Category: criminal justice

Parents Won’t Have to to Pay Jail Costs for Incarcerated Children; Another Suicide at Downtown Jail Amid Ongoing Staff Shortage

1. Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation on Thursday ending the requirement that parents of children in state-run juvenile detention centers pay for a portion of the cost of their child’s incarceration, a practice known as “parent pay.” The new law will also clear the debts of the roughly 240 families who collectively owed $1.1 million in unpaid custody fees to the state’s Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), which runs Washington’s three juvenile detention facilities. 

DCYF’s 2020-2021 budget assumed that the agency would take in $1.9 million in parent pay revenue over the past two years; Rachel Sottile, the president of the Center for Children and Youth Justice, a children’s rights organization in Seattle, told PubliCola that the agency was able to collect less than a quarter of that figure.

“First of all, DCYF can’t do if its job if it doesn’t have the resources it needs,” she said, “and secondly, parent pay created financial instability for parents that left a lot of youth cycling back into the criminal justice system.” She added that parents who did not pay their debts to DCYF risked facing contempt charges and possible jail time.

In a press release, DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter said he supported eliminating parent pay, calling the practice financially impractical and counterproductive. “It probably costs more to collect [fees from parents] than we bring in and may make it less likely for youth to reunify with their families, destabilizing their transition back to the community,” he said.

Along similar lines, the legislature voted this month to allow judges to waive most of the fines and restitution fees imposed on people convicted of crimes; that bill applies retroactively, opening the door for thousands of people who are currently in prison or who previously spent time in prison to petition courts to relieve them of debts that can present a hurdle to successful re-entry.

2. A 25-year-old man died at Harborview Medical Center after hanging himself in a cell at the King County Correctional Facility in downtown Seattle last week, marking the third death at the jail since the beginning of the year: an unusually high number for this point in the year, especially given the decline in the jail’s population during the pandemic. The deaths come as the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention continues to lose more corrections officers than it can hire, leaving some officers and other jail staff stretched thin.

Jail staff transferred the man to Harborview Medical Center after a guard found him unresponsive in a cell on March 10; he died from his injuries four days later. Court records indicate he was a trans man; the King County Superior Court referred to him using the last name Kostelak, and according to a source, he may have used the name Damian. Continue reading “Parents Won’t Have to to Pay Jail Costs for Incarcerated Children; Another Suicide at Downtown Jail Amid Ongoing Staff Shortage”

Oversight Report Raises the Question: Are the 2020 Protests Still Relevant Today?

Office of the Inspector General for Public Safety

By Paul Kiefer

A Seattle police oversight office released a report on Tuesday revisiting controversial Seattle Police Department actions during protests in June 2020 and urging the department to find ways to build new public trust. The report from the Office of the Inspector General for Public Safety (OIG) is the second in a series drawn from panel discussions between oversight officials, community members and representatives from SPD, including some commanders who led the department’s protest response.

On its surface, the report’s narrow focus on nearly two-year-old controversies comes across as old news; most of the incidents described in the report were already investigated by the Office of Police Accountability. Inspector General Lisa Judge, however, says that the reports point to a persistent lack of trust between SPD and a notable portion of the general public—distrust that escalated during the protests and that remains relevant as SPD embarks on new projects, including crackdowns on visible drug use and shoplifting in the downtown core.

Although SPD’s protest response may no longer be front-and-center in Seattle’s political zeitgeist, Judge said, “the issues of public trust in SPD and legitimacy of SPD’s use of its authority are timeless. Many of the report recommendations address protest response tactics, use of force, and weapons, but the larger recommendations regarding trust and legitimacy translate to every aspect of SPD’s operations within the community.” What remains unclear is whether SPD will do anything to address the persistent distrust the report identifies—and whether that distrust can still shape the department’s future.

Although SPD’s protest response may no longer be front-and-center in Seattle’s political zeitgeist, Inspector General Lisa Judge said, “the issues of public trust in SPD and legitimacy of SPD’s use of its authority are timeless.”

The first of the OIG’s Sentinel Event Reviews, released last July, focused on the first three days of the protests and concluded that SPD should aim to “facilitate” protests, rather than controlling or directing them. That report also suggested some basic tactical changes, like prohibiting officers from leaving their weapons in unattended vehicles during protests.

The latest report centers on the second week of protests, when clashes between police and demonstrators shifted from the downtown core to SPD’s East Precinct on Capitol Hill. Two of the panel’s members—Lieutenants John Brooks and James Dyment—were instrumental to SPD’s decision-making during that phase of the protests, including the use of tear gas and blast balls against demonstrators.

The panel reviewed five key moments in the second week of protests, including the impacts of tear gas on residents of an apartment building next to the East Precinct and an incident in which the brother of an SPD officer drove a car into a crowd of protesters and shot a man who tried to stop him before surrendering to police.

As the group discussed the tactics behind and public perception of each incident, a pattern emerged: While SPD representatives could often explain the policy and tactical thinking behind a controversial decision, the community representatives on the panel remained critical of SPD’s motives.

When discussing the allegedly retaliatory arrest of a man who filmed a widely circulated video of an officer pepper-spraying a child at an earlier demonstration, for example, SPD representatives said officers were unaware of the man’s identity when they detained him a day later for shining a laser pointer in their eyes. Community representatives on the panel were skeptical; according to the OIG’s report, the panelists argued that “law enforcement agencies sometimes justify illegitimate actions after-the-fact and have not been historically forthcoming about misconduct.”

Some of the panel’s discussions, the report says, “highlighted the loss of trust in SPD by a wide cross-section of the Seattle community. Improvements in tactics and communications are only part of the necessary solution. SPD will also need to find effective approaches to fostering transparency, education, outreach, and accountability when officers violate the rules, to rebuild community trust.”

