesn’t mean that we can fail to address it.

When you take away cash bail, and you give judges a binary choice of release or detain, I think you will have more judges making the decision to detain out of an abundance of caution. I think that the systemic change that would be more equitable, and more fair, and more long-lasting would be to have a robust set of alternatives [to incarceration] that well funded, designed to be fair, and designed also to protect public safety. Because that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Public safety means a lot of things to me. But the challenge about having people feel like they’re not safe is that it does threaten, in my view, some of the really great alternatives and some of the really great reforms that we have built over the past 15-plus years..

ECB: What sort of alternatives are you thinking of?

LM: I mean, some people really need structure. They might need a safe place to live, they might need treatment, they may not have a way to get to court, they might need transportation. They may not have the ability to kind of follow the calendar in a way that a type A like me might follow it, so they might need a reminder. And then there are some people that maybe they’ve committed a crime that is not homicide, but maybe it was a pretty serious assault, who could maybe be at home on electronic monitoring devices. It has kind of a full menu of options. And we just don’t have that in King County right now. It doesn’t mean we couldn’t build it. But that’s an opportunity for us.

ECB: Do you think the county’s therapeutic courts, like drug court and mental health court, have been successful in helping people with multiple barriers like long term addiction and homelessness?

LM: I think drug court has been successful, because we hear it in every single graduation. It doesn’t mean it’s successful for everyone, it doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for everyone. I believe in the value of drug court, veterans court, and mental health court, and I think we should provide increased access to all three of those therapeutic courts. I also think we need to offer more community-based treatment options. And we also need to offer treatment on demand. Individuals shouldn’t have to come in contact with the criminal justice system just to get help. And I think in order to have that have the type of impact that we want, we have to be honest about the size of the need in our community. When we aren’t honest about those types of things, we can bring a lot of people around the table together, and we can have a lot of great conversation, but we won’t have the results that we want.

“I think Operation New Day was effective in this way: It interrupted a scene, if you will, a collection of behaviors that people felt was scary and intolerable, and that caused a lot of alarm and concern. Focused policing can definitely have an impact, but we also have to have focused treatment and focused services.”

ECB: You supported Operation New Day, which targeted a few key intersections, like 12th and Jackson, with intensive hot-spot police patrols. I don’t know if you’ve been to 12th and Jackson recently, but the open-air market is very much back—it’s just sort of distributed around the whole block. Do you still consider those efforts a success?

LM: I think Operation New Day was effective in this way: It interrupted a scene, if you will, a collection of behaviors that people felt was scary and intolerable, and that caused a lot of alarm and concern. Focused policing can definitely have an impact, but we also have to have focused treatment and focused services. And in a perfect world, this is what we would have: We would have the mobile [police] precinct and we would have the mobile health clinic, and they would be right next door to each other. They’d be together. And we would have not only police officers addressing some of the alarming behavior that we saw on 12th and Jackson, like selling fentanyl to vulnerable individuals, but we would also have social workers and medical professionals seeing and treating individuals, and an army of social workers helping to find safe housing and safe shelter for individuals. In an ideal world, we’d have both. It’s not an either/or, it’s a yes, and.

ECB: Given that we don’t live in that ideal world, do you think this strategy is effective? Or is it just disrupting these activities at one location for a little while?

LM: I think it does disrupt. And I think there’s some value in the disruption. But I want to be really honest: It’s a short-term option. It can be beneficial to the community, and it can be beneficial to individuals who want to feel safe. It can be beneficial to business owners who are afraid to go into their businesses, and customers who are afraid to shop in those stores. But it doesn’t mean that it’s effective for the individuals who are suffering from trauma, mental health, substance use disorder. I understand why store owners were afraid at 12th and Jackson.  I also understand that there are individuals who are really vulnerable and are fighting to meet basic needs. We have to address both. Continue reading “PubliCola Questions: King County Prosecuting Attorney Candidate Leesa Manion”

Jail Water Still “Cloudy” After Three Weeks; Advocates Want to Move City’s Homeless Outreach Team to Regional Authority

1. More than three weeks after inmates at the King County Jail in downtown Seattle first reported brown water coming out of their taps, jail residents are still relying on bottled water, as the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention awaits more test results on water the DADJ describes as “cloudy,” but safe to drink. The cloudiness comes from unidentified particles suspended in the water.

