Tag: Leesa Manion

PubliCola Questions: King County Prosecuting Attorney Candidate Leesa Manion

King County Prosecutor Candidate Leesa ManionBy Erica C. Barnett

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

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

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

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

By Erica C. Barnett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ECB: What sort of alternatives are you thinking of?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King County Prosecuting Attorney: PubliCola Picks Leesa Manion

Current King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, an iconoclastic former Republican who has long embraced a rehabilitative approach to public safety unusual among prosecutors, will retire next year after 15 years in office. The options to replace Satterberg include his longtime chief of staff, Leesa Manion, and Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell—another Republican-turned-Democrat who has promised to resurrect many of the punitive policies of previous eras, tossing aside years of prosecutorial reform in favor of outdated 1990s-style approaches to crime and punishment.

PubliCola Picks graphicFerrell, a former senior deputy prosecutor in the office, has tacked well to the right of Manion, embracing endorsements from law-enforcement groups (including the Seattle Police Officers Guild and its controversial leader Mike Solan) and spouting law-and-order talking points about “chronic offenders” and “revolving doors” while reflexively rejecting community-based rehabilitation programs.

If elected, Ferrell has vowed to eviscerate Restorative Community Pathways, a pre-filing diversion program that connects young people facing their first felony charge with community-based diversion programs, by making many offenses ineligible and subjecting all RCP participants to charges. These changes are unlikely to improve community safety or improve the accountability of this somewhat opaque program; instead, they would ensure that fewer kids enroll in RCP, which also provides restitution and counseling for victims.

King County Prosecutor Candidate Leesa Manion
King County Prosecutor Candidate Leesa Manion

Ferrell has argued that it makes sense to hold some people with behavioral health disorders in jail prior to trial, on the grounds that jail can help “stabilize” them and get them on a path to treatment. In reality, the jail is a chaotic, poorly staffed institution where inmates have reported difficulty meeting with attorneys or getting basic medical care—hardly a therapeutic environment for people with complex conditions that require compassion, not confinement. While PubliCola supports improving access to both physical and behavioral health care for incarcerated people, Ferrell isn’t proposing those kind of systemic solutions; instead, he’s embracing a Band-Aid approach to deep-rooted problems that can’t be addressed by a quick stint in jail-based treatment.

Although the prosecuting attorney’s office does not direct county or city policy, the criminal justice system is overloaded with people experiencing poverty and homelessness, and poor people often end up stuck in jail because they can’t afford bail or electronic home monitoring. As mayor, Ferrell has embraced what he called a “tough-love” approach to homelessness, accusing homeless people of choosing a “lack-of-accountability lifestyle” and supporting Federal Way’s ban on encampments in public spaces. People experiencing homelessness need housing and services, not the “tough love” of incarceration; we need a county prosecutor who sees the county’s most vulnerable residents, even those who commit crimes, as more than merely criminals.

Manion is hardly a progressive icon. Her moderate platform consists largely of promises to continue reform initiatives Satterberg started and to take a similarly “compassionate” approach to defendants whose offenses are tied up in poverty, racism, and lack of access to health care. Her belief that the system fundamentally works has caused her to justify obviously poor decisions. Earlier this year, for example, the prosecutor’s office charged a homeless man in a year-and-a-half-old theft case despite the fact that he had enrolled in LEAD and had not reoffended; Manion said he was a good candidate for drug court, which mandates sobriety, despite the fact that he had been unable to comply with similar programs at least 22 times in the past.

Still, on policy alone, Manion is a better pick than Ferrell, who we fear would dismantle programs and policies Satterberg established, undoing decades of slow but steady reform. For that reason, and because she would support alternative approaches that improve public safety by addressing the root causes of some criminal behavior, PubliCola picks Leesa Manion.

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

PubliCola Interviews King County Prosecutor Candidate Leesa Manion

Leesa Manion headshotBy Paul Kiefer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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