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Council Passes Budget By Narrow Margin; Sawant, Pedersen, and Nelson Vote “No”

By Erica C. Barnett

The Seattle City Council adopted a final two-year city budget by a narrow 6-3 margin late Tuesday afternoon, with Councilmembers Kshama Sawant, Alex Pedersen, and Sara Nelson voting “no.” The budget requires six votes to pass, so if even one council member (such as Lisa Herbold, who voted remotely from an airport) had not been present, the entire budget would have failed.

PubliCola reported Monday on the reasons Nelson and Pedersen gave for voting against the budget. In brief, both argued that reducing the number of vacant officer positions at the Seattle Police Department (from 240 to about 160) represented a step back on public safety; Pedersen called the move an example of police defunding, while Nelson said funding fewer vacant positions would send a negative message to potential police recruits.

Nelson and Pedersen also denounced the council majority (which is ordinarily Sawant’s department) for failing to add a number of new programs Harrell included in his original budget, such as a new gunfire detection system (Shotspotter) and an expanded anti-graffiti team.

“It would be out of line with the role of the legislative branch to just adopt [the mayor’s budget], and it would be impossible for every council member amendment to be added to the mayor’s proposed budget without any changes, given the resources that we have.” —Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda

Neither Nelson nor Pedersen spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, but Pedersen sent a newsletter update to constituents on Tuesday arguing that the budget—which fully funds Mayor Bruce Harrell’s police recruitment and hiring plan—could discourage potential recruits from applying for jobs at SPD.

“It’s tempting at City Hall to ‘go along to get along to avoid conflict with colleagues, but I ultimately believe each elected official should vote their conscience as they strive to synthesize the concerns and input from their constituents,” Pedersen wrote. “I cannot in good conscience endorse a final budget that I believe fails to learn from recent public safety policy mistakes and falls short on public safety for a third year in a row.”

In her own  newsletter, Nelson  reiterated the comments she made on Monday about what she views as the budget’s shortcomings. “[L]et’s be clear,” Nelson wrote.”This is a policy choice to fund something else, not a necessity driven by a $9 million addition to our General Fund shortfall—which is a relative drop in the bucket.” 

The council majority wasn’t exactly hiding the fact that they had their own priorities—in fact, as council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda said Tuesday, it’s the council’s job as the legislative branch of city government to amend the mayor’s budget, not just rubber-stamp it. “It would be out of line with the role of the legislative branch to just adopt [the mayor’s budget], and it would be impossible for every council member amendment to be added to the mayor’s proposed budget without any changes, given the resources that we have,” Mosqueda said. “Those are the facts. That’s the role of the legislative body.”

Compared to Nelson and Pedersen’s heated denunciations, Harrell’s own statement about the council’s budget was anodyne and supportive.

“The amendment process led to important changes in the proposed budget, including ensuring our police recruitment plan is funded and respecting the requests of parking enforcement officers to reside in SPD,” the statement read. “The Council embraced our proposed budget’s needed investments in improving public safety, urgent action on the housing and homelessness crises, and recommitment to the essential services that residents demand.”

PubliCola Questions: Seattle Municipal Court Candidate Nyjat Rose-Akins

Nyjat Rose-Akins campaign photoBy Erica C. Barnett

Seattle Municipal Court races tend to fly under the radar at election time, buried under higher-profile campaigns for statewide and local legislative offices. Not this year. Two seats on the court are currently up for grabs (along with five other races where incumbents are uncontested) and the people running for each seat could hardly come from more different perspectives.

In Position 9, assistant city attorney Nyjat Rose-Akins is challenging incumbent Judge Damon Shadid, who got crosswise with City Attorney Ann Davison after she demanded that he exclude a list of so-called “high utilizers” of the criminal justice system from community court, which he oversees. When Shadid asked for more time to discuss Davison’s proposal with his colleagues, Davison went around him and got the full court to agree to her request; not long after that, Rose-Akins jumped into the race. Rose-Akins has focused on community court, arguing that the court should stop automatically releasing people from jail when they enroll and suggesting that therapeutic courts should be restricted to people accused of only the lowest-level crimes.

