Category: Police

Calls for King County Sheriff Resignation Expand Beyond County Council

Sheriff JohanknechtBy Paul Kiefer

County and state lawmakers continue to join the chorus calling for King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht to resign for comments she made in a department-wide email about the killing of 20-year-old Tommy Le by a sheriff’s deputy in Burien in 2017. On Thursday, state senator Joe Nguyen (D-34, West Seattle) became the latest elected official to add his voice, joining three county council members.

Johanknecht sent the email at the heart of lawmakers’ criticisms only hours after a March 24 press conference at which Le’s family announced a $5 million settlement with King County for their son’s death. The email’s contents were first reported by the South Seattle Emerald.

In the department-wide email, Johanknecht shared her “appreciation of the difficulty” of Deputy Cesar Molina’s decision to shoot and kill Le, who was unarmed. Johanknecht also wrote that the county’s settlement with Le’s family—which implied some admission of wrongdoing by her department—was “not a reflection of how [Johanknecht] view[s] the actions of Deputy Molina in this incident.”

In a statement on March 26, King County Councilmember Joe McDermott said that the sheriff’s email “was, in the most charitable light one might muster, disrespectful to the young person who was killed, to his family and our entire community.”

Both Le’s shooting and the internal investigation into his death have sparked scrutiny by police accountability advocates and lawmakers. A critical review of the investigation by the county’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight in September 2020 identified an array of flaws in the internal review into Le’s death, which an internal review board determined to be justified in 2018. Those flaws included the internal investigators’ failure to note that two of the six shots that Molina fired hit Le in the back, contradicting Molina’s assertion that he fired at Le in self-defense. Though Johanknecht was not sheriff at the time of Le’s death, she assumed leadership of the department during the investigation into the incident.

The publication of Johanknecht’s email spurred King County Councilmember Joe McDermott to join Le’s family in calling for the sheriff’s resignation; in a statement on March 26, McDermott said that the email “was, in the most charitable light one might muster, disrespectful to the young person who was killed, to his family and our entire community.”

Johanknecht maintains that she has no plans to resign, but as the county’s transition from an elected sheriff to an appointed sheriff in 2022 looms on the horizon, her future with the department may be limited.

McDermott’s call for Johanknecht’s resignation was preceded by that of County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who quietly expressed his opposition to Johanknecht in a March 12 Facebook post in which he shared his support for relatives of Black victims of police shootings in King County and called for Johanknecht to step down for “her failure to treat racism with the seriousness it requires.”

On Wednesday, Councilmember Girmay Zahilay became the third council member to call for Johanknecht’s resignation. In a series of tweets, Zahilay wrote that a sheriff’s comments were evidence that she presents a barrier to police accountability and “do not reflect the values we need in that office.” Sen. Nguyen, who voiced his support for Johanknecht’s resignation on Twitter a day later, called the email “dehumanizing, disrespectful [and] dismissive.” Continue reading “Calls for King County Sheriff Resignation Expand Beyond County Council”

Court Upholds Firing of Officer Who Punched Handcuffed Woman, Challenges Authority of Arbitrators

By Paul Kiefer

The Washington State Court of Appeals issued a ruling on Monday upholding the Seattle Police Department’s 2016 decision to fire Officer Adley Shepherd for punching a woman while she was handcuffed in the back of a patrol car.

After then-Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole announced she was firing Shepherd, Shepherd and his union, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG), appealed her decision to an arbitrator—in this case, an attorney who can approve, adjust or overturn disciplinary actions for police officers. In 2018, the arbitrator sided with Shepherd, directing SPD to re-hire him and offer back pay.

But Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes stood by Shepherd’s firing, asking the King County Superior Court to vacate the arbitrator’s decision—a rare challenge to the authority of arbitrators in police disciplinary cases, whose decisions are typically final. The Superior Court agreed with Holmes; after another appeal by SPOG, so did the Court of Appeals.

The city’s success in the Shepherd case could have broader implications for police discipline in both Seattle and Washington State as a whole. The ruling underscores the importance of consequences for misuses of force by police; it also casts a spotlight on efforts to reform the arbitration process itself, which many reformers argue is biased in police officers’ favor.

