Category: Police

A Sexual Misconduct Investigation at a Rural Sheriff’s Department Highlights Gaps in State Police Oversight Laws

An Okanogan County Sheriff's Truck
An Okanogan County Sheriff’s Vehicle (Flickr: Diamondback Covers)

By Paul Kiefer

Maddesyn George spent much of the past year sitting in a cell in the Spokane County jail, awaiting her sentencing in an increasingly visible federal murder trial. George, a 27-year-old from the Colville Reservation in north-central Washington, says she shot and killed her rapist in July 2020. After Colville tribal police took her into custody, she elaborated, telling prosecutors that the victim—Kristopher Graber, a man who sometimes sold her methamphetamine—had raped her at gunpoint at his house in Omak a day earlier. She stole his gun and fled, but she did not call 911 to report the rape to police in Omak: a detail that became relevant during her trial, when prosecutors challenged her rape allegations. A day later, Graber caught up to her on the reservation, where George shot him with his own gun.

When tribal and federal prosecutors asked George why she hadn’t called the police to report her rape, she mentioned that she had reasons not to trust law enforcement in Omak. At the time, her reasoning seemed obvious: George is a Native American woman with a record of substance abuse, and she did not trust the county sheriff’s office to treat her fairly. But in late September, with her sentencing hearing approaching, George revealed another reason why she did not initially report her rape to local law enforcement: An Okanogan County Sheriff’s detective named Isaiah Holloway.

In purely geographic terms, Okanogan County is the largest in the state. But in many ways, the county is a small place. The remote stretch of mountains and plateaus along the Canadian border has a population of just 40,000; the largest town, Omak, is home to 5,000 of them. And the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Department, which patrols most of the county, has only three dozen sworn officers. In an agency as small as the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Department, a single case of misconduct can escalate dramatically. And Isaiah Holloway, at the center of two sexual misconduct complaints, is a prime example.

A fundamental lack of oversight on nearly every level in Washington leads to situations like the one that is still unfolding in Okanogan County, which highlights shortcomings in state rules about police officers and consent—and the power of law enforcement and prosecutors to decide whether misconduct matters.

George first recalls meeting Holloway during a traffic stop on a hot summer day in 2014, when Holloway stopped the car driven by a friend of hers to arrest the driver on a warrant from the Washington Department of Corrections. After placing her friend in handcuffs, Holloway began flirting with George, who was sitting in the passenger seat. When he asked to keep in touch, she gave him a fake phone number.

“A couple of days later, he tracked me down at a friend’s house,” she wrote in her statement to the federal court. “I still don’t know how he found me. He came to the door and said that it was ‘f—-d up’ that I gave him a fake number.” From that point on, she couldn’t avoid Holloway. For months, she wrote, Holloway regularly messaged her on Facebook, at one point telling her “that if [she] didn’t go out on a date with him,” she would “face greater scrutiny from police.” On other occasions, she added, he asked her to “get a room” with him. Increasingly uncomfortable with Holloway’s attention, George moved to a new town to avoid him. So when Graber allegedly raped her in Omak—a town within Holloway’s jurisdiction—George argues that she had a reason not to call 911.

George’s statement to the court didn’t include any evidence of Holloway’s alleged harassment. But she isn’t the first person to accuse Holloway of sexual misconduct; in fact, the detective admitted to another inappropriate sexual relationship last spring. However, because of holes in Washington’s laws about oversight for police and prosecutors—and about police officers and sexual consent—Holloway’s confession remained buried for nearly a year.

Washington state law is mostly silent on the question of consent between police officers and vulnerable people they meet in the course of their law enforcement work, which makes it easy for officers to pursue dubiously consensual sexual “relationships” without facing consequences. And one of the few potential long-term punishments for committing sexual misconduct—inclusion on a so-called “Brady List” of untrustworthy officers, which can make it harder to perform some key duties of a police officer—is entirely up to local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, who get to draw their own conclusions about what makes the cut.

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A fundamental lack of oversight on nearly every level in Washington leads to situations like the one that is still unfolding in Okanogan County, which highlights shortcomings in state rules about police officers and consent—and the power of law enforcement and prosecutors to decide what kinds of misconduct matter.

The pivotal investigation into Holloway began with a phone call to Deputy Rochelle Cline, the department’s communications manager, in March 2020. According to the caller, Holloway was having a sexual affair with a woman—who, for privacy reasons, PubliCola will refer to as B—whose history of addiction often landed her in the hands of the sheriff’s department; the caller also alleged that Holloway helped the woman “get out of her charges.” The caller was B’s brother.

The following afternoon, Holloway texted Cline unprompted, admitting to his relationship with B. He told Cline that his father’s death in 2017 and a 2019 incident in which he shot and injured a murder suspect had sent his mental health into a downward spiral. “I have tried to cover it all up for this ‘tough guy’ cop job I thought we had to be,” he wrote. “Instead of seeking help, I fell into a world of porn addiction, sexting and now an affair. I need help and I’m not sure where to turn to.” Cline, along with Sheriff Tony Hawley, drove to Holloway’s house to put him in touch with a counselor. Later that night, the department placed him on administrative leave.

Holloway did not respond to PubliCola’s requests for comment on the investigation and George’s allegations. 

The ensuing investigation provided only a little clarity. B herself denied having any intimate relationship with Holloway—a claim Cline quickly dismissed. Holloway told Cline that his “affair” with B began when he caught B with stolen property in December 2019. Instead of arresting her, Holloway relied on B to find the suspected thief; he also passed her his personal phone number. While he admitted to having sex with B twice while off-duty, he denied that he had helped her avoid arrest, pointing to an incident in which he ticketed her for driving with suspended license.

B’s family, on the other hand, insisted that Holloway was not simply having an affair; in their view, he was taking advantage of a woman struggling with addiction. B herself was unavailable to comment, but her brother told Cline he that suspected Holloway helped his sister avoid arrest. B’s sister made similar allegations when she spoke to Cline during the misconduct investigation, recalling that B was frustrated when Holloway didn’t intervene to stop a fellow officer from arresting her for theft. In her investigation report, Cline claimed that other sheriff’s officers had booked B into custody 12 times between April 2019 and March 2020 alone—evidence, she wrote in her report, that Holloway was not protecting B from his colleagues in exchange for sex.

A state law passed earlier this year specified that law enforcement officers can’t engage in consensual sex with a “person incarcerated or detained,” and provides an avenue for proving that an officer coerced a person into sex without formally detaining them, although this can be challenging to prove after the fact.

In May, the sheriff’s office concluded that Holloway had violated a half-dozen department rules, including policies prohibiting officers from using their positions for personal gain and from developing close relationships with “practicing criminal[s].” As punishment, the department suspended Holloway for three days without pay. Less than a year after this brief suspension, the office promoted Holloway from deputy to detective, assigning him largely to sex crimes cases.