Noah Haglund, a spokesman for DADJ, said jail residents get bottled water at every meal, during medication rounds, and on request. “Out of an abundance of caution, jail staff have continued to distribute bottled water several times a day since the first reports of cloudiness were received about three weeks ago,” DADJ spokesman Noah Haglund said.

But defense attorneys and people currently incarcerated at the jail dispute this, saying people are not getting enough water to drink.

“They’re saying they’re giving it to us at our request, but it’s not like that—we get [a 16-ounce bottle of] water once every six to eight hours,” one jail resident said. Another said he had received even less. At least one incarcerated person has filed a grievance with the department, saying the brown water that was coming out of the tap in late September made him sick.

Jail inmates purchase food from the commissary, such as ramen and rice, to supplement the meager jail diet, using hot tap water to cook it. According to Haglund, the county’s Facilities Maintenance Division is still waiting on test results from water samples taken this week at the jail.

2. Some advocates for people experiencing homelessness are pushing to move the city’s HOPE Team, which does outreach and offers shelter beds to unsheltered people in encampments the city is about to sweep, out of the city and into the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, PubliCola has learned. Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, who did not respond to a request for comment, is reportedly leading the internal discussion about this potential change to the way the city responds to encampments.

Meanwhile, one organization that has successfully moved homeless people with high needs into hotels throughout the pandemic, the Public Defender Association, is seeking full funding for its LEAD and Co-LEAD  programs. Harrell’s budget provides a total of $2.5 million for both programs next year, which isn’t enough to keep both programs going

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Harrell’s budget would expand the HOPE Team from four to 10 “system navigators” at a cost of about $1 million; moving these workers to the KCRHA, along with funds that help HOPE Team members locate available shelter beds and coordinate their work with other agencies, would shift about $2.7 million out of the city’s budget and into KCRHA’s.

That $2.7 million represents a fraction of the $38 million Harrell wants to spend on a new, consolidated encampment cleanup team called the Unified Care Team, which already includes dozens of employees in the parks, transportation, and public utilities departments. (That $38 million also includes a related effort called the Clean City Initiative). Harrell’s budget includes $15 million in new spending to increase the team to 61 members, far more than the controversial, disbanded Navigation Team had at its peak.

The KCRHA does not oversee the city’s routine encampment removals, which include both pre-scheduled and short-notice sweeps. It’s unclear how the transfer of these employees would impact their work at encampments and their ability to coordinate with the city and homeless service providers. The request is not coming from the KCRHA, which currently has its hands full fighting against another Harrell proposal that would effectively cut homeless provider pay by permanently capping mandatory contract increases at 4 percent, far less than the rate of inflation.

Meanwhile, one organization that has successfully moved homeless people with high needs into hotels throughout the pandemic, the Public Defender Association, is seeking full funding for its LEAD and Co-LEAD  programs. Harrell’s budget provides a total of $2.5 million for both programs next year, which isn’t enough to keep both programs going. Co-LEAD provides hotel-based lodging and intensive case management to people experiencing homelessness; LEAD is a case management program for people involved in the criminal legal system, including those who are housed. In addition to underfunding these programs, Harrell’s budget assumes Co-LEAD will begin moving people into new tiny house villages, rather than the hotel rooms the program currently uses.

Building a new tiny house village to shelter Co-LEAD clients wouldn’t just represent a downgrade in terms of facilities (hotels, unlike tiny houses, have individual showers, restrooms, and running water); it would also require the PDA to plan and win approval for a new, mostly outdoor shelter complex somewhere in Seattle, where protesters just killed a 90-bed expansion of an existing homeless shelter in the industrial neighborhood of SoDo.

In a Sign of Worsening Conditions, Understaffed King County Jail Has Lacked Water for a Week

By Erica C. Barnett

The King County Jail in downtown Seattle has lacked potable water since Thursday, September 29, and people incarcerated at the jail have been relying on bottled water for the past week, PubliCola has confirmed.

According to a spokesman for the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD), the county “has had the tap water in the jail tested multiple times in multiple locations, and all tests have indicated that the water meets EPA standards for drinking water. However, since the water is still cloudy, we are providing bottled water for drinking and cooking purposes.” The jail has “ample supplies of bottled water,” the spokesman said.