In June 2014, Shepherd arrested 23-year-old Miyekko Durden-Bosley after stepping into an argument between Durden-Bosley and her daughter’s father, Robert Shelby. At the time, Durden-Bosley was drunk and agitated, but she hadn’t committed any obvious crimes—Shelby’s mother had called 911 to report that Durden-Bosley had threatened her son over the phone, and Shepherd arrived to investigate.

The Court of Appeals took the unprecedented step of outlining an “explicit, well-defined and dominant public policy” prohibiting the excessive use of force by police rooted in the US Constitution and underscored in Seattle’s 2012 agreement with the Department of Justice that requires SPD to address “unconstitutional practices” by its officers.

When Shepherd handcuffed Durden-Bosley and pushed her into the back seat of his patrol car, she kicked him in the jaw. Two seconds later, Shepherd retaliated by punching Durden-Bosley in the eye, leaving her with two small fractures in her eye socket. Shepherd himself was mostly uninjured by the kick. After investigations into the incident by several oversight agencies, including Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA), O’Toole decided to fire Shepherd for the unnecessary use of force. Throughout the investigations, Shepherd refused to acknowledge that he had made a mistake; after his firing, he maintained his innocence and appealed O’Toole’s decision.

The arbitrator who later reviewed Shepherd’s appeal didn’t dispute that Shepherd violated SPD policy when he punched the handcuffed Durden-Bosley. However, the arbitrator also concluded that the circumstances surrounding Shepherd’s punch—both the argument and kick that preceded it, specifically— had “mitigate[d] somewhat the seriousness” of his policy violation, and that firing Shepherd was an excessive response to his actions—before Shepherd, the arbitrator noted, SPD had never fired an officer for using “unreasonable non-lethal force on a suspect.”

Instead, the arbitrator ordered SPD to re-hire Shepherd and offer him back pay for all but 15 days of the time that had passed since his firing; those 15 days, the arbitrator decided, would suffice as a punishment for his policy violation. According to Seattle’s contract with SPOG, the arbitrator’s decision was final.

Nevertheless, Holmes decided to challenge the arbitrator’s ruling, arguing that reinstating Shepherd would violate the “public policy against excessive use of force in policing.” Despite SPOG’s objections, the Superior Court agreed that Shepherd had unambiguously breached an “explicit, well-defined and dominant public policy” and that a 15-day suspension wouldn’t suffice as a consequence. Continue reading “Court Upholds Firing of Officer Who Punched Handcuffed Woman, Challenges Authority of Arbitrators”

Afternoon Fizz: Sheriff Fires Deputy, New Director Lays Out Plans for Homelessness Authority, City Reinstates 72-Hour Parking Rule

King County Regional Homelessness Authority director Marc Dones

1. King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht will fire a detective for failing to follow basic de-escalation policies and for “extremely poor tactical and officer safety decisions” before fatally shooting a car theft suspect near Enumclaw in 2019.

Detective George Alvarez is a 21-year veteran of the sheriff’s office with a lengthy use-of-force record, including five shootings and a criminal charge for assaulting and threatening an informant in 2003. In November 2019, Alvarez and his partner, Detective Josh Lerum, were driving an unmarked car when they spotted 36-year-old Anthony Chilcott, wanted for stealing an SUV and a pet poodle, driving in rural southeastern King County. Earlier that day, Chilcott had evaded a Washington State Patrol officer, but when the detectives found him, he had parked next to a power station to smoke a cigarette. At the time, Johanknecht wrote, “there was no imminent risk” to members of the public.

Nevertheless, without consulting with Lerum or waiting for backup, Alvarez decided to pull within inches of Chilcott’s driver’s-side door, sparking a confrontation that ended with both detectives shooting Chilcott in the head. Neither detective was wearing a sheriff’s uniform, and witnesses at a bus stop nearby told investigators that they didn’t initially realize that the pair that rammed the stolen SUV across the road and broke the driver’s-side window with a sledgehammer and the butts of their handguns were police officers.

In a letter to Alvarez explaining her decision, Johanknecht emphasized that she did not decide to fire him for the shooting itself, but for his decisions that led up to the shooting. “You did not use the opportunity you had to slow things down,” Johanknecht wrote. “The urgency here was created by your actions, not the actions of the suspect.” Johanknecht and other department leadership also called into question Alvarez’s claims that Chilcott posed an “immediate danger” to witnesses at a bus stop nearby. Instead, Johanknecht argued that Alvarez’s actions had placed bystanders—and Lerum—in danger by sparking an unnecessary confrontation with Chilcott.