“SPD wants the community to trust them so they can expand their budget and more easily apprehend people, but SPD doesn’t trust community members when we say that defunding the department is what would actually make us safer.”—2020 protester and Seattle Abolition Support volunteer Peter Condit

In its report, the OIG offered two dozen recommendations for changes to SPD’s protest response planning. Many of the recommendations—including a proposal for SPD to conduct a public education campaign on the dangers of laser pointers, ostensibly to reduce the risk of clashes between officers and protesters—address panel members’ criticism of specific SPD decisions in 2020.  Others, like a suggestion that SPD reserve tear gas for “full-scale riot situations,” addressed changes to department policies that could remain relevant in the long term.

Some of SPD’s critics say 2020 taught them another lesson that remains relevant today, especially as SPD sounds the alarm about a rise in gun violence while attempting to rebuild its ranks after two years of high attrition. “SPD is now trying to make use of crime statistics to regain public support,” said Peter Condit, who regularly took part in protests in 2020 and now volunteers with an organization called Seattle Abolition Support. “But the protests were a galvanizing moment for a political movement that is still alive. They created a body of people in Seattle who are immune to SPD’s propaganda because they witnessed how the department treated community members, and that group of people has stuck around and continued to organize in creative ways.” Continue reading “Oversight Report Raises the Question: Are the 2020 Protests Still Relevant Today?”

City Attorney’s Office Introduces Latest Initiative to Target “High Utilizers” of the Criminal Justice System

The Seattle Police Department’s mobile precinct parked at the intersection of 12th Ave. S. and S. Jackson St.

By Paul Kiefer

The Seattle City Attorney’s Office debuted a plan on Tuesday to identify the people who frequently commit crime—so-called “high utilizers of the criminal justice system”—to prioritize these people for bookings into the King County jail or for referral to mental health or addiction treatment services. So far, the office says it has compiled a list of 118 “high utilizers” who, according to City Attorney Ann Davison, “create a disproportionate impact on public safety in Seattle.”

But the initiative may run into an obstacle in the near future: The service providers the initiative will rely on to provide case management may be stretched thin by the surge of new “high utilizer” clients.

The initiative mirrors similar projects that the City Attorney’s Office launched in 2012 and 2019 to identify “high utilizers,” although earlier iterations of the program favored the terms “high-impact offenders” or “prolific offenders” to describe the people considered high priorities for law enforcement. Scott Lindsay, a public safety advisor to former mayor Ed Murray who led the charge to focus police resources on “prolific offenders” in 2019, is now deputy city attorney.

This time, said Davison spokesman Anthony Derrick, the city attorney’s basic goal is to create a working list of people who frequently interact with the criminal justice system, including notes on “who they are, what they’ve been through, and what we’ve tried that didn’t work in the past.” Every person on their initial list has been referred by police to the City Attorney’s Office 12 or more times in the past five years and at least once in the past eight months, most often for theft or trespassing.

As a starting point, Derrick added that the city attorney’s office reached an agreement with the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention to book “high utilizers” into jail for low-level crimes that wouldn’t generally land someone in custody. “It’s a chance for us to get people with a long history of challenges off the street, at least for the time being, so we have a bit of time to try to intervene,” Derrick said.

King County Department of Public Defense Director Anita Khandelwal views the initiative as a repetition of a failed strategy. “Over the last decade, the city has repeatedly announced similarly named initiatives that would focus more law enforcement resources on those already most policed as a strategy for addressing public safety,” she said. “This tired strategy of arresting, prosecuting, and jailing is expensive and clearly ineffective.”

Lisa Daugaard, the co-executive director of the Public Defender Association and a co-founder of the diversion program LEAD, however, sees the potential for success.  She says, the initiative is built on a solid foundation—addressing the needs of “high utilizers” on a case-by-case basis. She believes Davison could avoid the errors of past crackdowns by pushing her counterparts in city and county government to expand programs like LEAD to accommodate a new surge in clients.

If LEAD took on on all 118 people as new clients, she added, it would be unable to take on any additional clients for the foreseeable future, including people who the city attorney’s office might add to the “high utilizers” list.

“We might not have the capacity we need,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean the city attorney can’t advocate for more capacity for us… The fact that there aren’t the ideal resources to care for someone doesn’t mean we should avoid having a conversation about what to do. The best thing we can do is sit around a table and talk through our options.”

Daugaard added that Davison’s appointment of Natalie Walton-Anderson as the new head of the city attorney’s criminal division, gives her hope that the office is serious about including service providers in the decision-making process about how to work with someone on the “high utilizer” list. In her previous role as King County deputy prosecuting attorney, Walton-Anderson supervised a partnership between LEAD and the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

She reasons that the City Attorney’s Office and the Seattle Police Department may not need to rely on arrests and booking to reach people on the “high utilizer” list in the future. “Just because people are under arrest doesn’t mean they need to go to the jail. That decision falls to police, not the prosecutors.”

Daugaard added that she hopes the City Attorney’s Office will be receptive to the message that jailing so-called “high utilizers” may not improve public safety in the long run. “Unless the circumstances that land people on the list are addressed—a lack of legal income and trauma, among other things—no quote-unquote treatment strategy in jail is going to make a difference in a person’s behavior,” she said. “If there’s a table and we’re invited to it, I will argue strenuously that jail is not the place to invest resources.”

We have reached out to SPD to ask whether the department plans to direct officers to resume making post-arrest referrals to LEAD; in the past year, LEAD received most of its referrals from non-police sources, ranging from the City Attorney’s Office and the Seattle Fire Department to neighborhood business associations.