According to the president of the King County Corrections Guild, Dennis Folk, inmates are allowed one bottle of water at a time and can trade in empties for new bottles. This restriction, Folk said, makes it less likely that people will melt the plastic bottles to turn them into weapons or fill them with urine or feces to fling at guards or other inmates.

However, it’s unclear how frequently people inside the jail are actually getting access to water.

“What we are hearing is that there is rationing of water and people are having to choose between hydration or hygiene, and there just isn’t enough water available,” the president of the public defense union (SEIU 925), Molly Gilbert, said.

A spokesman for the jail said there is no rationing and that DADJ offers water “at every meal, periodically throughout the day, during medication delivery, and per request of jail residents.”

PubliCola reported the news exclusively on Twitter Thursday morning.

According to an email from King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) director Allen Nance to the King County Department of Public Defense, the department became aware of “complaints related to water quality” last week (according to Folk, the water coming out of the taps was brown). “We immediately implemented bottled water for all persons in custody and staff out of an abundance of caution,” Nance wrote.

“We have women in the jail who are having their period and they’re unable to get a change of underwear for the week,” Gilbert said. “It’s inhumane, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s a clear liability for the county.”—Molly Gilbert, SEIU 925, King County Public Defense Chapter

Water testing found high “turbidity,” or cloudiness—basically, foreign particles in water that can indicate the presence of disease-causing microbes—and the water has remained off since then while the county has tried to figure out the source of the problem. In his email, Nance said the brown water may have resulted from faulty screens on the water heaters at the jail. According to the DAJD spokesman, the county has sent samples of the water for testing and expects to get the results back tomorrow.

The ongoing water shutoff is just the most recent example of ongoing problems at the jail that have severely limited residents’ access to medical care, attorneys, and time outside their cells. In a survey conducted by the ACLU of Washington in late September, public defenders reported that their clients often lacked access to basic medical care, such as treatment for injuries and dental care, and medication, including everything from insulin to psychiatric meds. When there aren’t enough guards on duty, Gilbert said, escorts for the jail nurses who hand out medication are often the first thing to go. Responding to Gilbert’s statements, the jail spokesman said there are “few if any instances when medication passes would be affected by corrections officer staffing” and that the jail delivers medication even during staffing shortages.

Most of the ongoing issues at the jail stem directly from a worsening staffing shortage, combined with a growing population as the county books more people on misdemeanor charges and transfers inmates from the Regional Justice Center in Kent, whose setup requires more guards per incarcerated person. In recent months, staffing shortages at the jail have led to frequent lockdowns, in which people are locked in their cells 23 hours a day, and defense attorneys report waiting hours to meet with clients, who have to be escorted to meeting areas by guards who are in short supply.

In January, the unions for the public defenders and jail guards joined forces to ask county officials to reduce the population at the downtown jail. Although that request was in response to COVID outbreaks, the staffing shortages that were at issue back then have only worsened in the intervening months.

“We have women in the jail who are having their period and they’re unable to get a change of underwear for the week,” Gilbert said. “It’s inhumane, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s a clear liability for the county.” The jail spokesman disputes this and says jail inmates regularly receive fresh clothes regularly, and can get clean underwear whenever they want.

King County offers hiring bonuses for guards at both the adult and youth detention centers, but hiring hasn’t kept up with attrition as guards burn out and leave. Booking fewer people into the jail would be one solution—about half the people in the downtown jail are booked for three days or less—but that idea is politically unpopular at a time when perceptions of crime have increased. One candidate for King County Prosecutor, Federal Way mayor Jim Ferrell, recently signed on to an “open letter”  from eight South King County mayors calling for more felony bookings and “incarceration to ensure… public safety.”

Fewer Staff, More Incarcerated Kids, and Frequent Solitary Confinement as Youth Jail Closure Deadline Approaches

By Erica C. Barnett

In July 2020, King County Executive Dow Constantine committed publicly to closing down the Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC), saying it was time to shift “public dollars away from systems that are rooted in oppression and into those that maintain public health and safety.”