For his part, Lerum received a written reprimand for not wearing his ballistic vest or clothing identifying himself as a law enforcement officer during the encounter.

In a press release on Thursday, King County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Sergeant Tim Meyer drew a parallel between Chilcott’s death and the failed sting operation in 2017 during which plainclothes sheriff’s deputies shot and killed 17-year-old Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens on a residential street in Des Moines. King County agreed to pay a $2.25 million settlement to Dunlap-Gittens’ family in May 2020; however, according to Meyer, Alvarez is the first officer whom Johanknecht has fired for misuse of force or failure to de-escalate since taking office in 2017.

Cooper Offenbecker, an attorney representing Alvarez, told the Seattle Times that his client intends to appeal Johanknecht’s decision.

According to Rachel Schulkin, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office, the city “will not immediately resume issuing citations starting April 1 and will instead have a grace period in which we remind the public about the parking rules.”

2. In a media availability this week, new King County Regional Homelessness Authority director Marc Dones said they intended to “allow for regional variations” in how various parts of King County respond to homelessness, giving the example of a “mega-shelter in Black Diamond” as something that “would not make sense” as part of a regional response. “I don’t see this job as being about running roughshod or issuing policy fiats; it will be about building things together,” they said.

However, Dones added, they are not interested in promoting the narrative that Seattle is somehow producing homelessness or generating the region’s homeless population; cities are natural “draws” for people experiencing homelessness in nearby areas, they said and “there is a natural pull to where there are services. We see this in jurisdictions across the country—people go where they think they can get the help they need.” Continue reading “Afternoon Fizz: Sheriff Fires Deputy, New Director Lays Out Plans for Homelessness Authority, City Reinstates 72-Hour Parking Rule”

State Senate Considers Expanding Program to Provide Legal Counsel to Youth Interacting with Police

By Paul Kiefer

Following the guidance of youth rights advocates, the Washington State Senate is considering legislation that would require police officers statewide to connect young people to attorneys before questioning them or asking them to consent to a search. The bill, originally introduced in the state house by Rep. Jesse Johnson (D-30, Federal Way), would prompt Washington’s Office of Public Defense to create a hotline to connect young people to legal advisors.

The Seattle City Council and King County Council passed similar legislation at the end of last summer, requiring law enforcement officers to connect young people to attorneys from the King County Public Defender’s office after reading their Miranda rights or asking them to consent to a search of their belongings. Both ordinances were named for Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens, a Black teenager from Des Moines shot while running away from King County Sheriff’s deputies during a disastrous sting operation in 2017. Though deputies never read Dunlap-Gittens his Miranda rights—he ran away from the plainclothes deputies after they burst from the back of an unmarked van—the ordinances were named to honor his aspirations to work as a youth rights attorney.

“If a police officer knows that there’s going to be someone available to represent the youth, they’re not going to be able to use their position of power to bully or coerce a child into having a conversation with them or making a statement.”—Kendrick Washington, youth policy counsel for the ACLU of Washington

The bill before the state senate, HB 1140, would not only expand the same protections statewide, but require that young people speak to an attorney before answering any questions during so-called “Terry stops”—a brief detention based on an officer’s “reasonable suspicion” that someone has committed a crime. Because “Terry stops” are not arrests, the Seattle and King County ordinances don’t address the rights of young people to speak to attorneys in those contexts.

Specifically, the proposed law would require Washington’s Office of Public Defense to hire a team of six attorneys who would provide brief legal advice to young people in person, by phone or over a video call, after a stop; the attorneys would work in shifts and respond to calls from youth across the state. If a police officer stopped a young person in any circumstances that would require them to waive their Fifth Amendment rights, the law would require officers to connect the young person to an attorney—typically by providing the number for the state-managed hotline—before asking any questions or searching the young person’s belongings. The legislation makes an exception for searches done in the interest of an officer’s immediate safety, including searches for weapons.

According to Kendrick Washington, the youth policy counsel for the ACLU of Washington—which played a key role in shaping the bill—young people are typically unaware of their rights during encounters with police. The point of requiring young people to consult with attorneys before responding to police questioning, Washington said, “is not to tell [young people] what they have to do—it’s about telling them what their options are, because they usually don’t know.”

