Taking Back Harm Reduction

By David Preston
for Emmaline

Many of us in recovery say “I’m so glad I’m not trying to get sober now, I’d be dead if I was out there.” –Ann, a recovered addict and addiction treatment counselor.
Heroin saved my life. –Shilo Jama, Director, People’s Harm Reduction Alliance of Seattle.

If the War on Drugs really is a war, then drugs are clearly winning. The DEA might be out there interdicting drug shipments and arresting kingpins, but the sidewalks of my town (Seattle) are as soaked with narcotics as with winter rain. If I was a part of the drug culture, I could go downtown any time of the day and start buying and using openly. In full view of the police. With no risk of going to jail. Abstinence, education, and enforcement were the three pillars of American drug policy since the narcotics policy was first codified in 1914, but starting in the late 1980s, that approach began to lose ground in the face of the reality that many young people were going to try hard drugs regardless of what Nancy Reagan or their local D.A.R.E. program told them, and once they tried drugs, they’d get hooked. So what to do then? Send them to prison? That wasn’t working either, as evidenced by high rates of relapse among drug offenders returning to society. The fact that African Americans were being disproportionately imprisoned for drug crime made this solution all the more dubious. This is when “harm reduction” made the scene. Harm reduction advocates didn’t promise a Hollywood ending to the drug epidemic. They could demonstrate that it worked at least as well as everything else that had been tried to that point. And it was certainly cheaper. And more compassionate, too. We can engage constructively with people who are already hooked on drugs, was the idea, and we can use that connection to help them get off drugs and into a better life. A life of recovery.

Elaine Thompson / AP

At its core the theory of harm reduction holds that, in addressing the behaviors of individuals who are already harming themselves – by taking drugs, for example – we should take steps to reduce any incidental harm that is being done to them by others, including harm created by social stigmatization, imprisonment, and so on. A corollary to this is the theory that reducing harm incidental to the behavior is, in itself, a good outcome and can stand on its merits outside the question of whether the behavior itself is stopped. Therein lies the danger, but we’ll get to that.

What Harm Reduction Is Not

Harm reduction applies to high-risk and inherently damaging behaviors that are not part of a normal, healthy lifestyle. It does not apply to common activities of daily living, such as riding a bicycle. The graphic below, published by mainstream harm reduction organization in California, equates wearing a bicycle helmet while riding on a bike path to a drug addict using a clean syringe to inject heroin or a meth smoker testing his pills for contamination with fentanyl, which are things the group advocates for. While all those activities reduce harm in their own way, the flaws in the analogy are glaring. A more apt one would be that a clean needle is like a bicyclist wearing a helmet while riding on the freeway. At night. Helmet or no helmet, the odds are not in his favor.

According to the Santa Barbara Safety Coalition, a heroin addict using a clean needle is just like a bicyclist wearing a helmet. (Santa Barbara Opioid Safety Coalition)

A Survey of Harm Reduction Modalities

Free Drug Paraphernalia and Fentanyl Test Strips

In Seattle, local harm reduction practitioners like King County Public Health and the People’s Harm Reduction Alliance hand out clean syringes to anyone who asks, which can be picked at one of their pop-up tables or at any of several office locations. While this is sometimes called needle exchange, that term is misleading, since the client doesn’t have to hand over a dirty needle to get a clean one. Instead of needle exchanges, these locations should be called needle dispensaries. A single drug user may be given hundreds of needles at a time, and boxes of them are often given to known drug dealers, who then hand them out to their customers, streamlining the process for everyone.

Click image for more info.

Along with needles, harm reduction practitioners in Seattle hand out other drug paraphernalia, including tourniquets (to raise veins for injection drug use); candles and glass pipes (“bubbles”) for smoking crack or meth; and foil, for smoking fentanyl. Drug testing kits are also available to help users determine whether their supply of heroin, meth, or cocaine has been cut with fentanyl.