Shadid has overseen the SMC’s three therapeutic courts, which provide alternatives to the mainstream court system for some veterans, people with mental illness, and low-level offenders who agree to participate in a program that might include classes, treatment, or enrollment in health care.

PubliCola sat down (virtually) with Seattle Municipal Court candidates in September and October.

PubliCola (ECB): Tell me a little bit about your experience as a prosecutor and in a pro tem judge, and what you’ve learned in those roles that would that you’d bring to the job of Seattle Municipal Court judge.

Nyjat Rose-Akins (NR): I was a prosecutor with the city attorney’s office for six years, and in that role, I basically did all the rotations. I did specialty court, which included mental health and community court, I did domestic violence court, I did the regular trial track, I was in charging. So I really was able to get a full understanding of all the things that are done in Seattle Municipal Court. And [a previous iteration of] community court was one of the first rotations I did in the city attorney’s office in 2010. And it was really interesting to observe and see just how alternative courts can really help and assist people.

As a pro tem judge in King County, I have done jail calendars, probation calendars, and arraignment calendars, as well as the first appearance calendars. And it has really been an interesting and rewarding experience over the last few years. As a prosecutor, I’ve been on one side, whereas as a judge, you have to consider all the individuals who are involved in the criminal legal system. It’s not just necessarily just the victim, but it’s the defendant, it’s the community, it’s everyone who is involved.

“The way community court is constituted right now, it doesn’t really hold people accountable. I think we can still be compassionate and hold people accountable, while also really getting people the services they need.”

So as a judge, you really do have to make some tough decisions sometimes, looking at the facts and the law and what each party is telling you. I’ve learned that if you are if you understand the dynamics of what’s happening, in the sense of looking at the case, looking at the history, and really listening to the parties, you can create solutions that may not necessarily make everyone happy, but balance out some of the things that are that are happening. And what may work for one group or one individual may not necessarily work for another defendant.

ECB: You’ve been critical of community court as it’s being run by your opponent, Judge Shadid. What has changed between the previous incarnation of community court and the current one, and why do you think it’s gone off the rails?

NR: When I did it in 2010, it was a smaller subset of cases, and people only had a certain amount of times to go through community court— I think it was no more than three cases. And the thought was that first case was your first opportunity, and then, maybe a year or six months later, you had another case. So it was a bit more structured. Whereas now, looking at the community court dockets, an individual can have five or six cases at one time. And I think that can be somewhat problematic.

If you’re in community court with four, five, or six cases at one time, and you opt in [to community court], the court is only going to take 14 days to adjudicate the case. But then after that, there’s nothing, really, that you have to do other than potentially make an appointment. And I don’t think that’s very helpful to people, if we’re seeing this as the group of people that really need resources and really need help. If you’re just going to make an appointment, and then not have to do your community service hours, I don’t know if that really sends a message of “We are here, we believe in you, and we want to really help you stop committing this sort of behavior.” I just don’t think it’s very helpful. And it’s really not doing much of anything, in my opinion.

ECB: If you’re elected to this position, you could have the ability to implement changes to community court. What kind of changes would you want to see?

NR: A lot of the cases that are in community court are theft cases. And in my job as an assistant city attorney—working in the community, working with businesses, working with other government department—I see the other side of just the rampant thefts that are happening downtown. I work close to Third and Pine and I often just walk down to that area. And so I would increase the time [people spend engaged with the court], because if we’re really talking about providing people with resources and helping them, then we need a little bit more time to do that.

When I took community court in 2010, as I said, the charges were very limited. It was really only thefts and maybe criminal trespass in the second degree. Right now, the charges that can go into community court are about 20 to 23 [types of] cases. I think that could be fine, except a few charges they may not be appropriate for community court, but I think people need some more time and more probation resources. A number of individuals who commit crimes may need a little bit more hand holding. And the way community court is constituted right now, it doesn’t really hold people accountable. I think we can still be compassionate and hold people accountable, while also really getting people the services they need. And I like the idea of really having a one stop shop, where multiple providers are in the court resource center at one time to really connect people. Zoom and calling in—sometimes that’s what we have to do. But I think it can also just disconnect people. A warm handoff, I think, is what most people need.