In practice, the law might look like this: An officer searching for a burglary suspect in a green sweatshirt stops a teenager wearing a green sweatshirt. Before the officer can ask the teenager any questions, they would have to call the Washington public defender’s office and put the teenager on the phone with an attorney. The attorney would explain the teenager’s options—asking whether they are being detained, answering the officer’s questions and risking self-incrimination, refusing to answer questions and walking away—allowing the teenager to make an informed decision about how to respond to the officer.

Law enforcement spokespeople voiced their opposition to portions of the bill during a hearing before the Senate Ways and Means committee on Tuesday. James McMahan, the policy director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, criticized the legislation for prohibiting young people from waiving their right to counsel, and he called into question the proposed budget for the program, which assumes that the Office of Public Defense would field only 4,000 phone calls from young people per year. Continue reading “State Senate Considers Expanding Program to Provide Legal Counsel to Youth Interacting with Police”

Help PubliCola Expand Our Police Accountability Coverage

Nine months ago, as Seattle leaders began reckoning with the legacy of police brutality, racially biased policing, and the results of ongoing disinvestment in Black and brown communities, we asked our readers to help us pay for a part-time reporter to cover police accountability in Seattle.

We couldn’t have gotten luckier in hiring superstar reporter Paul Kiefer to cover this crucial beat. Since Paul came on board, he’s brought readers in-depth and breaking-news coverage on every aspect of the accountability beat, from efforts to defund the police and invest in community-based alternatives, to participatory budgeting, the process by which the city plans to replace some police functions.

In nine months, Paul has also written feature-length pieces about alternatives to policing, the impact of police shootings on victims’ families, and the future of the youth jail in Seattle’s Central District, among many others. 

We want to continue and expand this coverage, by keeping Paul on staff after the one-year funding period for his position ends and by bringing him on full-time to cover this important beat, including the upcoming Seattle Police Department contract negotiations.

To do that, we need your help, so please consider making a one-time or recurring contribution to maintain and expand this important coverage. There are lots of ways to contribute, including Paypal, Venmo, by making a monthly donation on Patreon, or by sending a check to PubliCola at P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Just make sure you note that your contribution is for our police-accountability coverage so we can make sure it goes directly and entirely to fund this position. Thank you so much for your ongoing support for the work we’re doing here at PubliCola.

Fractures Emerge As Council Continues Police Budget Cut Debate

By Paul Kiefer

The Seattle City Council’s debate about a proposed cut to the Seattle Police Department’s budget will drag on for at least another two weeks, but a discussion during Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting shed light on the growing disagreement within the council about how the city should hold SPD accountable for overspending.

On one side, council members Tammy Morales and Kshama Sawant argued that the council is obligated to follow through on past promises—in this case, a resolution passed last December expressing the council’s intent to cut $5.4 million from SPD’s budget to account for an equivalent amount of overspending by SPD.

On the other side, Council President Lorena González, committee chair Lisa Herbold, and Councilmember Andrew Lewis made the case for a substitute proposal that would reduce the budget cut to $3 million to enable SPD to upgrade department software and hire civilian staff to fill much-needed roles in their public disclosure unit, evidence storage unit and mental health crisis response teams. (Some of these civilian positions will eventually transition into other departments, Lewis noted.) From their perspective, the changes are in the interest of the council’s most pressing police-related priorities: improving transparency, following the recommendations of city and federal oversight bodies, and expanding options for non-police crisis response.

Ultimately, the council voted to move Herbold’s substitute bill forward without making a formal recommendation that the full council adopt it, with Morales and Sawant voting “no.”

Both approaches require trade-offs. If the council cuts the full $5.4 million from SPD’s budget, the department will likely leave important roles unfilled and could draw more criticism from the monitoring team appointed by a federal district court judge to supervise reforms to SPD. If the council imposes a smaller budget cut, it will be relying on SPD to follow through with the council’s priorities—especially hiring civilian staff instead of more officers—despite the department’s record of breaking promises to the council (its use of excess overtime being one recent example).