Holloway’s disciplinary record at the Okanogan Sheriff’s Office doesn’t mention the possibility that he took advantage of B’s addiction and criminal record to coerce her into sex. Washington law prohibits officers from having sex with people in custody—doing so would constitute sexual assault—but according to Riddhi Mukhopadhyay, the director of the Seattle-based Sexual Violence Law Center, state law is less clear when it comes to officers’ sexual relationships with informants, drug users and others in vulnerable positions.

Aside from a state law passed earlier this year to improve Washington’s civil protection order system, which specified that law enforcement officers can’t engage in consensual sex with a “person incarcerated or detained,” state law is silent on the issue of police officers and sexual consent. State law does not address scenarios in which officers coerce a person into sex without formally detaining them: an encounter than can be challenging to prove after the fact.

The same is true for a quid-pro-quo exchange of sex for leniency: if an officer offers not to arrest someone in return for sex, the arrangement might not leave any paper trail. Even if a police officer did coerce a vulnerable person into sex, the victim might not feel safe enough to blow the whistle. “Based on the power dynamics of sexual violence,” Mukhopadyay said, “we know that predators in positions of power will target and victimize someone who is particularly vulnerable and could be easily dismissed—a victim with a criminal history, a victim who may have mental health issues, a victim in a subordinate position.” Continue reading “A Sexual Misconduct Investigation at a Rural Sheriff’s Department Highlights Gaps in State Police Oversight Laws”

Afternoon Fizz: New Sheriff In Town, Council Adopts $7 Billion City Budget

1. Starting January 1, King County will a new interim sheriff: Patti Cole-Tindall, previously an undersheriff in the King County Sheriff’s Office, will assume the role until County Executive Dow Constantine appoints a permanent sheriff in mid-2022.

Last year, county voters approved a charter amendment that sets up a process for appointing, rather than electing, the King County sheriff. Tindall will be King County’s first appointed sheriff in more than two decades.

Before joining the sheriff’s office in 2015, Tindall served as both the director of the county’s labor relations unit and interim director of the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, an independent agency that investigates misconduct and systemic problems in the sheriff’s office.

At a press conference Tuesday, Tindall said that she doesn’t plan to apply for the permanent sheriff or for permanent chief of the Seattle Police Department, the two most prominent law enforcement job openings in the county. “I see my value in this appointed process as being there to help the permanent sheriff be successful,” she said. The county council, with input from a panel of sheriff’s staff, community members and local government representatives, is still reviewing candidates to become the permanent sheriff.

Constantine also debuted his proposal to provide hiring and retention incentives for sworn sheriff’s officers, which county council budget chair Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduces as an emergency amendment to the county’s 2022 budget today. The proposal would provide $15,000 to officers who transfer from other departments, $7,500 to new hires, and a one-time $4,000 bonus to every officer in the department. Constantine argued that while the sheriff’s office, which has 60 vacant officer positions, isn’t currently struggling to meet demand, the incentives might help attract and retain officers as a growing number of officers reach retirement age.

King County Police Officers’ Guild (KCPOG) President Mike Mansanarez told reporters he supports the hiring and retention incentives. His counterpart at the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, Mike Solan, voiced his skepticism about a similar hiring incentive program introduced by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan in October.

2. On Monday, the Seattle City Council approved a $7.1 billion 2022 city budget that provides new funding for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, preserves the JumpStart payroll tax spending plan while restoring the city’s depleted reserves, and keeps Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed budget for the Seattle Police Department largely intact, shaving about $10 million off the mayor’s initial $365.4 million proposal.

As budget chair Teresa Mosqueda emphasized twice on Monday, the budget the council adopted doesn’t require SPD to lay off any officers, nor does it eliminate any officers’ salaries. Instead, the council saved $2.7 million by assuming SPD will lose more officers next year than Durkan’s budget projected—125, instead of 91—and moving their unspent salaries out of SPD’s budget. Continue reading “Afternoon Fizz: New Sheriff In Town, Council Adopts $7 Billion City Budget”

In Reversal, Council Keeps Durkan’s Expanded Police Budget Mostly Intact

Seattle interim police chief Adrian Diaz.
Seattle interim police chief Adrian Diaz

By Paul Kiefer

The Seattle City Council voted Thursday to leave Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal for the Seattle Police Department’s 2022 budget largely intact, and in the process put an internal messaging battle—whether to attempt to make peace with SPD or repurpose dollars from the department’s budget in the future—in the spotlight.

The council’s decision to leave Durkan’s budget largely untouched was preceded by a dramatic last-minute press release from Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz, who inaccurately claimed that council president Lorena González had proposed eliminating more than 100 officers’ jobs. In reality, González’s amendment would have eliminated the spending authority for 101 positions that SPD doesn’t expect to fill in 2022. While Durkan’s budget has already redistributed the unspent salaries for other purposes in 2022, the amendment would have allowed the council to repurpose more than $17 million in future years.

The amendment struck at a pillar of SPD’s accounting strategy: asking the council to leave space in the department’s budget for dozens of positions that SPD can’t feasibly fill and redirecting the unspent salaries elsewhere in the department. In 2022, SPD expects to have 134 vacant positions, leaving a total of $19 million in unspent salaries that the department intends to use for other purposes, including new civilian staff and equipment.

The strategy is unique to SPD; while other department have vacant positions, only SPD builds a noteworthy portion of its budget around vacancies that it doesn’t expect to fill. González’s amendment also left a 33-vacancy “cushion” in case SPD surpasses its hiring goals, leaving the department with a maximum of 1,256 officers in 2022.

Diaz’s press release forced González and her colleagues to re-hash a familiar debate about whether the council’s budget proposal would restrict the department’s growth or simply bring an end to an unusual accounting trick that gives SPD an annual surplus to spend as it chooses—a privilege, González noted, that no other city department enjoys.

González’s failed amendment struck at a pillar of SPD’s accounting strategy: asking the council to leave space in the department’s budget for dozens of positions that SPD can’t feasibly fill and redirecting the unspent salaries elsewhere in the department.

The interim chief isn’t asking the council for wiggle room or a reasonable level of discretionary funding. He is apparently demanding a blank check and zero fiscal accountability or scrutiny,” González said, calling Diaz’ statement either a “gross, intentional misrepresentation” or a “gross misunderstanding” of her amendment.

A slim majority of the council voted against the amendment, signaling their wariness to engage in a battle with SPD after a year of acrimony with the police department.

In the week and a half since council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda debuted revisions to Durkan’s proposal for the SPD budget, the council has seen an onslaught of accusations from Durkan, mayor-elect Bruce Harrell, Diaz, and others claiming that the council was attempting to slash SPD’s budget and ranks. In fact, Mosqueda’s revised budget would have reduced Durkan’s proposed budget increase by $10.8 million, for a total of $6.8 million in new investments. (The overall size of the police budget would have decreased slightly under Mosqueda’s original proposal).