“We need to address [low-level misdemeanor] cases quickly. Are they the crimes of the century? No. But there are crimes that affect most all of us, especially if you live in the city. I’ve seen people stealing in the grocery stores, I’ve experienced or seen people trespassing— those are things that we all see on a daily basis.”

ECB: A lot of times people will fail to show up in court when they’re supposed to, especially if they’re unstably housed or have behavioral health conditions that make it especially challenging to make appointments. When you when you see that an individual has a lot of failures to appear on their record, what does that say to you, and is that a reason to penalize them?

NR: With COVID, we realized that we can do some of this stuff via video. And I think we do need to have some of those options, especially if we’re doing a review hearing or other certain types of hearings where people can maybe just pop in via Zoom. But looking at failures to appear—they do matter to me. Now, if they’re all failure to appears from many years ago and I see that someone’s been consistent since then, I am not going to hold that against someone. It is an individual by individual basis. But I do look at failure to appear, and it does matter, especially if someone has multiple cases and multiple failure to appears. And if they’re in different jurisdictions—not just Seattle, but also Pierce County or Snohomish County—then that, for me, signals that maybe there’s other things going on, and we’d love to see that person in court. So maybe bail is warranted at this time, because, you know, we’ve done multiple to orders to appear, and the court still hasn’t been able to get you into court.

My point is we need to address those cases quickly. Are they the crimes of the century? No. But there are crimes that affect most all of us, especially if you live in the city. I’ve seen people stealing in the grocery stores, I’ve experienced or seen people trespassing— those are things that we all see on a daily basis. And we’re getting to a place where people are now engaging in self-help. And that’s what’s concerning to me from a community perspective, when people are now saying, “I have to take matters into my own hands and take care of this myself,” because the court isn’t working and the police aren’t working to address it. And that’s what’s beginning to really concern me. Continue reading “PubliCola Questions: Seattle Municipal Court Candidate Nyjat Rose-Akins”

For Seattle Municipal Court Position 3, PubliCola Picks: No Endorsement

Incumbent Seattle Municipal Court Presiding Judge Adam Eisenberg has done important work to create alternatives to incarceration for people who commit certain serious misdemeanor crimes. But his commitment to reforming the judicial system comes with some alarming asterisks.

PubliCola Picks graphicIn 2018, Eisenberg led the effort to established an individualized intervention program for perpetrators of domestic violence who were willing to admit they were at fault and wanted help. This court-based intervention, known as the Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP) represents a commendable improvement over programs that focused on punishment at the expense of rehabilitation, but it’s still unclear whether DVIP participants (and their partners) benefit from the intervention long-term. Eisenberg wants to expand DVIP to be more inclusive, and wants to create new programs that teach empathy and communication skills to people who commit low-level domestic-violence crimes.

But Eisenberg also supports programs that reinforce a punitive status quo. In addition to signing on to City Attorney Ann Davison’s effort to exclude a list of about 120 “high utilizers” from community court, he also told PubliCola he supports requiring some defendants to undergo drug and alcohol treatment inside the county jail, rather than in community-based programs, because people in jail can’t just walk away from treatment. This approach, supported by controversial former judge Ed McKenna (who is backing Eisenberg), is not evidence-based and could infringe on civil liberties, particularly for people being held in jail while awaiting trial.

Eisenberg’s opponent, Pooja Vaddadi, says she felt compelled to run against the judge after working inside the municipal court system for 10 months as an attorney for the King County Department of Public Defense, where she said she witnessed a “toxic and biased judiciary acting against the interest of public safety and undermining the institution of the court.”

While Vaddadi makes a compelling case against many of the court’s current practices, including some of Eisenberg’s decisions involving domestic violence protection orders, she has not made a strong argument that she’s qualified (or has specific policy solutions) to reform the system from within. We agree with most of Vaddadi’s positions, from the need for alternatives to expensive home monitoring to the need to replace bail with a more equitable accountability system. But we aren’t convinced that her work as a public defender has prepared her for a position that involves impartially administering justice in hundreds of cases a year. PubliCola makes no endorsement in this race.

PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

Anti-Election Reform Campaign Emerges, Next Year’s Election Starts Shaping Up, New SDOT Director Says He’ll Take Vision Zero Down to the Studs

Map of fatal and serious crashes in Seattle from June 2022 SDOT presentation.
Map of fatal and serious crashes in Seattle from June 2022 SDOT presentation.

1. Next year, all seven district-based city council positions will be on the ballot, and several names have already begun to circulate as potential contenders.

In District 1 (West Seattle), Meta (and former Microsoft) attorney Rob Saka, who served on the King County Council redistricting committee, is reportedly considering a bid against incumbent Lisa Herbold if she runs again next year.

Saka told PubliCola he hasn’t decided yet whether he will run, but confirmed he has met with Harrell as well as “fellow daycare and public school parents, early childhood education providers, leaders in the Black community I used to work with when I served on the boards of the Urban League and the Loren Miller Bar Association (civil rights organization of Black lawyers in Washington State), through my work in policing and legal reforms, and with current and former elected leaders throughout the region.

“I have nothing to announce or confirm, and I remain 100% focused on current obligations — from my legal practice in a new role in my ‘day job’ to the Police Chief search, to helping my kids get back to school,” Saka continued. “That said, I am grateful for the initial discussions—and strong encouragement—from so many as I think about potential longer term next steps in my career and public service.”

In District 2, Tammy Morales (who filled Harrell’s council position when he declined to run for reelection in 2019) could see a challenge from community advocate Chukundi Salisbury, who ran for state representative in the 37th District and was defeated by Kirsten Harris-Talley in 2020; Salisbury did not return an email seeking comment.

In District 3 (Central Seattle), represented since 2015 by socialist Kshama Sawant, cannabis entrepreneur and Jackson Place Community Council leader Alex Cooley told PubliCola he’s “strongly considering” a run against Sawant, who he says has “never been interested in so the problems of the district or the city.” Cooley owns the SoDo-based company Solstice, which grows and processes cannabis that’s sold in stores across the region; he said that it’s “kind of a neighborhood joke [in the district] that you will never hear back from Councilmember Sawant.”

“The city has been on a pretty long decline for at least the past five years—really about 10—and I don’t see Councilmember Sawant solving the problems that the city’s dealing with, [and] is actually part of that decline and lack of progress,” Cooley said.

As a business owner in SoDo, Cooley said he’s seen his share of half-implemented solutions to the problem of homelessness, which in industrial areas often means people living in RVs. Seattle has “fits and starts of good ideas” but fails to commit to them, Cooley said. “We  tried to do the experiment of an RV safe lot, which I’m a huge proponent of, but no one managed it, no one ran it, and so it evolved into chaos.”

Cooley said he’ll take the next few months to make a decision before filing for council races starts in January. Including her first citywide race in 2013, Sawant has won three elections by increasingly narrow margins; she narrowly beat back a recall effort last year.

This item has been corrected to reflect the fact that Chukundi Salisbury lives in District 2, not District 3, and updated with comments from Rob Saka.

2. In November, voters will get to decide whether and how to replace the city’s current first-past-the-post primary elections by saying yes to ranked choice voting or approval voting or no to both. Ranked-choice voting gives voters the option to rank candidates in order of preference, while approval voting allows voters to “approve” as many candidates that they like, with the top two candidates moving forward to the general election.

Advocates for both proposals say their system would result in elected officials who better represent the views and interests of voters, by allowing them to choose a whole slate of acceptable candidates instead of betting their entire vote on a single person. Advocates for the status quo say the alternatives are confusing and open the system to new forms of gamemanship.

Now, a group of business owners, organized as Seattle for Election Simplicity, has formed to make the case for the status quo. Campaign filings show the group has raised around $35,000 in contributions, all of it (so far) from people who represent business and banking interests in and around Seattle. Among the contributors are HomeStreet Bank and its CEO, Mark Mason ($5,000 total), Costco co-founder and former CEO Jim Sinegal ($5,000), telecom billionaire and Mariners co-owner John Stanton ($5,000), developer Jon Runstad ($5,000), Space Needle chairman Jeffrey Wright ($5,000), and former Starbucks president Howard Behar ($2,500).