The dispute over the $5.4 million got its start last August, when, in an effort to avoid spending extra money on protest-related overtime, the council passed a resolution saying that they wouldn’t support any increase to SPD’s budget “to offset overtime expenditures above the funds budgeted in 2020 or 2021.” Three months later, the council backpedaled, grudgingly adding $5.4 million to SPD’s to backfill for overspending on family leave, separation pay, and overtime pay for officers working at COVID testing sites.

At the time, several council members—including budget committee chair Teresa Mosqueda—argued that the department could have avoided year-end budget shortfalls if it had scaled back its protest response and prioritized spending on other unanticipated expenses.

The council wasn’t happy bailing out SPD, and on the same day, they passed the resolution expressing their intent to cut $5.4 million from the department’s budget in 2021 to account for the overspending and discourage the department from spending beyond its budget in the future. The council also placed a proviso (a spending restriction) on another $5 million in anticipated salary savings from attrition, directing SPD to spend those funds on council priorities.

By February, some council members started to think twice about the cuts, particularly as SPD pressured the council to consider the impacts of additional budget cuts on an already shrinking department—nearly 200 officers left SPD in 2020—and on SPD’s compliance with the federal court’s expectations. Meanwhile, other emerging needs appeared on the council’s radar, including a report from Seattle’s Office of the Inspector General highlighting the urgent need for more civilian staff in SPD’s overcrowded evidence storage warehouse.

The substitute bill supported by Herbold, Lewis, and González would dole out the $5 million from anticipated salary savings monthly in exchange for monthly staffing reports on hiring and attrition; according to Herbold, requiring those staffing reports would give the council a chance to intervene if it sees reasons for concern.

Morales was not enthused by the new proposal. “The department can choose to prioritize its budget however it wants, whether it’s for evidence storage or public disclosure,” she said during Tuesday’s committee meeting. “Last year, it didn’t [choose those priorities]. Instead, it chose to prioritize overspending on overtime pay.” Instead, she argued that the council should cut the full $5.4 million and expect SPD to honor the council’s priorities and avoid overspending in the future.

Sawant joined Morales, arguing that reducing the cut to SPD’s budget would not have the desired effect of “holding the line” against overspending by SPD, but would instead “move it back another year, with no guarantee that it won’t move back again and again.”

But Herbold maintained that the reduced cut would “create a dialogue with the department” about shared budget priorities that did not exist during last year’s budget discussions. “My hope is that we can still take a strong position against overtime spending that exceeds their budget,” she added.

Despite a month of discussions and presentations about the proposed budget cut, the committee was not able to vote on the measure on Tuesday. The obstacle: a list of questions sent by the federal monitoring team to SPD leadership concerning the possible impacts of a budget cut on the department’s compliance with Seattle’s consent decree—the 2012 agreement between the city and the Department of Justice giving a federal district court judge the power to oversee reforms to SPD. Until the federal judge weighs in on the implications of the proposed cut, the council can’t move forward.

Instead, in the interest of taking a small step forward, the committee voted 3-2 to adopt Herbold’s substitute bill; Morales and Sawant maintained their opposition to reducing the size of the budget cut. After the federal court issues its opinion on the proposed budget cut, the committee will be able to move to present the bill to the full council.

Fizz: Revenue Rebounds, SPD Negotiations Delayed, and Sawant Slams Lazy Recall Campaign Mail

Stock photo models against Sawant!

1. Washington state’s latest revenue forecast shows tax revenue increasing $3.3 billion through 2023, a major jump from the Washington State Economic Revenue and Forecast Council’s most recent (November) projection. The new projection is an improvement on what had already been an upward trend after a grim forecast last June predicted $8.8 billion in lost revenue through 2023, and brings the state much closer to its pre-pandemic $52.3 billion projection.

Wednesday’s report shows that the state’s revenue recovery is being driven by speedy vaccine distribution, the two federal stimulus packages that passed in December and March, which gave qualifying Washington state residents $600 and $1,400 checks–the $4.25 billion expected to go to the state was not factored into the forecast–, and near-record high taxable activity from real estate transaction and higher than predicted retail sales.

Andy Nicholas, senior fellow at the progressive Washington State Budget and Policy Center, says it’s no surprise sales taxes and real estate excise taxes are keeping the economy afloat. “Our whole tax code is propped up by lower- and middle-income working people in Washington state,” he said. “The gains that we’re seeing are gains from a tax code that disproportionately put responsibility for funding public services that we all benefit [from] on those with low- or moderate incomes and asks very little from those at the top.”