Most controversially, Mosqueda’s budget assumed that SPD will lose more officers in 2022 than Durkan or Diaz currently project. While Durkan and SPD estimated that just 94 officers would leave the department next year, Mosqueda estimated a loss of at least 125 officers: enough to cancel out the department’s hiring goals and leave 31 more vacant positions—and $2.7 million more in unspent salaries—than Durkan anticipated.

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The mayor’s projections are optimistic, given that SPD will lose an estimated 150 officers by the end of this year. Her estimate also does not factor in the dozen unvaccinated officers currently on leave who will likely lose their jobs in January. However, Diaz and Durkan predict that attrition will decline sharply in 2022, in part because of plans to spend more on retention programs like group therapy.

Additionally, Mosqueda suggested that the council scale back Durkan’s planned increase to the department’s overtime budget, saving another $3.2 million. Mosqueda’s budget also would have maintained, rather than expanded, SPD’s Community Service Officer (CSO) program—a civilian unit that handles outreach and some non-emergency calls—and omitted Durkan’s proposals to pay hiring bonuses to new officers in 2022 and to launch two new software projects.

On Thursday, an amendment sponsored by Councilmember Alex Pedersen to use the city’s emergency reserve funds to restore most of Durkan’s original budget failed by a wide margin; another amendment—also from Pedersen—that would have met Durkan halfway on attrition projections and overtime increases met the same fate.

The mayor’s projections are optimistic, given that SPD will lose an estimated 150 officers by the end of this year. Her estimate also does not factor in the dozen unvaccinated officers currently on leave who will likely lose their jobs in January. However, Diaz and Durkan predict that attrition will decline sharply in 2022, in part because of plans to spend more on retention programs like group therapy.

The council also narrowly voted down an amendment by Councilmember Andrew Lewis that repurposes $2.7 million from the city’s reserves to defer to Durkan’s attrition projections. “There’s an advantage to assuming less attrition so that we don’t have to go back next year to correct the budget,” Lewis said. He also raised concerns about the optics of Mosqueda’s attrition projection, adding that he “would prefer that the council not habitually predict that hiring and [departures] will be the same,” noting that the council made the same prediction last year. While the council initially voted in favor of the amendment, Councilmember Tammy Morales asked for a re-vote near the end of the session that defeated the proposal; Morales, who previously supported the amendment, reversed her vote.

Mosqueda introduced her own amendment to expand the CSO program, though her $900,000 amendment fell short of Durkan’s original $1.3 million proposal. Because SPD will likely be unable to hire the six additional officers before next spring, she said, the CSO unit will only need six months of funding in 2022. The council agreed, voting overwhelmingly to expand the program. Mosqueda added that she eventually hopes to move the the CSO program to a civilian department, but she conceded that the unit will stay in SPD for the foreseeable future. The CSOs have said they aren’t interested in leaving SPD, citing close relationships with their sworn counterparts; Herbold admitted that she had assured the unit’s supervisors that the council wouldn’t force the CSOs to leave SPD in exchange for expanding the program, and Thursday’s vote allowed her to keep her promise.

The council rejected just three minor proposals to increase SPD’s budget. Pedersen’s pitch to add more dollars to SPD’s overtime budget didn’t find traction, and nobody on the council expressed interest in supporting the two SPD technology projects that Mosqueda deemed “non-essential”: a body-worn video analysis system used to assess racial disparities in policing and a wearable biometric monitor that would track police officers’ vital signs to flag officers at risk of using excessive force or acting erratically because of stress. Continue reading “In Reversal, Council Keeps Durkan’s Expanded Police Budget Mostly Intact”

Council Considers Backing Out of SPD Funding Fight

SPD West Precinct

By Paul Kiefer

With less than a week of budget deliberations to go, the Seattle City Council will consider a trio of amendments on Thursday that could quash the ongoing battle with Mayor Jenny Durkan over the details of the Seattle Police Department’s 2022 budget.

The amendments would fully or partially walk back a plan, introduced by council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, to reduce Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed SPD budget by $10 million. Within hours of the plan’s debut last Tuesday, both Durkan and mayor-elect Bruce Harrell condemned the plan as an outright “cut” to SPD’s budget; at a press conference the following day, interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz claimed that the council’s proposed reductions would effectively “eliminate” more than 30 officers from his department’s ranks.

Mosqueda’s initial budget proposal would not have actually resulted in layoffs or reduced SPD’s existing budget. Instead, it would have reduced the size of Durkan’s proposal by not allocating funds for salaries for positions that the council doesn’t believe SPD will be able to fill next year and by reducing Durkan’s proposed budget for officer overtime by $3.2 million.

While Durkan and SPD estimated that just 94 officers would leave the department next year, Mosqueda’s budget proposal assumed a loss of 125 officers, including at least a dozen unvaccinated officers who will likely lose their jobs by January. If Mosqueda’s assumption is correct, SPD would lose as many officers as it plans to hire in 2022, leaving the department with 31 more vacant positions—and $2.7 million more in unspent salaries—than Durkan anticipated.

The most sweeping proposal, sponsored by Councilmember Alex Pedersen, would leave Durkan’s plans untouched, re-introduce funds for hiring incentives and the CSO program expansion, and adopt the mayor and police chief’s more optimistic hiring and attrition projections.

Mosqueda’s proposal would also have maintained, rather than expanded, funding for SPD’s Community Service Officer (CSO) program—a civilian unit that handles outreach and some non-emergency calls. Her plan also nixed $1.1 million set aside for SPD to pay hiring incentives to new officers in 2022, which Diaz says are necessary to attract recruits in a region where hefty hiring bonuses are becoming the norm.

A final, less-controversial reduction would come from SPD’s technology budget, preventing the department from launching two new software projects in 2022: a body-worn video analysis system used to assess racial disparities in policing and a wearable biometric monitor that would track police officers’ vital signs to flag officers at risk of using excessive force or acting erratically because of stress.

The three amendments on Thursday’s agenda would each restore at least one component of Durkan’s original SPD budget proposal; because they are mutually exclusive, only one can pass.

The most sweeping proposal, sponsored by Councilmember Alex Pedersen, would leave Durkan’s plans untouched, re-introduce funds for hiring incentives and the CSO program expansion, and adopt the mayor and police chief’s more optimistic hiring and attrition projections, To keep the budget balanced, the amendment would remove $10 million from the city’s revenue stabilization fund and return it to SPD.

Continue reading “Council Considers Backing Out of SPD Funding Fight”

Police Monitor Raises Concerns About SPD Budget; Crosscut’s New Editor Kills Opinion Section

1. During the Seattle City Council’s Monday morning briefing, budget chair Teresa Mosqueda responded to a Seattle Times editorial published last week charging that the council’s proposals for the Seattle Police Department’s 2022 budget could plunge the city into another confrontation with the federal district court.