“Today I commit King County to converting the remaining youth detention units at the CFJC to other uses as quickly as possible, and no later than 2025,” Constantine announced in a Twitter thread that noted the connection between police murders of Black people and mass incarceration. About half the kids King County incarcerates are Black, a group that makes up about 6 percent of the county population, and about 18 percent are white, compared to 69 percent of the county.

Constantine’s announcement came at a time of heightened public scrutiny of the criminal legal system in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s murder by police in Minneapolis. The youth detention center had opened just five months earlier, replacing a decrepit, 212-bed facility next door, and stood largely empty because of COVID and a general reduction in youth arrests. The population would hover at about 20 young people throughout the next year, peaking at 26 and dipping to just 17 in August 2021.

One year later, however, the trend has reversed. In August, the average daily population at the youth jail was 41; on October 3, it was 42, including four kids charged as adults. While the population at the jail has grown, the number of guards at the jail has declined; as of September, 22 of 91 juvenile detention officer positions were unfilled, down from about six vacancies in the fall of 2020—a shortfall of 24 percent.

The timeline for closing down the youth detention center could also get a reality check. Closing the jail requires alternatives to incarceration that don’t exist yet, and the process to come up with those alternatives, which will likely include restrictive housing for youth who present a danger to the community, is proceeding slowly.

The increase in the number of young people incarcerated at the CFJC is exacerbated by a similarly steep decline in the number of people working at the jail. A representative of the Juvenile Detention Guild told PubliCola that juvenile corrections officers are leaving their jobs more than twice as fast as the county can hire replacements. Understaffing has also impacted other positions at the facility, which has at times been short on nurses and other medical staff. The high attrition rate has created a shortage not just of workers but experience—a gap that shows no sign of closing even as the county ramps up financial incentives to get new hires in the door.

Understaffing has contributed to the frequent use of solitary confinement, a practice that persists even though it was officially banned in 2017. Jail officials acknowledge that they use “room confinement” when there aren’t enough staff to let kids into common areas safely, but there is no legal distinction between “room confinement” and other euphemisms for isolating kids in their cells for up to 20 hours a day.

Solitary confinement leads to stress, boredom, and fights, and has contributed to a reported uptick in assaults on guards and other staff. According to the juvenile guards’ union representative, “We hire staff who want to work with youth, but they are leaving [because] it is an unsafe work environment, we have to lock youth in their dorms for extended periods of time, [and we] do not have sufficient staffing to provide services to the youth.”

King County officials are aware that keeping kids in their cells is a problem, but the use of the practice has been escalating. In July, there were 13 days when kids were locked in their cells between 18 and 20 hours a day because of short staffing at the jail. Additionally, an independent monitor’s report released in May found a “significant increase” in the number of times youth were put in “restrictive housing” (solitary confinement) because of a risk of “imminent and significant physical harm to the youth or others,” along with a spike in the length of this form of confinement; in the first quarter of this year, 41 kids were put in restrictive housing for an average of 6 hours per session. 

Nick Straley, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services, says the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) is skirting laws that were passed specifically to prevent the department from doing exactly what it’s doing now. “The King County Council should get involved and pass strict requirements that force DAJD to do the right thing because we know they aren’t” on their own, Straley said.

King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay—who, like most of the nine county council members, visited the CFJC recently to get a better sense of conditions at the jail—said he was “shocked” to learn recently that the county still effectively allows solitary confinement for youth.

“If we literally don’t have the staffing to monitor people, I understand why that creates a different kind of situation, but it still is alarming, because from an experiential perspective rather than a technical perspective, the youth experience that the same way,” Zahilay said. “All the reasons we don’t want solitary confinement for youth are still true in that scenario, and we have to do everything we can to change those circumstances.”

Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention Director Allen Nance (background: King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall)
Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention Director Allen Nance (background: King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall)

For adolescents, confinement is a particularly harsh punishment, depriving them of not only of chances to interact with other kids and adults but making it harder to schedule visits with attorneys and family members. During visits, kids are separated from their family members by Plexiglas, depriving them of the chance to hug their parents or hold their own children.