Nicholas says the state is currently stuck in a position where it can only hope to keep funding for public services at the same amount they were before the pandemic—which he says was not enough.

Several bills in the house and senate, like the capital gains tax (SB 5096) and the wealth tax (HB 1406), hope to fix the state’s tax code and get wealthy residents to pay more. Democratic budget proposals for the next biennium, likely coming next week, may indicate what taxes they expect to pass this session.

The Office of Financial Management said in a press release on Wednesday, “The increase in projected revenues would leave the state with a net surplus of nearly $3 billion — including reserves — at the end of current biennium.” The recently passed American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 will infuse an additional $12 billion into the state and may help maintain programs, but ultimately the money is only a one-time infusion and needs to be spent by 2024. Washington state has received roughly $20 billion in federal aid since the start of the pandemic.

“This is moment where we need to be making big and bold investments in communities,” Nicholas said. While the federal aid will help, “[The government} needs to be thinking about how we are going to set ourselves up for long-term adequate level funding and that has to be done with new, equitable sources of revenue.”

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If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

2. If Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes’ prediction is correct, the city’s labor negotiation team won’t sit down to negotiate with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) until after new mayor takes office in 2022.

In a presentation to the Community Police Commission on Wednesday, Holmes hypothesized that contract negotiations with the city’s largest police union “probably” won’t begin “until sometime next year,” and that the negotiators may not have finalized the “parameters” for bargaining—the ground rules for the process—by the time the next mayor is inaugurated in January. He also suggested the next mayor could begin the search for a permanent police chief at roughly the same time; current Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz stepped into the role when former Chief Carmen Best retired on short notice in September 2020, and Mayor Jenny Durkan has declined to begin the search for a permanent during her term.

Contract negotiations with city employee unions can be a lengthy process—the last round of bargaining with SPOG ended in 2018 after more than a year of negotiations. At that time, SPOG members had been working under an expired contract since 2014. The 2018 contract expired at the beginning of this year, so SPOG members will once again work under an expired agreement for the foreseeable future.

Delayed negotiations would also mean that the numerous controversial features of the 2018 SPOG contract will remain in effect for at least the coming year. Before the Seattle City Council approved the contract in November 2018—responding in part to pressure from Durkan to approve raises for union members—police accountability advocates, including the CPC, condemned the agreement for undercutting years’ worth of advocacy and a landmark 2017 ordinance that strengthened police oversight and discipline. Continue reading “Fizz: Revenue Rebounds, SPD Negotiations Delayed, and Sawant Slams Lazy Recall Campaign Mail”

Ballot Measure Would Reinstate Sweeps, Harrell Joins Mayor’s Race, and Republicans Hedge Bets on Capital Gains

The look on mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell’s face when KOMO TV’s Jonathan Choe asked how he felt about Black-on-Asian crime, given that “you’re biracial, your mother is Japanese American and your dad’s Black”

1. After months of will-he-won’t-he speculation, three-term former city council member Bruce Harrell announced Tuesday that he’s running for mayor. As a well-known political figure who will likely have support from the Seattle business community, Harrell joins the ranks of instant frontrunners in the race, which also includes current city council president Lorena González, Chief Seattle Club director Colleen Echohawk, South East Effective Development director Lance Randall, and city council aide Andrew Grant Houston.

At a press conference outside Garfield High School, his alma mater, Harrell said he would seek public-private partnerships to fund investments in solutions to homelessness, clean up city parks where unsheltered people have taken long-term refuge during the pandemic, and work to “reimagine” the city’s police force rather than defunding it.

In a conversation with Fizz after the announcement, Harrell said the biggest problem at city hall, Harrell said, is a “lack of relationships”—between the mayor and council, the council and departments, and with outside organizations like Seattle Public Schools.

True to his past campaigns (in addition to serving three terms on the council, Harrell ran for mayor in 2013, receiving 15 percent of the primary vote), Harrell focused on style, more than policy, in our conversation. “Quite honestly, I am attracted to a situation that requires rebuilding,” Harrell said. “It’s sort of easy to hop into a leadership position when an organization is going smoothly and is high-performing. It’s a different skill set for someone to consciously jump into a situation that is plagued with dysfunction, and that doesn’t bother me.”