Currently, 16 of the 118 people currently on the City Attorney’s “high utilizer” list are already in custody at the King County jail: 10 for misdemeanor offenses and six for felonies. Whether anyone on that list stays in jail for the long term, Derrick added, is a decision for the Seattle Municipal Court and King County Superior Court. The Seattle Municipal Court is already processing a surge of new cases from the City Attorney’s Office, which filed more than twice as many charges in the final week of February as it did in the first week of January.

PubliCola Interviews King County Prosecutor Candidate Stephan Thomas

by Paul Kiefer

When longtime King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced his retirement in January, his office was in the middle of a decade-long transformation. Since Satterberg took over 15 years ago, the King County Prosecutor’s Office has branched out beyond standard prosecution, partnering with felony diversion programs for young adults and launching a new unit to review and correct excessive prison sentences imposed in the past. The race to replace Satterberg will determine whether King County voters believe those transformations moved the prosecutor’s office in the right direction—or whether the office needs to shift further in the direction of restorative justice.

Stephan Thomas emerged as a Satterberg critic nearly a year before he entered the race last month. After Satterberg challenged a Washington Supreme Court decision requiring judges to consider a defendant’s age when sentencing children in adult courts, Thomas wrote an a Seattle Times op-ed condemning Satterberg for “doubling down on a racist practice that fails to keep our community safe”; Satterberg’s attempt to appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court later failed.

Thomas is no stranger to the King County Prosecutor’s Office. He joined the office as an intern in 2010; became a deputy prosecutor a year later, spending six years as a trial attorney in the criminal division; and ascended into Satterberg’s executive team in 2017 to lead the office’s community justice initiatives before departing two years later. He now teaches law in an adjunct position at Seattle University.

PubliCola sat down—virtually—with Thomas to discuss his priorities for the prosecutor’s office.

PubliCola: You cite Satterberg’s defense of Washington’s so-called “auto-decline” law, which requires the state to prosecute children as adults for some crimes, as a key reason for your decision to join this race. If you are elected to be King County’s next prosecutor, how would you approach a case involving an underage defendant accused of a serious felony?

Stephan Thomas: The first thing I think of is a case that happened not so long ago in which two teenager shot and killed two people in an encampment under I-5 called the Jungle. They were charged as adults, and they ended up getting sentenced to TWO? decades in prison. It didn’t seem like anyone sat back and looked at the failed systems that lead to those kids being in that situation in the first place. First things first, we need space to be able to ask those questions. There were multiple missed opportunities that we had to reach them, and no one else has been held accountable except for these young men. And the only accountability in that case, or quote-unquote accountability, is sending them to prison for multiple decades.

PC: In a practical sense, what does that mean? Does it mean lobbying for the state law to change, or does it mean simply improving our interventions upstream so you don’t wind up prosecuting young people for murder?

ST: People need to recognize that the prosecutor has a powerful advocacy role. And even with the law as it stands, we have the ability right now to look back at what might have brought a young person into contact with the prosecutor’s office to identify holes that we need to fill. It might be education, it might be housing, and it might be mental health treatment opportunities—those are also things the prosecutor can advocate for. I also think we don’t accomplish the goal of rehabilitation by transferring young people into the adult prison system. We need to advocate for the state to lengthen the amount of time a person can be held in the juvenile detention system.

PC: King County’s jail population plummeted during the pandemic, in part because the County decided it could reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission by not filling the jails with people booked for nonviolent misdemeanors. Those restrictions will end once the pandemic subsides, which could mean the jail population rises once again. As elected prosecutor, how would you advise the county to approach detention in a post-COVID world?

ST: I’m looking for other opportunities to be able to secure people in a place that is not in a cage. Can the King County Jail be reformatted or reformed in a way that’s much more rehabilitative than steel cages? Can we recognize that a jail cell is not a place for someone to get the help that they need? Right now, it seems like we’re just trying to nibble around the edges. We decide that certain people won’t go to jail for certain offenses, at least temporarily. That isn’t a long-term fix, and jail has never been a long-term fix.

PC: The next elected prosecutor will need to find a way to work with the City of Seattle if it goes forward with a policing strategy that targets so-called crime ‘hot spots.’ Do you think there’s a way for that strategy to be effective?

ST: Look at what happened. We cleaned up [12th Ave S. and S. Jackson St.], and people moved to [Third Ave. and Pike St.]. Then two people get shot and killed there. So, we move people off that corner, but the same thing will happen over and over again. What we should have done, and what I would advocate we do if I’m prosecutor, is start with outreach teams from housing and service providers. We should take time to figure out what people at a corner need, and then we should make sure we have real opportunities for housing, job training, and treatment to offer—not just hollow offers, which is often the case now.

It is a shame we’re telling these business owners the best thing and the only thing we can offer is to lock up everyone on the street outside. That shouldn’t be the first step. Growing up in Chicago in the 1990s, I saw that first-hand. They turned up with the police and battering rams, busted down doors, sent people to prison, and said it would make our community safer. All we got was mass incarceration, our community remaining under-resourced, and families being broken apart.

It is a shame we’re telling these business owners the best thing and the only thing we can offer is to lock up everyone on the street outside. Of course, if we exhaust all other options, then law enforcement should come in, but that shouldn’t be the first step. Growing up in Chicago in the 1990s, I saw that first-hand. They turned up with the police and battering rams, busted down doors, sent people to prison, and said it would make our community safer. All we got was mass incarceration, our community remaining under-resourced, and families being broken apart. Right now, it feels like we’re going back to that era. As prosecutor, I would want to push the prosecutor’s office and its partners to think about providing services first instead.

PC: As prosecutor, you would also lead an office that sexual assault survivors frequently criticize for doing too little to support victims of sexual assault. What would you say to sexual assault survivors mulling their options in this race?