The editorial, which called on mayor-elect Bruce Harrell to hold a “public safety summit” soon after he takes office in January, challenged Mosqueda’s claim that the council’s amended SPD budget had been vetted by the court-appointed monitor who acts as the eyes and ears for Judge James Robart—the federal judge responsible for overseeing reforms to SPD as part of a decade-old arrangement called the “consent decree.” The Times’ source: An email to the editorial board from the monitor himself, Dr. Antonio Oftelie, who said that no one on the council had spoken to him directly about their plans for SPD’s 2022 budget.

“I understand that it must continue to be an inconvenience to the Seattle Times editorial board to acknowledge that we did indeed continue to engage with the court monitor directly, as we have done in the past,” Mosqueda said, adding that Greg Doss, the council staffer who specializes in SPD’s budget, “reached out and directly engaged” with Oftelie on behalf of the council. “The court monitor is very aware that Greg [Doss] works on behalf of all council members,” Mosqueda said.

During his meeting with Doss and a representative from the City Attorney’s Office, Oftelie did not offer direct feedback on the council’s budget proposals. A week later, he sent a memo to Mosqueda, along with public safety chair Lisa Herbold and council president Lorena González, raising concerns about the council’s plans to scale back SPD’s budget data analysis. Specifically, Oftelie described two programs—one that would identify 911 call types that could go to non-police emergency responders, and another that could identify officers with a pattern of using force during crisis calls—as vital to the department’s progress. If the council went through with plans to cut SPD’s data analysis budget, he added, the federal court might intervene. Despite his warning, Oftelie emphasized that “it is not the monitor’s role or intent to dictate City budget decisions.”

Mosqueda’s office debuted the council’s changes to Durkan’s budget proposal a day after receiving Oftelie’s memo; during the quick turnaround, Mosqueda said that she worked with the council’s central staff to ensure that the proposed budgets for the two data analysis projects Oftelie flagged would remain untouched. The council’s proposed budget now only omits funding for two of SPD’s proposed technology programs, totaling around $1.3 million.

During the council’s budget discussions last week, Mosqueda called the first—a body-worn video analysis software used to assess racial disparities in policing—a “nice-to-have” item that the council could support in the future. The second technology is a wearable biometric monitor that would track police officers’ vital statistics to flag officers at risk of using excessive force or acting erratically because of stress.

After Mosqueda’s rebuttal on Monday, Oftelie reiterated his frustration with the council’s communication style. His meeting with Doss, he told PubliCola, “was a one-hour briefing and in no way was meant or implied to be any type of ‘approval’ of the budget.” And after he raised his concerns about the council’s budget proposal in his memo, he added, “no one from City Council acknowledged receiving the memorandum or connected with me to discuss it before their Tuesday meeting.”

In the past year, the consent decree has loomed large over Seattle’s budget discussions; in June, the council abandoned plans to cut $2.83 million from SPD’s 2021 budget under pressure from the federal court. Oftelie, who advises the court about Seattle’s progress on police reforms, has argued that SPD needs to be able to rebuild its ranks after two years of record-breaking attrition in order to comply with the consent decree.

Meanwhile, the council could soon run into problems with the federal court on another front: an ordinance that the council passed in August restricting SPD’s ability to use so-called “less-lethal” weapons like tear gas for crowd control. Two weeks ago, Diaz reached out to Oftelie for legal guidance as his department prepares to update its policies to comply with the new law. In his letter to Oftelie, Diaz wrote that the ordinance may be at odds with the consent decree, setting the stage for another potential fight over the council’s power to pass police reform laws while SPD is under federal oversight.

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PUBLICOLA NEEDS YOUR HELP.

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’re funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

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 of any amount, 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. Crosscut, the nonprofit news website that merged with Seattle’s PBS affiliate, KCTS, six years ago, is eliminating its opinion section, leaving Seattle with one less source of editorial views to counter the Seattle Times’ generally conservative opinion and editorial pages. Crosscut’s new executive editor, M. David Lee III, announced the decision in a memo to all staff last week. Lee replaces Victor Hernandez, who joined the site in 2018.

The section, which features Knute Berger’s “Mossback” history column along with regular opinion pieces by Transit Riders Union director Katie Wilson and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant,  will be replaced by a “new process of engaging community voices,” according to an internal memo from Lee. Berger told PubliCola he would continue writing for Crosscut and referred all other questions to Lee, who did not respond to an email Monday.

“There are a lot of priorities that need to be attended to and one of the top ones is the ‘Opinion’ section of Crosscut.com, which has been a fixture of the organization since its inception in 2007,” Lee, who joined Crosscut last month, wrote in the memo. “With the section, the goal, at the time and to this day, is to engage our community in conversation regarding important issues. Listening to the communities that we serve is one of the most important things we need to do as a non-profit public news organization. We must reflect the landscape in which we live and serve. Change is also important. Adapting and retooling how we engage with the community is what we must do moving forward and, because of that, we will be sunsetting the traditional ‘Opinion’ section of Crosscut.com effective November 30th.”

As a “project” of a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Cascade Public Media, Crosscut can’t endorse candidates or advocate for positions on issues itself, but it can run opinions by people outside the organization. In the recent past, those pieces have included opinions by former Washington state Republican Party chair Chris Vance, Republican congressman Dan Newhouse, right-wing radio host John Carlson, and Bryant. Nonetheless, board members have reportedly raised concerns over the years that the opinion page slants left. The governing board that oversees the site includes a former Seattle Times editorial board member, former Republican attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna, and Amazon global real estate VP John Schoettler.

Lee,  a former television news director and sportscaster in markets including Tallahasee and Green Bay, is also an independent filmmaker. In a post on Crosscut, Lee described himself as “a lifelong, self-proclaimed, ‘Star Wars Geek'” who was drawn to Crosscut by “the talent here” and “the commitment here to public non-profit journalism.”

“The beauty of Crosscut is that we can go deeper, offer unique insight to a story or issue that other outlets are unable to do, or just choose not to do. As I said above, this is something new for me. And I expect that Crosscut will change me, and I’m excited about it,” Lee wrote. For now, he concluded, he’ll “be exploring the city, getting to know the talented staff here and doing the work for you, our readers, while heeding words of Yoda: ‘Do or Do Not. There is no Try.”

Crosscut’s local news reporter, David Kroman, recently decamped for the Seattle Times. After a lengthy struggle to unionize, the Crosscut Union still lacks a contract, after rejecting a proposal from management earlier this fall that the union said would lower their annual pay increases provide no improvements to retirement, vacation benefits, or health care. Cascade Media’s CEO, Rob Dunlop, made more than $500,000 in 2019.