“There have been issues with parents not being able to have contact with their kids and only being able to see each other through Plexiglas,”  a COVID-era innovation that prevents direct contact between family members and incarcerated youth, CLS’ Straley says. “The reality is that you’ve got the bare minimum level of humane treatment, and simply not having enough staff isn’t the only reason. They need to have more staff, and/or they need to have fewer kids in jail.”

There’s little consensus about why the county is locking up more kids at a time when youth detention is supposedly on a path to extinction. Jimmy Hung, who leads the juvenile division of the King County Prosecutor’s Office, attributes the reversal to an uptick in violent crime among both young people and adults. “And it’s not isolated to King County; it’s throughout the country,” Hung said. “We are dealing with aftermath of a once-in-a-century global pandemic, and that has also collided with the continuing escalation and increase in just the sheer number of firearms we have in our community.”

Straley believes the “perception out there that crime is running out of hand” is also contributing to harsher sentences from judges. “I think that perception is not accurate, but that’s the perception, and judges are aware of that and they adjust the sentence accordingly,” he said.

A DADJ spokesman, Noah Haglund, said another reason more kids are being detained is that incarcerated youth are being incarcerated longer, particularly the small percentage of kids charged as adults, whose average stay at the CFJC is 284 days; for kids detained on juvenile charges, it’s 17. Both averages have increased over the last five years.

Whatever the reasons, the number of kids at the youth jail is growing, and the number of staff at the jail is not keeping up.

DAJD director Allen Nance, appointed to the position last month after three years as head of the juvenile division, told PubliCola recently that the department “recognize[s]that not only do we need to do a better job recruiting quality folks to work with our young people in custody, but we also have to work diligently to implement strategies to keep the employees that we have today.”

Currently, the department offers hiring bonuses of $7,500 for new hires and $15,000 for lateral hires, as well as $5,000 to any county staffer who recruits a new detention officer for the adult or youth detention center. (Jobs at the adult jail pay slightly better).

However, the county lacks any significant programs to retain jail staffers once they’re hired—a major problem, given how many leave after they experience the challenges of the job; according to the union representative, “many staff will forfeit the money versus staying due to conditions” at the jail, including low morale, lack of support from DAJD leadership, poor schedules, and a lack of transparency about what will happen to CFJC staff if and when the facility closes.

Rod Dembowski, a King County council member who has been skeptical of the 2025 closure date, said during a recent council meeting that one reason the CFJC may be having trouble hiring guards is that the jobs offer no long-term security. “Why would someone come on to this job or stay in this job if it’s going to be gone in two or three years?” Dembowski said. “It’s not a real great career incentive and that may be hampering us.”

Hiring bonuses remain the primary tool the county uses to recruit new guards at both the juvenile and adult jail, which is also facing a crippling staff shortage.  But county rules require newly hired jail staff to pay part of their bonuses back if they stay less than three years, which means that a guard hired today would have to stay at the CFJC until 2025, when the facility is supposed to close, with no guarantee of a new position.

“Our office’s position has always been that zero youth detention is a goal that we should strive for, and it’s aspirational. I don’t believe that we can truly reach zero youth detention before I’m gone, but maybe for my daughter and my grandkids we can see that [happen].”—King County Prosecutor’s Office Juvenile Division Director Jimmy Hung

At the same time, the juvenile detention department currently relies heavily on mandatory overtime, which falls primarily on new hires. Nance, the DAJD director, said “we definitely intend to reduce over-reliance on mandatory overtime, and in fact, incentivize individuals to voluntarily work overtime,” but did not offer specifics when we asked him about the issue in September.

Nance also said the department is “in the process of finalizing” retention incentives for existing staff, “recognizing that those individuals who have already made the commitment to stay at the detention facility through 2025 deserve an opportunity to work in an environment where they are valued, where they where they are well compensated, and where we go above and beyond wherever we possibly can to support their continued employment in the department.”

Nance did not offer more details about the department’s strategy to keep the staff it has.

Nor is it clear whether the youth detention center will actually close in 2025—or ever. Earlier this year, planning for the closure shifted from the DAJD to the Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) in recognition of the fact that closing the youth detention center will require standing up community-based alternatives to incarceration, including housing that is more humane than a jail. Continue reading “Fewer Staff, More Incarcerated Kids, and Frequent Solitary Confinement as Youth Jail Closure Deadline Approaches”