Tag: Mitzi Johanknecht

Calls for King County Sheriff Resignation Expand Beyond County Council

Sheriff JohanknechtBy Paul Kiefer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King County Regional Homelessness Authority director Marc Dones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election 2017: Vindications and Repudiations

Y’all, I’ve been traipsing all over Europe on my trust fund for the last few weeks (note: A JOKE) and I came back just in time to see Seattle elect our first female mayor in nearly a century, Jenny Durkan, and the first 6-3 female majority on the city council since the 1990s. Meanwhile, King County  voters may have elected their second-ever female sheriff, if early returns hold and Mitzi Johanknecht defeats incumbent John Urquhart for that position. Pundits elsewhere were dubbing last night a “great night for women,” and it was, but let’s get a few more female mayors, sheriffs, council members, and state legislators (not to mention pay equity, affordable day care, and hiring parity) before we declare the glass ceiling shattered to dust.

On to the celebrations!

I arrived at council member-elect Teresa Mosqueda’s party at Optimism Brewing Company at around 7 last night and the mood was already ebullient, although some supporters I talked to were still gritting their teeth as they waited for the 8:15 results. They shouldn’t have worried: The first vote drop showed Mosqueda winning decisively with 61.51 percent of the vote (to Grant’s 38.49 percent)—a rout that turned the cavernous room into a veritable nerd mosh pit.

Council member Lorena Gonzalez, who also won decisively over neighborhood activist Pat Murakami last night, introduced Mosqueda to the stage, shouting no fewer than three times that Mosqueda won because “she gets shit done!” In response to the results, the Grant campaign sent out a tepid non-concession, holding out hope that the remaining ballots would somehow reverse a yawning 23-point gap. (I was told that the statement he made at his own election-night party, down in Hillman City, was more decisively a concession speech.) At any rate, Grant’s defeat showed that not only is an endorsement from the Democratic Socialists of America not a slam-dunk in Seattle (and that, in fact, it may be a liability), neither is an endorsement from the Seattle Times or the Stranger, both of which effusively supported Grant. (Although the two papers have decidedly different politics, they both backed Grant in large part because of his position on zoning and development—he opposed the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, which chips away at exclusionary Seattle zoning rules that restrict new housing to a small fraction of the city’s residential land, and supported punitive developer fees that would have contributed to Seattle’s housing shortage.)

Grant’s campaign was also hampered by charges that he had created a hostile work environment for women and people of color as head of the Tenants Union, and by persistent questions about why, if his campaign was truly about “giving a voice to the most marginalized,” he was running at all. Grant, who grew up on Bainbridge Island, is white; Mosqueda, who grew up in Olympia, is Mexican-American. Mosqueda, who was lambasted by Grant and his supporters for her support from labor unions, kept her job lobbying  for the rights of women, children, and workers in Olympia right through the end of the campaign, noting that she had to do so to pay her rent. (In addition to bein the third Latina on the council, Mosqueda will be the only renter.) Grant, in contrast, has been campaigning full-time since January, and lives in a house in South Seattle that was initially purchased for him by his parents after the previous owners lost their home to foreclosure. That class divide between the two candidates might not have been immediately apparent to the casual voter, but Grant’s insistence on portraying Mosqueda as an “establishment” candidate beholden to business and nefarious unions spurred Mosqueda to make Grant’s own more rarefied background an issue, and may have turned off voters initially inclined to support Grant because he purported to be the candidate of the people.

Speaking of which: Density was also a big winner last night, with HALA fan Jenny Durkan winning big (Moon, who touted urbanist values in front of urbanist audiences, was wishy-washy in front of neighborhood groups and on the citywide stage, proposing to start the HALA process over and let neighborhood groups have a larger say in the “character” and “culture” of their neighborhoods when deciding whether to let density in—as they did under “the great Jim Diers.”

Other takeaways from last night:

• Democracy vouchers and the Honest Elections initiative, once touted as a way to get money out of politics, have done nothing of the sort. Early on, both Grant and Mosqueda began filing requests to exceed the mandatory limits on contribution size and overall spending imposed by the 2015 initiative, and the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission promptly granted all their requests. Closer to Election Day, both candidates for city attorney—incumbent Pete Holmes and challenger Scott Lindsay—were also released from the initiative’s strictures. Mayoral candidates Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon didn’t have access to democracy vouchers (they’ll kick in for the mayor’s race in 2021), but it probably wouldn’t much matter—as of today, Durkan has raised a record-breaking $937,410 and is well on track to burst through the $1 million ceiling by the time late contributions come through, and Moon’s contributions, currently $347,734, will top $500,000 once she pays off her debts, which total $182,682. Unless the ethics commission has a dramatic change of heart, it’s unlikely that they’ll force mayoral candidates to abide by limits that they haven’t enforced on candidates for city council or city attorney.

Moreover: The Honest Elections initiative limits contributions to $500. Neither Moon nor Durkan had an average contribution close to that. Moon’s average contribution was $174, and Durkan’s was $234. Finally, both campaigns were heavily supported by funding that was outside the scope of the initiative: Durkan was backed by $727,139 in independent expenditures by a business-backed political action committee, People for Jenny Durkan, and Moon has spent $176,521 of her own money (so far) to self-fund her campaign, nearly as much as the $181,766 she received from 1,043 supporters. Until PAC spending is dealt with (unlikely, given the ruling in Citizens United that money is speech) or self-financing is banned (ditto), big money—whether from wealthy candidates or deep-pocketed donors—will continue to be a major factor in Seattle politics.

• The King County Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services levy, which King County Executive Dow Constantine and advocates for homeless residents argued should be even larger, passed so overwhelmingly that it’s tempting to second-guess the county council’s decision to play it safe with the ballot measure. As I’ve reported, Constantine initially proposed renewing the levy at 12 cents per $1,000, which would have added $9 to the typical property owner’s annual tax bill and funded an additional  $67 million in services over six years, but the county council rejected his proposal, arguing (among other things) that voters might be suffering from tax fatigue. Advocates for homeless services argued for an even higher rate, 15 cents, to extend services to the hardest to house. Last night’s results suggest that that council underplayed its hand in going with the lower, “compromise” rate.

• Outside Seattle: Manka Dhingra’s election to the (traditionally Republican) 45th District state senate seat solidifies the Democrats’ hold on both houses of the state legislature and is part of a wave of Democratic victories across the country, including in Virginia, Minnesota, and New Jersey. (Vox has a roundup of all of last night’s barrier-busting wins here.) In Bellevue, the results were a mixed bag: Supporters and opponents of a proposed men’s homeless shelter—which turned out to be a key issue in this year’s divisive council races—each one two council seats. Newcomer Jared Nieuwenhuis and incumbent Conrad Lee oppose the shelter, and newcomer Janice Zahn and incumbent Lynne Robinson support it. Down in Burien, where a slate of city council candidates calling themselves “Burien Proud Burien First” focused on Burien’s status as a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants, to races were still too close to call; in the other two, a conservative and progressive candidate have strong leads, according to KUOW, which reports that “Nearly a quarter of Burien’s population is Latino but none have ever been elected to City Council.”

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