—Paul Kiefer, Erica C. Barnett

SPD Chief Reiterates Reservations About Rules Restricting Department’s Use of Controversial Weapons at Protests

Seattle Police Officers fire tear gas at demonstrators on Capitol Hill in June 2020 (Twitter Screenshot – Chase Burns)

By Paul Kiefer

Seattle Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz expressed his support last week for most of the recommendations the city’s Office of the Inspector General issued in July as part of its year-long review of SPD’s response to protests in the summer and fall of 2020. But he argued that some of the office’s recommendations—specifically, those suggesting the department scale back its use of tear gas and batons during demonstrations—don’t mesh with legislation passed by the city council in August restricting his department’s use of crowd control weapons, asserting that the restrictions actually increased the chances that SPD will use batons and tear gas during future protests.

Drawing from a year of panel discussions with representatives from both SPD and police accountability advocates, the OIG—an independent police oversight body that audits both the Seattle Police Department and its Office of Police Accountability—suggested several changes to the way SPD trains officers to respond to protests, including a recommendation that officers not form immovable lines in front of protesters. The panel assembled by the OIG also recommended that the department consider replacing radio communications with an encrypted messaging system like WhatsApp and create a central command center to streamline communications between officers during demonstrations.

In a letter to Inspector General Lisa Judge made public last Friday, Diaz said he supported the idea of revamping his department’s protest management strategies to avoid a repeat of last summer’s mistakes. SPD has already started retraining officers to avoid making arrests for minor tussles during protests, he wrote, and the department is purchasing new, “more subdued” uniforms to replace the intimidating body armor worn by officers during last year’s protests.

The chief also used his letter to raise concerns about the city council’s decision in August to restrict on his department’s use of so-called “crowd control” weapons. “It would be naive,” he wrote, to believe that SPD won’t need crowd control weapons to respond to protests in the future.

But Diaz was skeptical of other recommendations, including a suggestion that SPD change department policy to allow officers to show support for protesters, which Diaz said could create “legal complexities” for the department. And in response to a recommendation that SPD rely on CCTV cameras to spot acts of property destruction, Diaz noted that his department might need city council approval to expand its surveillance authority.

The chief also used his letter to raise concerns about the city council’s decision in August to restrict on his department’s use of so-called “crowd control” weapons. “It would be naive,” he wrote, to believe that SPD won’t need crowd control weapons to respond to protests in the future. In fact, Diaz argued that the only way to meet the OIG’s broader call to reduce serious uses of force against protesters, including tear gas, is for the department to purchase greater supply and variety of crowd control weapons.

While the OIG’s report urged his department to avoid using batons and tear gas against protesters, Diaz warned that under the new restrictions, his officers could be more likely to use those weapons as a last resort.

His warning is not new. In August, the council rewrote an earlier crowd-control ordinance, which banned the use of tear gas, blast balls, and other “less-lethal” weapons, after a federal judge blocked that law, citing the risk that SPD might resort to using batons against protesters if they didn’t have access to pepper spray and tear gas. But even after the council revised the ordinance, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan refused to sign it, predicting that the federal court would once again intervene to stop the new restrictions from taking effect. At the time, Diaz didn’t publicly side with Durkan; his letter to the OIG is the first sign that he may have reservations. For now, Diaz declined to comment on what lays ahead for the new law.

Several of Diaz’s subordinates—including Lieutenant John Brooks, the on-the-ground commander during many of last year’s protests—helped shape the recommendations. However, because the OIG finished its review before the council passed the latest version of the crowd control weapons bill, the office’s panel of stakeholders didn’t factor the new law into their recommendations.

The new restrictions on crowd control weapons can’t take effect without the federal court’s approval—a consequence of the 2012 agreement between Seattle and the US Department of Justice known as the consent decree, which placed a federal judge in charge of overseeing reforms to SPD. The department has until mid-November to draft policies on crowd control weapons that reflect the new law.

In his letter, Diaz also noted another key variable for the department: the city budget. “Our ability to implement change hinges precariously on our budget and staffing,” he wrote, “both of which have been under significant threat over the past 18 months.” For now, he added, SPD is relying on grants and dollars from the nonprofit Seattle Police Foundation to pay for training programs. Though he avoided making any explicit demands, his underlying argument was clear: If the OIG wants SPD to implement its recommendations, the office will need to go to bat for SPD’s budget.

As Council Moves to Fund Alternatives to Police, Durkan Proposes Big Bonuses for SPD Hires

1. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued an emergency executive order on Friday introducing hiring bonuses as a recruitment tool for the Seattle Police Department and the Community Safety and Communications Center, which houses the city’s 911 dispatch.

The order will allow SPD to pay officers who transfer from other departments up to $25,000, and new recruits from the academy up to $10,000, during the remainder of 2021. The CSCC will be able to offer the same bonuses to lateral transfers and new hires, respectively. The city council has repeatedly rejected attempts by Durkan and her allies to fund new police hiring incentives this year, including a July proposal to restore a hiring incentive program halted by the COVID-19 pandemic and a pair of proposals Councilmember Alex Pedersen introduced with Durkan’s support in early September.

In a statement Friday, Durkan said the bonuses would help SPD refill its ranks after two years of record-breaking attrition. According to SPD strategic initiatives director Chris Fisher, the greatest challenge to SPD’s ambitious plan to hire 125 officers in 2022 is convincing prospective officers to fill out applications; the generous bonuses are intended to sweeten the deal.

Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) President Mike Solan criticized the mayor’s order on Saturday, writing in an open letter that “dangling money to recruit new or lateral hires won’t get the job done.” Instead, he argued that the next mayor’s priority should be retaining existing officers.

The CSCC, which launched quietly over the summer as the city’s newest department, is also dealing with a staffing shortage at the 911 call center. The call center has spent 40 percent more on overtime this year than it had by the end of October 2020 as the department struggles to fill vacant call-taker and supervisor positions. Starting on Friday, Seattle residents who call the city’s non-emergency phone number will occasionally be met with a pre-recorded message suggesting alternative resources; that message will only appear when the 911 center has to assign all of its call-takers and dispatchers to emergency calls.

During discussions of the department’s 2022 budget on Tuesday, Councilmember Lisa Herbold reiterated that plans to use $1 million of the department’s unspent salaries for hiring incentives next year—a separate proposal included in the mayor’s 2022 budget plan—should factor in the need to fill vacancies across all city departments.

2. A $13.9 million amendment to Seattle’s 2022 budget would allow the city’s mobile crisis teams—mental health professionals who respond to crisis calls, mostly in and around downtown Seattle—to operate around the clock.

The amendment, sponsored by Councilmember Dan Strauss, would expand the 43-person mobile crisis team, operated by the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), enabling DESC to expand its services city-wide and operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who signed on as a co-sponsor of Strauss’ amendment, called the mobile crisis team an example of the kind of investments in alternatives to traditional police response that Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed budget mostly lacks.