ST: Right now, the court process is horrible for survivors. I’ve talked with prosecutors who told me that if one of their children was assaulted, they would not want to send them through the court system to seek justice. They know that once you get into the court system, you get cross-examined, you are made out to be a liar, and the entire experience only does more harm. I would try to figure out what we can do to provide all survivors with the support they need, and a first step towards that is recognizing that not every survivor will want to use the courts as a path towards healing. We only get a small percentage of people who have caused harm before a judge, so we’re already missing the vast majority of sexual assault cases. For now, I would look for ways to find more community support for survivors, so survivors who may not feel comfortable participating in the process or confident that the system will bring them peace of mind have someone to listen to them and care about them.

PC: Though you certainly have experience in the prosecutor’s office, you are also the candidate with the least executive experience. What makes you more prepared to lead the prosecutor’s office than the other candidates in this race?

ST: I’m personally impacted by the issues the prosecutor’s office deals with. I’ve had personal experiences as a victim of crime, as a gang member, as a trial attorney. I’ve handled domestic violence and sexual assault cases. I’ve been on the executive team. I’ve been a trainer for prosecutors across the country. Given all those experiences, I am uniquely positioned to understand the impact of what the prosecutor’s office does. I am also the candidate who is really being honest about how the current system is failing us.

The only path forward is for us to look towards transformation, to build something that is not built on the foundation of racism and discrimination and instead aims for true safety and rehabilitation for everyone who comes into contact with it. are built on a pathway of true safety and restoration. The other candidates are talking about nibbling around the edges. Right now, we’re returning to the mistakes of the 1990s. If you want real transformation, if you want someone who’s going to be really honest with you, that’s me.

PubliCola Interviews King County Prosecutor Candidate Leesa Manion

Leesa Manion headshotBy Paul Kiefer

Longtime King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced his retirement in January, setting in motion what is sure to be a heated race to fill a position with enormous sway over how King County balances new restorative justice projects with traditional prosecution.

Leesa Manion, Satterberg’s chief of staff, was the first candidate to step forward to replace the 15-year incumbent. Since Manion first joined the King County Prosecutor’s Office 27 years ago, the office has branched out beyond prosecution, partnering with felony diversion programs for young adults and launching a new unit to review and correct excessive prison sentences imposed in the past.

But the prosecutor’s office has critics on both the left and the right, including law enforcement groups who accuse prosecutors of being too lenient and civil liberties groups who condemn Satterberg’s defense of a Washington state law requiring children charged with some serious crimes to be tried as adults.

PubliCola sat down—virtually—with Manion to discuss her priorities for the prosecutor’s office.

PubliCola: Fear of crime was a driving force in Seattle’s most recent election, and it will likely remain a driving force in the race for King County Prosecutor. You’ve said that one of your goals is to combat myths about crime and public safety. What’s one of the most widespread misconceptions about crime and public safety in Seattle, and what problems do misconceptions about crime create for the prosecutor’s office?

Leesa Manion: I was in a meeting just earlier this week where people were asking why juvenile crime is out of control. The truth is that juvenile crime is down, even while crime committed by adults is up. If we don’t share that information and share it often, it doesn’t allow people to know that some of the juvenile diversion strategies we’ve had in place for years are working—and that the public can have faith in them.

PC: Several county officials, including one of your opponents, Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, have criticized the prosecutor’s office for expanding juvenile and adult diversion programs. How do you make the case to skeptics that diversion should be a larger component of the county’s public safety strategy?

LM: I know that there’s a great deal of frustration in our community right now regarding public safety, and especially with regards to organized retail theft, catalytic converter theft, and other commercial crimes. I have always been proud of the fact that the folks in Seattle and King County are compassionate, and I know their compassion has been tested.

“I think that every person who is arrested, convicted and sent to prison as a result of Operation New Day will eventually be released. We have an obligation to make sure each of them comes back out with a different skill, that they can access opportunities and get back on their feet.”

I also know that our citizens are super smart. And they understand that there is a difference between individuals who are systematically preying upon businesses and others to profit off their criminal acts, versus the individuals who are acting out of a mental health disorder, substance use disorder, or behavioral health issue. And both populations, if you will, are deserving of accountability. But accountability looks different for different people. And as we know from our juvenile diversion programs, because we’re getting fewer young people referred to the prosecutor’s office than ever before, diversion works. It can be evidence-based, and it can be very effective.

PC: At the same time, you appeared at a press conference last Friday to announce the early results—mostly arrests—of the Seattle Police Department’s Operation New Day, a crackdown on so-called “hot spots” for the trade in stolen merchandise and drugs in Little Saigon and downtown. How does “hot spot” policing mesh with your vision for a more sustainable, long-term public safety strategy in King County?

LM: I don’t like the phrase “hot spot,” but that’s not the question. I do think focused enforcement can have an impact. If you walk around [12th Ave. S. and S. Jackson St.] today, it feels vastly different than it did two months ago. Individuals who are preying on others, dealing dangerous drugs, and targeting businesses need to be held accountable. That said, I think there’s a belief that the criminal justice system should prosecute people, put them in prison and throw away the key. I don’t think that’s effective or warranted. I think that every person who is arrested, convicted and sent to prison as a result of Operation New Day will eventually be released. We have an obligation to make sure each of them comes back out with a different skill, that they can access opportunities and get back on their feet.

PC: During that press conference, you mentioned that you are working with Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison’s office to aggregate some misdemeanor theft charges into felony charges based on the value of the items that a person stole or the number of times they shoplifted. Why do you feel that is necessary, and if you were elected prosecutor, would you use the same strategy on a larger scale?