But he did have a few specific policy prescriptions. He said he would work to revitalize neighborhoods including, but not limited to, downtown, by promoting not just brick and mortar businesses but partnerships between small businesses (particularly women- and minority-owned) and larger ones—a kind of “business-to-business on steroids” approach to saving local businesses. “The first thing we must learn how to do is recycle our money within the economy by making sure the relationship between small businesses and big business is intact,” Harrell said.

He also said he would propose divvying up $10 million between the seven council districts so that the council member from each geographic area could determine, through conversations in that community, what local priorities should be funded. Asked how this would differ from the ongoing participatory budgeting process, which is supposed to determine how the city will spend $30 million set aside for alternatives to policing last year, Harrell said, “I think participatory budgeting is a step in the right direction, but what it still doesn’t do, I think, is have each council member directly accountable to their particular constituents in their community.”

Harrell, who grew up in the Central District and often talks about his deep roots in Seattle, provided more details about his platform in an “open letter” Tuesday morning.

2. Another former city council member, Tim Burgess, is preparing to propose a ballot measure that would change Seattle’s constitution (known as the city charter) by directing the city’s Human Services Department to fund mental health and substance abuse disorder treatment, expand access to shelter, and “collaboratively work with other City departments to ensure that City parks, playgrounds, sports fields, public spaces and sidewalks and streets (“public spaces”) remain open and clear of unauthorized encampments.”

The proposal would mandate (but not fund) new shelter and services and reinstate sweeps, including the removal of encampments that pose a “public health or safety risk,” a term that is not defined and would be subject to interpretation.

The proposal does not appear to include a funding plan.

The charter amendment would require HSD to create a plan to provide services to people living unsheltered (along with individual written “service plans” for every person living unsheltered in the city) and would “require the cleaning and removal of unauthorized encampments in public spaces as these services are available.” In addition, any encampment that poses “a public health or safety risk may be immediately removed,” the proposed amendment says.

In plain language, the proposal would mandate (but not fund) new shelter and services and reinstate sweeps, including the removal of encampments that pose a “public health or safety risk,” a term that is not defined and would be subject to interpretation.

It also directs HSD to work with prosecutors, police, and public defenders to create new “diversion” programs for people who commit non-violent offenses; these programs would include unspecificed “treatment programs as an alternative to incarceration.”

Burgess did not respond to a request for comment.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

To place a charter amendment on the ballot, proponents must get signatures from as many registered voters as 15 percent of the turnout in the most recent mayoral election, or about 33,000 people. After that, the city council can choose to enact the amendment, put it on the ballot, or add their own alternative to the mix. This last scenario played out in 2014, when the council proposed an alternative to a preschool initiative that opponents said gave too much power to unions. The council’s winning alternative was sponsored by Tim Burgess.

3. Despite claiming the Democrats’ capital gains tax legislation (SB-5096) would put an unconstitutional law in place, Republicans are worried that if it passes, taking the law to the Supreme Court will backfire and open the door for an income tax.

Luckily for the Republicans, moderate Democratic Senator Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens) added an amendment to the capital gains tax during  the Senate vote that stripped the bill of its emergency clause and took out language saying that the revenue from the legislation is tied to government functions. Legislation with an emergency clause, or legislation that includes language saying it’s necessary to support the functioning of state government, can’t be overturned by voter referendum. The removal of both sections clearly signals that opponents prefer to leave the bill open to a statewide referendum, rather than battling over its legality in court. Continue reading “Ballot Measure Would Reinstate Sweeps, Harrell Joins Mayor’s Race, and Republicans Hedge Bets on Capital Gains”

Police Accountability Agenda in Legislature Narrows as Deadline Passes

State Rep. Jesse Salomon (D-32)

By Paul Kiefer

Tuesday marked a crucial deadline for bills in the Washington State legislature: the final opportunity for bills to pass from the house to the senate, or vice versa. The cutoff date thinned the herd of police accountability bills introduced this year, though most key proposals—including bills that would impose stricter guidelines for police use-of-force and lower barriers to de-certifying police officers—are still moving forward.