Durkan has proposed creating a new “Triage One” mobile unit to respond to about 7,000 annual non-emergency calls about people sleeping or unconscious in public places, but that still “leaves more than 30,000 calls that will default to police response without an alternative funded at scale,” Herbold said. After a review of SPD’s emergency responses by the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform earlier this year suggested moving half of the department’s call volume to other responders, Durkan endorsed a less-ambitious plan to divert another 40,000 calls to non-police responders each year—though her budget proposal didn’t create a plan for how to divert most of those calls.

The amendment would also scale up other mental health crisis services, including $1.5 million to pay for 15 new positions with DESC’s behavioral health response teams, which provide follow-up support for people in crisis after their initial interaction with the mobile crisis teams. At the moment, the follow-up team has only four members.

The largest portion of the proposed budget amendment—$8.5 million—would go to the DESC’s Crisis Connections Center, which currently relies on the county for funding; the amendment would not come at the cost of county funding. The money would double staffing for the center, which DESC hopes to move into a larger building.

3. On Tuesday, Councilmember Andrew Lewis introduced a $360,000 amendment to the mayor’s proposed budget that would. among other things, set aside $100,000 to create a “victim compensation fund” that would reimburse individuals and small businesses for stolen inventory, minor property damage, and other misdemeanor-related losses.

The goal of the fund, Lewis told his colleagues, is to replace a restitution process that rarely gets money to victims. “Under the current system,” he said, “an overwhelming majority of the defendants in the municipal court are indigent and, unfortunately, likely to remain indigent.” Of the roughly $191,000 that municipal court judges ordered defendants to pay between 2018 and January 2021, Lewis said, crime victims received just over a third.  Another $250,000 would go towards other “restorative justice” causes, including outreach to crime victims who don’t typically request or receive restitution—particularly people of color. 

The proposal to re-invent Seattle’s restitution system dates back to July, when City Attorney Pete Holmes and a group of advocates for court fee reform  pitched the concept of a “victim compensation fund” to the council. Though Holmes advocates for the fund as a more reliable way to compensate victims of crimes, the proposal is also a response to a recent Seattle Municipal Court analysis that found that judges were more likely to require Black and Indigenous defendants to pay restitution to victims than white clients.

Lewis’ amendment includes some nonbinding policy recommendations that resemble reforms Holmes has already adopted. Most notably, the amendment says the city attorney’s office must allow defendants to go through diversion programs or community court even when those options release defendants from their restitution requirements.

The non-binding policy recommendations in Lewis’ amendment are aimed at whoever takes office in January, although Holmes spokesman Dan Nolte noted that the next city attorney would be able to toss those policies aside without the council’s input.

—Paul Kiefer

SPD Hasn’t Fully Complied With 2017 Anti-Bias Law; Durkan Says City Has Never Done “Sweeps”; Meth Cleanup Further Delays Shelter Opening

1. In several recent campaign debates, mayoral candidate (and 12-year city council veteran) Bruce Harrell has pointed to a 2017 bias-free policing ordinance he sponsored as proof of his commitment to police reform. During a debate hosted by the ACLU of Washington last week, his opponent, current city council president Lorena González, countered that the ordinance—which requires anti the Seattle Police Department to conduct anti-bias training and collect data about stops and detentions—didn’t “result in a less-biased police force.”

One important detail neither candidate mentioned is that SPD still hasn’t fulfilled all the requirements of the four-year-old law. In a response to a query from City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, interim SPD chief Adrian Diaz informed the council in July that his department hasn’t been collecting data from all traffic stops, as the 2017 law requires. Instead, his department has only collected data on “Terry stops” (also known as stop-and-frisks), in which an officer detains someone who they suspect of “criminal activity.” SPD classifies roughly 70 percent of all stops and detentions as Terry stops.

Data released by SPD in January revealed that Indigenous people are nine times more likely to be stopped by police than white people, and Black people seven times more likely. In contrast, officers were more likely to find a weapon on a white person during a Terry stop than on people from any other racial or ethnic group.

SPD has not collected data on other common types of stops, including traffic citations. The four-year delay in following the letter of the law, Diaz wrote, came down to outdated reporting protocols: According to Diaz, SPD’s traffic unit only keeps paper records of their stops, warnings and citations. As a result, Diaz wrote, the department “does not have a complete count or description” of the citations and warnings its officers have issued, nor does it have complete demographic data about the people they’ve stopped.

According to Diaz, SPD was able to find a “work-around” to collect data about Terry stops, as required by the federal consent decree but not for other types of stops, leaving the department in compliance with the federal court’s orders but out of compliance with a city law. For now, Diaz said the department pieced together an imperfect system for manually collecting data from paper records, supplemented by the limited data about traffic stops collected by the Seattle Municipal Court. Based on that “imperfect data,” SPD estimates that it has conducted 52,764 traffic stops since 2015. According to that incomplete data, only 17 percent of drivers stopped were Black—likely an undercount, given that Black people account for roughly 30 percent of the department’s Terry stops.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who has led the push to get SPD to comply with the data collection and reporting requirements of the 2017 ordinance, noted that the council asked the department in November 2020 to produce data on all traffic stops by July of this year. If SPD has made any progress toward that goal, “we don’t have evidence of that, because we still haven’t received a report on the data,” Herbold said. SPD has not yet responded to Herbold’s or PubliCola’s inquiries about when the department began to work toward full compliance with the 2017 law.

2. With the mayoral election just weeks away, outgoing Mayor Jenny Durkan asserted at a recent homelessness town hall discussion that, “in four years, we’ve never really done a sweep,” because the city does outreach and offers “housing” before it removes encampments. (The HOPE team offers shelter, not housing.)

The counterfactual comment prompted panelist Tiffani McCoy, the advocacy director at Real Change, to describe several stories she has heard from Real Change vendors “of all of their possessions being taken from them forcibly during a sweep.”

“The idea that hasn’t happened in four years is absolutely astonishing to me,” McCoy said.

Durkan also repeated her talking point that most people are homeless in Seattle became homeless somewhere else—a claim Durkan has made many times over the past year to suggest that Seattle pays more than its fair share to address regional homelessness. “If you look at what’s being spent right now in an emergency shelter, Seattle is the lion’s share, and if you look at the data, about six out of 10 of the people that we are serving, their last place to have stable housing was outside of Seattle,” Durkan said. “They became homeless somewhere else but because we have the services here,” they migrated to Seattle.

The number uses comes from the county’s internal Homelessness Management Information System, which is only one of many contradictory data points about where people lived before they became homeless; other sources, including surveys done as part of the annual Point in Time County in January, have concluded that a large majority of people who are homeless in King County became homeless here and did not move here from somewhere else—exactly the opposite of the mayor’s talking point.