LM: I would do that in areas that have really extreme challenges. Business owners in the downtown core are asking for relief from organized retail theft. They are closing their shops and their customers are afraid. In that context, it makes sense to aggregate misdemeanor charges to combat things like organized retail theft. Do I think that’s warranted in every single misdemeanor case? No. I don’t think we would aggregate a bunch of misdemeanor trespass cases into a felony. Someone who is sleeping in a doorway or someone who, because of mental illness, is still frequenting businesses where employees have to tell them to leave doesn’t need a felony charge. Those individuals can be referred to service providers. Aggregating charges is not a blanket approach.

PC: Speaking of communicating across offices, how do you think the county should approach booking restrictions at King County jails once COVID winds down? Right now, the county is starting to loosen its rules up a bit, but the restrictions on booking people for nonviolent misdemeanors are still in place.

LM: Like most things, you’re not going to be able to solve the complex problems that show up at the doors of the criminal justice system with an all-or-nothing approach. You really have to do an individual examination of each case, and you have to be thoughtful about how you use your resources. I don’t think you can say, “everyone gets booked,” and I wouldn’t get behind that. I also don’t think you can say, “no one gets booked.” Those are false choices.

PC: But the current booking restrictions aren’t all-or-nothing, so isn’t that a bit of a straw man?

LM: I think that there’s a common misunderstanding that booking restrictions are all-or-nothing. Say you wanted to have blanket restrictions on booking people for all misdemeanors. I don’t think you can do that, because there might be someone who is facing a misdemeanor charge but who has something very troubling in their criminal history or they’re currently under investigation for a serious crime. Until we share that information with the jail or get that information from law enforcement, and before we can assess our options, it’s hard to have a blanket policy saying that we can’t book them.

“Business owners in the downtown core are asking for relief from organized retail theft. They are closing their shops and their customers are afraid. In that context, it makes sense to aggregate misdemeanor charges to combat things like organized retail theft.”

Similarly, I don’t think you can say that out an abundance of caution, we should book everyone. There are probably a lot of individuals who commit nonviolent crimes and who we could effectively navigate to service providers. That said, we might see a 30-day rise in the number of people in the jail if there’s a new emphasis patrol or a new focused enforcement spot. With Operation New Day, there might be an extra 10 people in the jail on an average day than there were before it. If you take credit for jail numbers going down, you have to be prepared to take heat when they go back up. Continue reading “PubliCola Interviews King County Prosecutor Candidate Leesa Manion”

Legislation Will Allow Police to Use Force to Stop People from Fleeing

Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45, Kirkland) speaks during a meeting of the House Public Safety Committee in February.

By Paul Kiefer

The state Senate voted on Friday to allow police officers to use force to stop people from fleeing when police stop them on suspicion of a crime. The legislation was a sticking point in the legislature’s efforts to revisit and refine a set of sweeping police reform bills that passed last year, including a rule that officers can only use force when they have probable cause to make an arrest.

This year’s bill, sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45, Kirkland) drew criticism from national police accountability organizations and split the Senate Democratic caucus. Some police accountability advocates argued the bill gives police permission to use force in situations that don’t call for it.

Goodman initially introduced the bill in response to pressure from law enforcement agencies around the state, who argued that last year’s reforms, which required officers to have probable cause to make an arrest before using force, unintentionally limited police officers’ ability to stop and question people while allowing suspects to simply run away from police when stopped for questioning.

In crafting this year’s bill, lawmakers had to step carefully around a 1968 US Supreme Court decision, Terry v. Ohio, in which the court ruled that while police can detain someone based on suspicion alone, they can’t use force during such stops. The bill specifically focused on the right for police force to stop someone from walking away from officers during a stop, which law enforcement groups argued would not run afoul of the ruling.

“This law gives officers more leeway to harm people, and it makes it harder to hold them accountable when they do escalate an encounter.”—Enoka Herat, ACLU of Washington

Steve Strachan, director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, told PubliCola that so-called “investigative stops” usually end with officers letting a suspect walk away. “Most investigative stops I’ve done in my law enforcement career have ended with, ‘thank you, I appreciate the information and you’re free to go,” he said.

Since the legislature adopted stricter rules for when police can use force in 2021, Strachan added, officers have “felt unsure of what to do if the person they’re trying to talk to—a person who may have been involved in a domestic violence incident, for example—starts walking away.” As a result, Strachan said, officers have increasingly opted not to stop people who attempt to flee questioning.

There is no statewide data to demonstrate that pattern, and while Seattle Police Department data shows that officers made fewer investigative stops in the six months after the 2021 rules took effect than in the previous six months, that decline began at the start of the pandemic, during which SPD has seen hundreds of its officers retire or transfer to other law enforcement agencies.

In Strachan’s view, Goodman’s bill was an attempt to find an “appropriate balance” between enabling police to hold suspects for questioning and prohibiting officers from using excessive force to do so; the bill stipulated that officers could only use “reasonable and proportional” force to stop a person from fleeing from a stop, which Strachan called a “productive guardrail for accountability.”

But civil liberties groups say the new law will enable law enforcement to escalate otherwise minor encounters with civilians, possibly with deadly consequences. “There was already case law that would allow officers to use force to stop someone from fleeing if there’s a danger to the officer or the public, like if there’s reason to believe that a person is armed,” said Enoka Herat, the Police Practices and Immigration Counsel at the ACLU of Washington. “But this law opens the door wider than that. … It gives officers more leeway to harm people, and it makes it harder to hold them accountable when they do escalate an encounter.” Continue reading “Legislation Will Allow Police to Use Force to Stop People from Fleeing”

Harrell Touts Arrests at Longtime Downtown Hot Spot in “Operation New Day” Announcement

City Attorney Ann Davison touts "arrests and prosecutions" as a path to addiction recovery at a press conference on the city's latest targeted policing action.
City Attorney Ann Davison touts “arrests and prosecutions” as a path to addiction recovery at a press conference on the city’s latest targeted policing action, Operation New Day.