So far, almost half of the contributions to Seattle for Election Simplicity, over $15,000, come from outside Seattle. This actually compares favorably to Seattle Approves, which has obtained 87 percent of its almost $500,000 in contributions from outside city limits. The campaign for ranked-choice voting has only reported one contribution so far.

Spotts said he would start work on Vision Zero by doing a detailed assessment of which “interventions” (a category that might include protected and unprotected bike lanes, bus bulbs, road diets, and pedestrian-first stop lights) are working to reduce casualties and which ones aren’t. “We know we have some corridors that are very vehicular-oriented,” Spotts said.

3. The city council’s transportation committee unanimously recommended approving Mayor Bruce Harrell’s nominee to direct the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) on Tuesday, after a brief volley of questions focusing on issues like pedestrian safety and tree canopy in South Seattle, bridge maintenance, and Seattle’s lack of progress on Vision Zero, a plan to end all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030.

Spotts said he would start work on Vision Zero by doing a detailed assessment of which “interventions” (a category that might include protected and unprotected bike lanes, bus bulbs, road diets, and pedestrian-first stop lights) are working to reduce casualties and which ones aren’t. “We know we have some corridors that are very vehicular-oriented,” Spotts said.

Later, after District 2 Councilmember Tammy Morales noted that 56 percent of traffic fatalities happened in Southeast Seattle, Spotts added, “I want to spend some more time out on Rainier. I did do some walking and there are places where there’s a very wide crossing distance to get across unsignalized freeway on-ramps and off-ramps, which is a scary thing to get across.”

The safety problems with areas like Aurora Ave. N and Rainier Ave. S have been well-documented for decades (hell, I’ve been covering them myself since at least 2006), and the solutions that will work to address them are no mystery, either: When the city narrowed a portion of Rainier that runs through now-chichi Columbia City, people stopped driving their cars into businesses and there were fewer traffic collisions, because people could no longer drive at freeway speeds through the neighborhood.

North of Columbia City, where Seattle has continued to do almost nothing to slow traffic or provide opportunities for pedestrian to cross the street safely, the crashes, injuries, and deaths continued. Notably, the city has made almost no major changes to calm traffic along the speed-inducing corridor since approving the “road diet” (after almost a decade of opposition, including from then-council member Harrell) in 2015. Cutesy signs, “empowering” billboards, and slightly lower speed limits won’t cut it; more stoplights, signaled crosswalks, and a narrower travel path for people in cars can and will.

Social Housing Campaign Hopes to Squeak Through After Learning 1,000 Signatures Won’t Count

By Erica C. Barnett

The campaign for Initiative 135, which would create a public development authority to build and operate social (public) housing in Seattle, expressed frustration with the King County Elections division this week after discovering that around 1,000 signatures the campaign gathered in an effort to get the measure on the ballot will not be counted because they came in too late.

House Our Neighbors, the Real Change-backed campaign for I-135, had hoped to get the measure on the November 2022 ballot; generally speaking, even-year November elections have much higher turnout, and a more progressive electorate, than primary and special elections held at other times of the year. King County Elections began counting signatures on July 5, and determined on July 21 that they did not have enough valid signatures to qualify.

The city charter gives initiative campaigns that fail to qualify for the ballot another 20 days after a determination of insufficiency to gather additional signatures; although the signatures would come too late for the November election, the House Our Neighbors campaign hoped to gather another 5,000 valid signatures to qualify for next February’s ballot.

According to campaign leader Tiffani McCoy, the campaign believed the county would reset the timeline for collecting signatures, creating a new “terminal date” that would allow them to collect signatures well into August; they also didn’t realize they could keep collecting signatures while waiting for the county to start counting them—the window between June 22, when the campaign submitted signatures to the elections office, and July 5, when the office began counting them.

“We had assumed we could gather throughout this (past) weekend,” McCoy said, referring to the weekend of August 13-14. Nor did the campaign know they had a two-week window to keep gathering signatures after turning in the first round, “which would have been great to know because we could have finished our signature gathering during Pride weekend,” June 24-26.