3. A shelter on Lower Queen Anne that was supposed to reopen last summer, providing shelter for about 40 people displaced from a temporary COVID shelter at Seattle Center, now faces another setback: Squatters who moved into the vacant building smoked copious amounts of meth, leaving dangerous residue on every surface. A spokeswoman for Seattle City Light, which owns the building, confirmed that the city hired decontamination specialists to remove drug residue, and said the contractor “completed decontamination work” earlier this month. Continue reading “SPD Hasn’t Fully Complied With 2017 Anti-Bias Law; Durkan Says City Has Never Done “Sweeps”; Meth Cleanup Further Delays Shelter Opening”

Mayoral Candidates Spar on Public Safety, Being “From Here”; Anti-Vax SPD Exodus Averted

1. Seattle Mayoral candidates Lorena González and Bruce Harrell faced off once again on Sunday during a public safety-focused forum hosted by the ACLU of Washington and moderated by Sean Goode, the director of the Seattle-area youth diversion nonprofit Choose 180.

The forum was a chance for the two candidates to get into the weeds on issues like police oversight, union contracts, and the logistics of civilian emergency response.

But anyone looking for detailed, specific responses to questions about these issues—not to mention the city’s use of the King County Jail, plans to increase or decrease SPD funding, and under what circumstances police should use lethal force—might have come away disappointed.

During this and earlier debates, Harrell pointed out that he sponsored a 2017 ordinance requiring officers to undergo anti-bias training. González, who voted for the legislation, said that “passing the ordinance didn’t result in a less biased police force,”

Still, the forum did highlight significant differences between the candidates’ overall approach to public safety and policing, and their level of comfort grappling with thorny issues like police defunding. While Harrell has said he would hire more officers and González has said she would cut the size of the force, neither gave many specifics about how they would reach those goals.

González said she has no interest in a “carte blanche increase in SPD’s budget,” adding that her plans for funding alternatives to police aren’t about “hiring more officers of a different kind”—a slap at Harrell’s statement that he would “build a new kind of officer” at SPD and field new teams of unarmed officers, similar to SPD’s existing Community Service Officers.

Both candidates said they would support additional officer training—in González’ case, “increased training around deescalation to prevent violence in the first place,” and in Harrell’s,  “extensive retraining” to “change the culture in the police department.” González described Harrell’s training plan as “having officers watch a video of George Floyd’s murder and sign a pledge to do better”—a reference to his campaign promise to ask “every sworn police officer in Seattle to watch the 8 minutes and 46 seconds of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis and voluntarily sign an open letter stating: The Inhumane Treatment of Fellow Human Beings Will Not Be Tolerated In Seattle.”

Harrell seemed to suggest that because he grew up in Seattle (unlike González, whose parents were migrant farmworkers in Eastern Washington), and because he has Black sons (González has a mixed-race daughter), he has “skin in the game” that his opponent lacks.

Harrell’s belief in anti-bias training runs deep—during this and earlier debates, he pointed out that he sponsored a 2017 ordinance requiring officers to undergo the training. The law, he said, also required the collection of data on showing “who was stopped, who was frisked, who gets tickets, [and] if there’s racial profiling occurring.” González, who voted for the legislation, said that “passing the ordinance didn’t result in a less biased police force,” and argued for shifting funds toward alternatives she argued will lead to “true community safety,” like programs that focus on early intervention, youth employment, and neighborhood economic development.

The two also differed strongly on whether the consent decree—a decade-old agreement between Seattle and the US Department of Justice that places a federal judge in charge of overseeing reforms to SPD—is an “obstacle” for elected officials trying to divert money from the police department to alternative public safety programs.

From González’ perspective, the federal court’s oversight has become more onerous and less useful. “The city is now required to send most of our police budget changes to the court for approval, and I don’t believe that’s what the consent decree was originally intended to do,” she said. Harrell initially offered a one-word answer to Goode’s question about the consent decree—”nope”—but when pressed to elaborate, he commented that he doesn’t “see it as a barrier or a strength—it’s just the letter of the law.”

2. Harrell began the virtual forum by showing viewers a black-and-white photo of his childhood baseball team, saying, “These men… are the fathers and mentors of the Black community.” He followed up during the forum with two more photos—one of himself and his friends in college, including one who “became a Seahawk,” and one of his father “in the 1960s, when I was born right here in Seattle.”

In several instances, Harrell seemed to suggest that because he grew up in Seattle (unlike González, whose parents were migrant farmworkers in Eastern Washington), and because he has Black sons (González has a mixed-race daughter), he has “skin in the game” that his opponent lacks. “While I appreciate my opponent’s answer, this is this is personal for me and my family. I have two Black sons that have been in the city their entire life. And so when I hear this information [about police brutality], it is not anecdotal for me.”

González didn’t counter this suggestion directly, but pointed to her work as a civil rights lawyer working on behalf of victims of police violence and the fact that “I have lost family to police violence. … And I want to work towards having a city [where] parents don’t have to fear if their black or brown babies are going to come home tonight.”

2. As of Monday, only about two dozen SPD employees had not turned in proof that they are fully vaccinated, indicating that most of the 140 holdouts left on Friday were making a point. Continue reading “Mayoral Candidates Spar on Public Safety, Being “From Here”; Anti-Vax SPD Exodus Averted”

PubliCola Questions: Nicole Thomas-Kennedy

Credit: Nicole Thomas-Kennedy campaign website

By Erica C. Barnett

When public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy decided to run for city attorney in May, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision, one fueled by her frustration that there were no candidates in the race who believed that the current criminal legal system is not just flawed but broken.

Thomas-Kennedy didn’t expect to end up with more votes than incumbent Pete Holmes, or that she’d be facing off against Ann Davison, a three-time candidate who joined the Republican Party during the Trump administration and whose spotty record as an attorney dried up around 2010. Davison ran for lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket, led by far-right conspiracy theorist and gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp, in 2020, after running for Seattle City Council the previous year with a platform that included plans to confine unhoused people in large warehouses.

Now, the unabashed abolitionist—Thomas-Kennedy argues that we can eliminate the need for police and prisons by “developing programs and support systems for our communities to decrease the need for police”— is in the spotlight. Critics, including some former elected officials and the Seattle Times’ ill-informed editorial board, have created a cartoon version of the candidate, claiming she wants to unlock jail doors and end all criminal prosecutions. Cable news, social media, and—again—the Seattle Times’ ill-informed editorial board have also shown an almost pathological obsession with tweets Thomas-Kennedy posted during the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, turning them into endless #content while soft-pedaling Davison’s hard-right views and her lack of qualifications.

The tweets, which cheered property destruction and violence against cops, look bad when taken out of the larger context in which they were posted (the 2020 protests against police violence; Twitter) and splashed across cable-news websites and Facebook feeds; if they were someone’s campaign platform, they would be disqualifying. But they aren’t a political platform; they’re tweets —tweets expressing a growing mainstream consensus in the summer of 2020 that the criminal justice system was beyond repair.