By Paul Kiefer

The Seattle Police Department moved a black van known as the “mobile precinct” to the intersection of Third Ave. and Pine St. in downtown Seattle on Thursday morning, scattering the dozens of people gathered there to buy and sell drugs and stolen merchandise.

While the move came a day after the second fatal shooting at the corner in less than a week, the department had started preparing to clear the intersection weeks earlier—the second phase in a crackdown on crime “hot spots” announced by Mayor Bruce last month. That campaign, called Operation New Day, began two weeks ago, when police cleared a similar site at the intersection of 12th Ave. S. and S. Jackson Street in the Little Saigon neighborhood; the mobile precinct van was parked at that intersection until Thursday, when it moved downtown.

On Friday morning, Harrell convened a press conference to tout the first results of Operation New Day, including dozens of arrests. Interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz stood beside him, as did City Attorney Ann Davison, King County Prosecutor’s Office Chief of Staff Leesa Manion, and two federal law enforcement officials: Nick Brown, the new US Attorney for the Western District of Washington, and Frank Tarantino, the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Seattle office. Leaders from Seattle’s social service providers, who Harrell has promised will eventually become partners in his push to target “hot spots,” were notably absent. No one from the Seattle City Council was at the press conference.

Service providers and non-police responders were a footnote in Friday’s press conference, which centered on the arrests and prosecutions tied to Operation New Day

The stretch of Third Ave. between Pine St. and Pike St may be the most persistently troubled block in Seattle. For at least the past three decades, mayoral administrations have attempted to stem crime on the block by increasing the number of police officers in the area. One such effort in 2015, called “the Nine and a Half Block Strategy,” succeeded in reducing the number of drug-related 911 calls in a small area surrounding Westlake Park, though calls increased dramatically in practically every neighborhood within walking distance of the park during the same period. After a shooting during rush hour in January 2020 killed one person and injured seven others, SPD scaled up its presence on the block once again, only to pull back once the COVID-19 pandemic began two months later. Each time, a market for stolen goods and narcotics reappeared on Third and Pine.

Harrell said that he planned to avoid the mistakes of earlier mayors—and to “revitalize” intersections like 12th and Jackson for the long term—in part by relying on outreach workers and service providers, who he believes will be able to direct homeless people living at or near targeted intersections to substance abuse treatment or housing. “We can’t arrest and jail our way out of this,” Diaz added. So far, no social service providers are involved in Operation New Day; the city relied on police alone to clear both 12th and Jackson and Third and Pine, though diversion groups like LEAD already do outreach near Third and Pine.

Before bringing the social service component of the operation online, Harrell said that his office is “doing an inventory of community-based organizations that are recipients of city funds to make sure they’re aligned with our vision.” He did not specify what “doing an inventory” would entail, nor would he specify which organizations they’re considering for the task—or what traits would disqualify an existing service provider from working on Operation New Day.

City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who represents downtown and chairs the council’s committee on homelessness, told PubliCola on Wednesday that he sees one clear choice for an outreach provider: JustCARE, a pandemic-era cooperation between several social service providers that provides shelter and wraparound care to people who have previously interacted with the criminal justice system.

“I want to be sure we aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel here,” he said, “because we have something that works and works well.” Lewis said he’s willing to be patient as Harrell considers options for incorporating service providers into Operation New Day, although he said he will be concerned if the mayor’s office hasn’t made a decision by the time JustCARE’s contract with the city expires at the end of June.

But non-police responders were largely a footnote in Friday’s press conference, which centered on the arrests and prosecutions tied to Operation New Day. Since January 21, SPD arrested 16 people for felonies—especially commercial burglary, illegal gun possession and narcotics offenses—at 12th and Jackson; nine of those people were later released by King County judges after their first court appearance. Some will face federal charges. The US Attorney’s Office has already filed charges against three people arrested in Little Saigon as part of Operation New Day and is reviewing the case of a fourth, a man initially arrested at 12th and Jackson who was released and subsequently re-arrested at Third and Pine. Continue reading “Harrell Touts Arrests at Longtime Downtown Hot Spot in “Operation New Day” Announcement”

As Fewer Sexual Assault Cases Go To Court, More Survivors Seek Help

Sexual assault referrals to prosecutors from King County police departments have declined since the start of the pandemic (Source: King County Prosecutor’s Office)

By Paul Kiefer

The King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC) connected more people to therapy, legal support and other services in 2021 than at any other point in the past five years, even as law enforcement agencies referred fewer sexual assault cases to the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

In 2021, the prosecutor’s special assault unit, which handles sexual assaults and child abuse, filed 485 charges; about 85 percent of those charges were for sex crimes. In the same year, more than 5,000 people sought help from KCSARC, compared to 4,905 in 2019. In the past five years, the number of people seeking support from KCSARC rose by 23 percent.

KCSARC Director Mary Ellen Stone says the mismatch points to a growing problem in King County’s law enforcement agencies, including the Seattle Police Department: With fewer detectives to investigate sexual assaults and a growing backlog of cases, police have left more cases on hold, or declined to investigate reported assaults, than at any other point in the past decade. For some victims, she said, the prospect of delays and dead ends is enough to dissuade them from reporting an assault. “Our system relies on people saying, ‘this happened to me, and I want to make sure it doesn’t happen again,'” she said. “We aren’t making people feel like that’s worthwhile.”