Proposals that won’t move forward include a bill (HB 1202) sponsored by Rep. My-Linh Thai (D-41, Mercer Island) that would have allowed victims of police misconduct or their families to sue police officers and police departments. The bill would have effectively eliminated the ‘qualified immunity’ protection that prevents individuals from suing government employees unless the plaintiff can prove that the employee violated a person’s “clearly established” rights.

The bill, originally introduced in the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee, received support from several statewide and national police accountability groups, including the ACLU of Washington, but faced opposition from both the Washington State Association of Counties and the Association of Washington Cities, which raised concerns that increasing the liabilities of cities and counties—which would bear the costs of civil suits against their police officers—would strain their budgets and limit their insurance options.

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Enoka Herat, the Police Practices and Immigration Counsel for the ACLU of Washington, told PubliCola that the cities and counties that opposed the bill have misplaced priorities. “Cities and counties should play a role in reducing misconduct and ensuring that there are good policies in practices in place,” Herat said, “both in order to avoid liability and to do the right thing.” Herat added that the proposal “added teeth” to other police accountability bills that are moving forward in the legislature.

Rep. Jesse Johnson’s (D-30, Federal Way) HB 1203, proposing the creation of “community oversight boards” to investigate police misconduct in jurisdictions across the state, also failed to move forward to the state senate. The bill would have required all existing civilian-led oversight bodies in Washington—including Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability—to civilianize their investigative staff and relocate out of law enforcement agencies. The bill’s prospects dimmed when some police accountability experts raised concerns about the proposal’s impact on existing police oversight bodies, and about the 120-day cap the bill would place on misconduct investigations.

A third bill (SB 5134) that would have drawn a distinction between law enforcement unions and other labor groups, sponsored by Sen. Jesse Salomon (D-32, Shoreline), lost momentum long before the March 9 deadline. The proposal would have prohibited law enforcement unions from using the collective bargaining process to limit police oversight, and it would have effectively eliminated the ability of police officers facing discipline to appeal their case to an arbitrator—a specially licensed attorney who can approve of, reduce, or overturn a department’s disciplinary decision. Continue reading “Police Accountability Agenda in Legislature Narrows as Deadline Passes”

SPD Argues Proposed Budget Cut Would Lead to Crisis “Beyond Mitigation”

SPD data shows rising attrition since 2012, when the department fell under federal supervision.

By Paul Kiefer

Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz appeared before the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday to present his argument against the $5.4 million cut to the SPD budget proposed by the council in December 2020 in response to overspending by the department. Diaz argued that the additional proposed budget cut could plunge SPD into a staffing crisis “beyond mitigation.”

The proposed $5.4 million cut was the council’s response to the revelation in December that SPD had overspent its budget by that amount, requiring the council to make a last-minute addition to the department’s budget. Though SPD staff told council that the department needed that funding to cover separation costs, family leave pay, and COVID testing site-related overtime, the council pointed out that SPD spent past its approved overtime budget during last summer’s protests and left other costs unpaid until the end of the year. The resolution expressing the council’s intent to cut $5.4 million from SPD’s 2021 budget was largely an effort to dissuade SPD from similar overspending in the future.

A month earlier, the council had approved a larger slate of reductions to SPD’s 2021 budget—a $21.5 million cut proposed by the mayor, and a $12.7 million cut added by the council. Most of those cuts reduced SPD’s staffing budget, shifting the salaries reserved for vacant positions and the salaries of officers leaving the department to the city’s general fund.

Diaz argued that while his department can work within a constrained budget, the proposed $5.4 million cut would leave the department unable to adapt to its smaller workforce and could spur more officers to part ways with the department; since the beginning of 2020, SPD has seen more than 200 officers retire or transfer to other agencies—twice as many departures as in 2019. “The continued cuts to the budget, especially those not matched with efforts to reduce the duties of the department, will only drive further staffing losses,” Diaz said. “I can’t plan around a budget that’s constantly changing,” he added.

According to both Diaz and Deputy Mayor Mike Fong, who appeared alongside the interim chief during Tuesday’s presentation, rising attrition—and, Diaz added, a growing number of older officers who are taking medical leave to “burn time” before retirement—have already created serious holes in the department. Continue reading “SPD Argues Proposed Budget Cut Would Lead to Crisis “Beyond Mitigation””