Nonetheless, the tweets seem to be all anybody wants to talk about. That’s a shame, because Thomas-Kennedy’s plan for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office is far more nuanced and thoughtful than the hysterical headlines suggest. Those who say they disagree with her ideas should be willing to actually listen to what they are.

PubliCola sat down with Thomas-Kennedy last week. We talked briefly about the tweets before jumping into her plans for the city attorney’s office, what it means to stop prosecuting misdemeanors, and how she would defend legislation that she personally finds abhorrent.

PubliCola: Can you tell me a bit about where your mind was at when you were posting on Twitter in June 2020? I know was a time of really heightened emotions.

Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: I was outraged. People went out to protest racist policing and the Seattle Police Department responded with a level of retaliation that I was not expecting, including tear-gassing the neighborhood I live in 11 times. And, you know, I had to buy a gas mask for my nine-year-old daughter. And, yeah, I was really upset, and I feel like I had every right to be. They’re not private citizens, they’re out here as a group, making these decisions that affect other people—that kill people. I remember the guy that called into the city council meeting saying, “My infant was foaming at the mouth from tear gas,” and it kept happening. So that’s kind of where my head was.

PC: What has the fallout been like for you in the campaign and how has it impacted your ability to focus on the issues in your race?

NTK: Initially, we were just like, “This is dumb.” Like, let’s not give any heat to this. But it’s just being pushed so heavily now that I have had to address it in the media, which to me is just an utter waste of time. Because my opponent is so deeply unqualified for this role and doesn’t understand what the job is. And my platform is backed by evidence, by stuff that’s happened in other places that have shown to be effective. We’re all, I think, pretty aware of the fact that mass incarceration is a failed social experiment. And we are not the safest country in the world even though we lock up the most people.

“At the end of the day, the job is to be the defender for the city of Seattle. And so if there are elected officials that make these crappy laws, I don’t really get to say, ‘I don’t want to do that.'”

I’m here to make things better. And if people have to hate me for it, then I’m fine with that. And  the unfortunate thing about the tweets is that it gave [Davison’s supporters] something to distract with. I think that’s the worst part, because I do think that my knowledge, my plan is very tight. I’m specific about what I’m going to do. I know what needs to happen, and it’s really hard to speak back to that. I mean, my opponent really doesn’t talk in specifics, ever.

PC: If you win, what are your top priorities for your first weeks and months in office? Do you plan to shake things up at the office itself?

NTK: I’m going to leave the civil division largely as it is. I do think Pete was doing a great job in the civil division defending the JumpStart tax and [prosecuting] the lawsuits against Monsanto over polluting the Duwamish. I would like to call in a couple progressive, more aggressive lawyers over there. But I don’t intend to make huge changes over there because it is working.

In the criminal division, I’m going to come in with my policies laid out: This is how they’re going to be implemented, this is how we’re going to do things from now on. There’s a huge backlog of cases, which is I think a great opportunity to really turn the corner with how we’re doing things, prosecution-wise.

I anticipate having maybe one or two more attorneys making the direct decisions about which cases to file, because my policy on filing is going to be much more nuanced. It’s not just going to be like a prosecute-or-not type situation. And then also, what can we do to make sure [unnecessary prosecutions aren’t] happening again moving forward? Because, you know, putting somebody to jail for sleeping under an awning doesn’t make them less likely to need to sleep under an awning.

PC: Are you concerned that there’s going to be a brain drain, either on the civil or the side? A lot of people who have worked for Pete for a long time are leaving, because they have concerns if you win, and they have concerns if Ann wins.

NTK: On the civil side, I think that’s a much bigger danger, just because there is a lot of institutional knowledge there. So one of the responsibilities that I will have going in, if I get elected, is to start talking to people in the civil division and letting them know that I want the work that they’re doing to continue and to see if they will stay under me.

In the criminal division, I’m not so concerned about that because there is no shortage of lawyers that want to do things the way that I am proposing. And because it is pretty different than what they’re doing now, I do anticipate a lot of people leaving. But there’s a lot of lawyers in this town that have reached out to me that would want to work in that division.

PC: If you have a mayor and potentially a city council who are proposing and passing laws that you personally consider abhorrent, are you going to be able to defend those laws, or would you feel the need to farm that work out to private attorneys?

NTK: I think that the city attorney has to work with the council and the mayor to craft defensible legislation and defensible policy. So that would be the role of the city attorney—not necessarily directing where policy should go or how it should go, but really making it as defensible as possible.

PC: What if someone living in their car sued to strike down the law requiring people to move their vehicles every 72 hours and you had to defend that law. How would you go about doing that?

NTK: Unfortunately, I think that’s part of the job. I was a public defender, and I did not agree with everything that my clients were accusing doing, yet I was their defense attorney. I don’t see it as any different than that. At the end of the day, the job is to be the defender for the city of Seattle. And so if there are elected officials that make these crappy laws, I don’t really get to say, “I don’t want to do that.”

“The goal is to end misdemeanor prosecution. Do I think that I can get there in four years? I don’t know. I don’t know if it can happen in eight, 12 years. But that is the goal, because ultimately what we know is a lot of the prosecutions don’t result in actual repair or safety.”

I do think that a bigger issue is implementation. So when it comes to the criminal realm, it’s not like a prosecutor files every time a law is broken. We know that only some people are criminalized. There is a recognition within the criminal system that it would be impossible to prosecute every single person for everything. So I would have to probably defend the legitimacy of the law, but if it’s a criminal matter, that doesn’t mean it has to be enforced.

PC: On the flip side, the city attorney can push an agenda from within their limited scope, and they can help the mayor and the council draft laws that reflect the city’s values. What kind of legislation would you be excited to work on and defend?

NTK: I’m really excited to defend the JumpStart tax and fair housing—all of our tenant protections. I’m really excited about that, which why I think the developers are really angry at me. Any sort of progressive revenue would be the thing that I would be most excited about, along with anything related to climate change. I think those two things are really intertwined in a lot of ways, because climate change is here, and we’re going to need revenue to deal with and to survive this crisis.

PC: How would you approach criminal prosecutions against people accused of misdemeanors? Is your plan to stop prosecuting certain laws on day one, and how realistic is that, given how slow the city has been to fund things like alternatives to arrest and prosecution?

NTK: The goal is to end misdemeanor prosecution. Do I think that I can get there in four years? I don’t know. I don’t know if it can happen in eight, 12 years. But that is the goal, because ultimately what we know is a lot of the prosecutions don’t result in actual repair or safety. I mean, prostitution—I’m never, ever going to prosecute that. Drug possession—not gonna prosecute that either. But for most things, it’s going to take a really nuanced approach to see what is really going on. Sometimes people think of criminal cases as if they’re really this very straightforward thing, and it never, ever is. And so that’s why I’m really hesitant to say that there are specific crimes that I wouldn’t prosecute, because there’s always going to be some weird fact pattern out there. Continue reading “PubliCola Questions: Nicole Thomas-Kennedy”