The drop in the number of sexual assault referrals began early in the pandemic, when police departments across the county began losing officers and focusing their resources on patrol instead of investigative units. Since the spring of 2020, the number of sexual assaults the Seattle Police Department’s referred to the prosecutor’s office fell by a quarter compared to the previous five-year average; the King County Sheriff’s Office’s average monthly referrals fell by roughly 20 percent.

Sergeant Jason Escobar heads the special assault unit, which investigates sex crimes and child abuse, at the King County Sheriff’s Office. He says his team of detectives has shrunk by nearly half since the start of the pandemic. As of this week, Escobar has only five detectives to investigate sexual assaults, and four vacant positions; he added that one of his detectives may soon leave because they haven’t complied with the department’s vaccination requirement.

“As it is, our remaining detectives are carrying heavier caseloads,” he said. “Even then, some of the reports we receive—if the victim isn’t a child, or if someone isn’t in immediate danger or in the hospital—we have to hold until we can find a chance to assign them. If someone reports an assault that happened months or years ago, we will still assign that case to a detective, but it’s not going to be right away.” Escobar assigned 30 fewer cases to his detectives in 2021 than in 2020, and his unit’s backlog of unassigned cases is growing.

Escobar said his unit would be able to investigate more cases if he could bring on more detectives. For now, the sheriff’s office isn’t letting him bring in new officers from patrol units because of the staffing shortage. But Escobar sees another hurdle on the horizon: as the King County Superior Court begins holding trials that the pandemic delayed, some of his detectives will need to split their time between giving testimony in court and working on investigations. The court currently has a backlog of more than 400 sexual assault cases; the average age of the victims of those cases is 16. Continue reading “As Fewer Sexual Assault Cases Go To Court, More Survivors Seek Help”

SPD Jails Shoplifters for Thefts as Small as $6.99; Pedersen Unilaterally Installs Bike Board Member; Helmet Law Overturned

1. Seattle police officers took part in a crackdown on retail theft at Target’s downtown Seattle store last week called “Operation New Day,” booking people suspected of shoplifting into the King County jail despite ongoing pandemic-related restrictions that limit booking to people arrested for violent crimes.

On Friday, plainclothes officers from the Seattle Police Department’s Community Response Group, a team that floats between the city’s four precincts to supplement patrol, were working with Target’s loss prevention team to identify people stealing merchandise, flagging them for uniformed officers waiting on the sidewalk outside.

Over the course of the day, officers arrested at least five people. One woman was booked into jail for stealing $6.99 worth of merchandise, while another man was booked for stealing vitamins, baby formula and other merchandise valued at more than $600, according to police reports. Two of the people arrested had previously spent time in the jail in the past year for misdemeanor assault or weapons offenses, among other charges. All of the people arrested on Friday have since been released from jail, though the woman booked for stealing $6.99 worth of merchandise was later charged with assault for hitting a Target employee—a detail not included in the original arrest report.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, King County Executive Dow Constantine limited booking at King County’s jails to people arrested for assaults, DUIs and firearms violations, and other high-priority offenses, with the goal of reducing the county’s jail population to stem the spread of the virus. However, Constantine allowed the jail to make exceptions when agencies that use the jail, including SPD, can argue convincingly that booking people for nonviolent crimes is necessary to protect public safety.

On Thursday, Constantine told PubliCola that the county has received and approved few requests for exceptions.

“Law enforcement agencies have been judicious about making them,” added Noah Haglund, a spokesman for King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention. In order to receive an exemption, a law enforcement agency needs to submit a request before bringing arrestees to the jail. According to Haglund, the City of Seattle requested an exemption before booking the people arrested for shoplifting on Friday. Sergeant Randall Huserik, a spokesman for SPD, the bookings are intended to “deter the suspects” from committing crimes in the future.

2. Next week, the city council will vote to appoint Dr. Douglas Migden, a long-distance recreational cyclist who lives in the Queen Anne neighborhood, to the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board. Council transportation committee chair Alex Pedersen chose Migden for the board unilaterally after a five-month-long recruitment and nomination process in which the bike board interviewed dozens of candidates and ultimately selected land-use planner Anthony Avery for the seat.

Ryan Packer covered Pedersen’s decision to discard the bike board’s choice for the Seattle Bike Blog last week.

According to SBAB co-chair Sarah Udelhofen, the bike board has three top priorities when choosing new board members. They look for candidates with unique biking experiences (such as family cyclists and newer riders); those who offer “perspective from a community that has been underrepresented in or marginalized by the mainstream bike movement”; and people who are familiar with neighborhoods that are underrepresented on the board or that lack safe bike infrastructure. Historically, the mainstream bike movement has been dominated by white, male recreational cyclists who ride in the road.

“These commissions and boards have processes for how they make appointments. They review applications, do interviews, and so it can be frustrating when the folks that they have chosen through community process are not selected. And I understand why folks might feel demoralized when that happens.”—City Councilmember Tammy Morales

Avery did not respond to an email seeking comment on Pedersen’s decision. His LinkedIn page describes him as a member of Cascade Bicycle Club and an advocate against car-oriented streets—positions that put him at odds with some of Pedersen’s stated views on transportation planning. “I plan for people, not cars,” Avery wrote. “If you want to call it a war on cars, that’s fine. Each year over 35,000 Americans are killed by people driving motor vehicles. … In 2021, despite a commitment to Vision Zero, traffic-related deaths in the City of Seattle are on the rise.”

Pedersen advocated against a long-planned protected bike lane along 35th Avenue NE in his district, which former mayor Jenny Durkan killed after business owners complained about the loss of on-street parking spaces. He also opposed bike lanes on Eastlake, arguing that cyclists could simply veer back and forth between parallel “greenways” located on nearby streets. And before he was elected in 2019, Pedersen argued against the Move Seattle levy, among other reasons, because it funded safe bike lanes, which Pedersen argued are useless for “senior citizens, the disabled, single parents, parents of young children without transportation to school, and those juggling multiple jobs .”