The initiative would set up a public development authority—a type of public developer—that could build and operate new publicly funded, permanently affordable housing in Seattle; funding to actually build new housing would come later and could require the state legislature to approve a new funding mechanism.

In a press release Tuesday, the campaign expressed “frustration navigating unclear policies and processes around citizens’ initiatives. There needs to be a clear way to navigate this process, especially for those who do not have the resources to keep a lawyer on retainer.” If the 7,543 signatures the campaign turned in last week aren’t enough to produce 5,033 new, valid signatures, I-135 will not qualify for the February ballot.

JumpStart Comes to the Rescue (Again), Sound Transit Updates on Escalator Outages

The forecast office went with the baseline scenario, but noted that the pessimistic scenario has become more likely than it was three months ago.

1. Next week, Seattle’s budget office will release its budget forecast for next year, which will tell city budget writers exactly how much of a shortfall the city faces in 2023. On Monday, the city’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, which includes city council members and representatives from the mayor’s office, got a look at the revenue side of that equation, which, like the cost of doing city business, is strongly influenced by the economy, inflation, and interest rates set by the Federal Reserve.

The big picture: In 2022, the city would face a shortfall of nearly $18 million if not for late payments from the JumpStart payroll tax, assessed on very large local companies with highly paid workers. Those payments should have come in last year but didn’t for a variety of reasons, including the fact that some firms apparently didn’t know they had to pay the tax but “fessed up,” in the words of Office of Economic and Revenue Forecasts director Ben Noble, and paid this year.

Because JumpStart revenues were still going to the general fund in 2021 to address the impacts of the pandemic, the money went into the general fund this year. Next year, though, that won’t be the case—and the office expects other city funding sources, such as taxes, grants, and court fines, to be lower than they predicted back in April.

Overall, the forecast office predicts the city will bring in about $1.5 billion in general-fund revenues next year—down $217 million from the current forecast for 2022.

The decline in revenues can’t all be chalked up to parking ticket refunds. Other factors include lower than anticipated revenues from business and occupation taxes, FEMA reimbursement for COVID expenditures, and a decline in use for some utilities, including telephone service (on the decline for years) and water (Seattle had a rainy spring). The city also expects payroll taxes to decline in the future, as tech companies’ stock value decreases and jobs shift away from Seattle to the Eastside

2. In a presentation to the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board about Sound Transit’s frequent escalator and elevator outages on Wednesday Sound Transit’s vertical conveyance deputy director, John Carini, argued that user error, rather than anything Sound Transit could control, is to blame for the majority of escalator failure. Carini also talked at length about what the light-rail agency is doing to keep riders informed about why outages are happening, and noted that the agency relies mostly on the public, rather than internal systems, to let it know when its equipment is down.

After showing a slide depicting a new sign that read, “This unit is out of service due to vandalism,” Carini said, “what a lot of people don’t understand is, mechanical failures account for about 38 percent of our total outages”; the rest fall into categories like “misuse” (32 percent) and “environmental” (15 percent), which includes debris people drop that gets caught in the equipment.

Overall, Carini said, Sound Transit is actually exceeding its targets for elevators and escalators in service—if you exclude the downtown light rail tunnel, which Sound Transit took over in January 2021. That’s a huge “if”—as anyone who has taken light rail to or from downtown is well aware, the escalators in every downtown tunnel station are often out of service; currently, according to Sound Transit’s performance tracker, one in three tunnel escalators is down.

The presentation did come with some good news for frustrated light rail riders: Sound Transit is currently setting up a schedule for replacing the downtown elevators and escalators, although with the exception of the International District station, where construction is supposed to start in 2024 the schedules are “TBD.”

In the meantime, Sound Transit will keep working to repair the broken-down equipment, and finally upgrading its elevators and escalators with equipment to ping the agency when they break down, rather than relying on security guards and the general public to let them know things aren’t working. That upgrade, too, is in a “pilot” stage; it will be 2024 or later before Sound Transit stops relying on what Carini called “the human factor” to keep them up to date on equipment failures.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Paul Kiefer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PubliCola Interviews King County Prosecutor Candidate Stephan Thomas

by Paul Kiefer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Paul Kiefer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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