After the city council discussed Migden’s appointment earlier this week, Councilmember Tammy Morales noted pointedly, “These commissions and boards have processes for how they make appointments. They review applications, do interviews, and so it can be frustrating when the folks that they have chosen through community process are not selected. And I understand why folks might feel demoralized when that happens.”

Udelhofen said the bike board plans “to be even more proactive with our timeline” for the next open seat, and will “start the process even earlier to ensure there is ample time for our recommended candidates to be reviewed, discussed, and approved in time for the 9/1/22 term start date.” She said that although the bike board is “disappointed with the lack of transparency around the selection and approval process, we have no qualms about Dr. Midgen’s qualifications for serving on SBAB” and look forward to his participation on the board.

3. The King County Board of Health voted on Thursday to repeal the county’s bicycle helmet requirement, responding to a push from bicycle advocates and civil liberties groups who pointed to data showing that police enforcing the law disproportionately targeted people of color and homeless people.

Continue reading “SPD Jails Shoplifters for Thefts as Small as $6.99; Pedersen Unilaterally Installs Bike Board Member; Helmet Law Overturned”

Lawmakers Propose Homeless Worker Stipend; Harrell’s State of the City Previews Potential Budget Battle

1. To support homeless service providers struggling with staffing shortages, Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-34, White Center) and Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43, Seattle) are hoping to add $78 million to the state budget to provide $2,000 stipends to thousands of homeless service workers across the state. The program would start in October.

Washington Low Income Housing Alliance policy and advocacy director Michele Thomas said many homeless service workers earn such low wages, “they are one step away from homelessness themselves.” Nonprofits that provide services and shelter to people experiencing homelessness are perennially underfunded, and often have trouble recruiting and retaining staff.

“Our permanent supportive housing providers and our homeless service providers are saying they’re literally competing with fast-food employers and their workers are leaving because [fast food jobs have] similar benefits, similar pay, and a lot less trauma,” Thomas said.

Nguyen said “we as a government have failed” because the state is relying on nonprofit homeless service providers and their underpaid workforce “to do the work that government should have been doing.”

In the House, 27 representatives, including half a dozen from Seattle, signed a letter urging the Appropriations Committee to include the request in the 2022 operating budget. Nguyen said the budget request has support in the senate as well, although he adds that “$78 million is a lot” to ask when there are so many competing budget priorities.

The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee will release their 2022 operating budgets next week.

2. In his first  State of the City Address Tuesday, Mayor Bruce Harrell reiterated his commitment to hiring more police officers and removing more homeless encampments from public spaces; described work to consolidate various systems for reporting encampments and tracking outreach and services to homeless people; and promised to be “the administration that ends the federal consent decree over SPD.” The consent decree is a 10-year-old agreement giving the US Justice Department oversight of SPD’s efforts to correct patterns of excessive force and racially biased policing. “The time to build this [police] department is now,” Harrell said.

As he has during the first month and a half of his term, Harrell emphasized the need to address public disorder that, he said, is destroying small businesses or driving them out of Seattle.

“The truth is, the status quo is unacceptable—that is the one where we must all agree,” Harrell said.

Harrell teased a “major announcement” that will happen later this week on homelessness; as we reported last week, this announcement will include a large, one-time philanthropic donation to fund a “peer navigator” program within the King County Regional Homelessness Authority. Peer navigators are case managers with lived experience who connect people to shelter, health care, and other services; the city, which provides most of the authority’s funding declined to fund a $7.6 million peer navigator pilot last year.

“Yesterday we received some good news, learning that revenue from the JumpStart Payroll Expense Tax has come in $31 million higher than expected,” Harrell said. “That additional revenue must go toward alleviating the budget issues we expect in 2023.”

In a preview of a potential budget battle later this year, Harrell said the city is facing a $150 million revenue shortfall that he plans to fill with revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax, which is earmarked for housing, small businesses, and Green New Deal programs. Former mayor Jenny Durkan attempted repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, to use revenues from the tax (which she opposed), to fund her own budget priorities. She also tried to pass legislation that would allow the city to use JumpStart revenues for virtually any purpose, effectively overturning the adopted spending plan.

“Yesterday we received some good news, learning that revenue from the JumpStart Payroll Expense Tax has come in $31 million higher than expected,” Harrell said. “That additional revenue must go toward alleviating the budget issues we expect in 2023.”

For two years, the revenues from the payroll tax have largely gone into COVID relief. Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, who sponsored the tax, told PubliCola, “We have a codified JumpStart spend plan in law for a reason. … It should also be noted that were it not for JumpStart in 2020, we would have faced an austerity budget. In 2022 and beyond, funding is dedicated to the areas noted in the codified spend plan which will create a more resilient and equitable economy.”

Asked if the mayor plans to use JumpStart revenues to backfill the general fund shortfall this year, Harrell spokesman Jamie Housen said, “The Mayor’s Office has been regularly engaging with [Councilmember] Mosqueda on budget issues and are looking forward to working with her and Councilmembers regarding how to allocate the new revenues just identified yesterday.”

Mosqueda said the city should consider new revenue sources to make the city budget sustainable, rather than using payroll tax revenues to fill holes in the budget. “We have to remember, while Jumpstart first revenue returns are in, our commitments to the community members who supported the Jumpstart tax and the detailed spend plan have yet to be realized,” she said. Harrell mentioned the possibility of new taxes in his speech, saying the city would “need to look at all our options, deciding between one-time and ongoing commitments, adjusting expenditures, revisiting existing funding sources, and looking at options for increasing revenues.”

—Leo Brine, Erica C. Barnett