How needle handouts and test strips can reduce harm. First used in 1988, the needle exchange is the oldest and arguably the most successful harm reduction program. The exchanges are intended to lower transmission of  disease (like HIV and hepatitis) that spread through the sharing of dirty needles, and they have largely done that, as evidenced by the decreased incidence of these diseases among drug users. Theoretically, needle handouts connect drug users with information about treatment as well. At the place where the user picks up the needles, there might be pamphlets about drug-treatment options, or one of the staff might engage with them by saying: “Are you thinking about quitting? We can refer you to treatment.” It’s believed that users who come to same location repeatedly form trusting relationships with staff and are thus more likely to seek out help with the addiction. Test strips are another simple, proven technology, but they take some patience. And they don’t work for fentanyl users, obviously. Does handing out non-needle drug paraphernalia reduce harm? No, except in the sense that it can connect a drug user to resources, as described above. Sharing glass pipes or foil doesn’t spread deadly pathogens. Snorting straws and razor blades (for powered drugs) are among the paraphernalia that are handed out at harm reduction offices. Claims have been made that this technique prevents spread of bloodborne diseases like Hepatitis C, but those claims have not been well supported.

Medication-assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, has been around for decades and has evolved as new narcotics have entered the drug scene. Methadone is a well-known example of MAT for heroin use, and there are many newer MATs – like buprenorphine, suboxone, and ibogaine – that are available to drug users who want to ease out of withdrawal. MAT works by removing a user’s craving for the drug and/or blocking the physical symptoms of withdrawal. MAT is typically monitored by a physician or other medical professional.

Suboxone is a cheap and easy-to-use addiction treatment medication. Image: NPR

How MAT can reduce harm. The object of MAT is to move the addict off the much more dangerous and addictive street drug onto a less dangerous, less addictive and drug that will, optimally, be gradually withdrawn or, failing that, used as a safer, long-term substitute for the addictive drug. MAT can be especially helpful in situations where sudden, forced withdrawal from a drug could be life-threatening, such as when an addict is admitted to a hospital or prison.

Low-barrier Housing

Low-barrier housing (also known as low-threshold housing) is subsidized short- or long-term housing provided to addicts with no expectation that they will quit using drugs and with no penalty imposed if they continue using. It’s understood, and can even be written into the lease, that residents will not be evicted for using drugs on or near the premises, though they can still be evicted for other things like damaging the unit or harassing other tenants. A history of drug use or drug possession charges is not a disqualifier for this type of housing. Low-barrier housing is at the core of the “housing first” model of addressing homelessness. The model emerged in the mid-2010s as an alternative to the dominant model of low-income housing at the time, which held that subsidized housing should be given only to those who were clean and sober or were actively trying to get there.

How low-barrier housing can reduce harm.  According to the housing first model, the process of being evicted repeatedly and living on the street puts burdens on drug users above those they’re already trying to cope with. To survive on the street, an addict has to stay on the move and put a lot of work into “hustling” and this can interfere with his ability to make treatment appointments and stay in touch with counselors. The pain and stigma of living on the street can also cause an addict to retreat even further into the addiction. Lifting the burden of finding and keeping a market-rate apartment or shelter bed can help clear an addict’s path toward recovery.

Decriminalization & Legalization

Drug decriminalization is done on the state or city level and how it is implemented varies widely according to the local political culture. Narcotics aren’t legal anywhere in the U.S., but in 2020, Oregon voters formally decriminalized personal-use narcotics possession in a statewide referendum. In early 2021, the Washington Supreme Court struck down police stops for simple drug-possession as unconstitutional, throwing the matter back to the state legislature to rework the laws. Shortly thereafter, the legislature passed a replacement law (Engrossed Senate Bill 5476) reestablishing personal-use drug possession as a misdemeanor and directing that prosecutors divert an arrestee for evaluation and referral to “community based care” at least twice before booking. (Note: In King County a “personal use” amount of fentanyl pills is anything under 200 pills, which is a several days’ supply, according to my police sources.)

The practical effect of the law as updated has been the same as if the stricken section of the RCW had not been fixed at all but had simply been abandoned. Police and deputies around the state have not been stopping and arresting addicts on the street because they know they won’t be prosecuted and will probably not successfully complete addiction treatment once they are referred to “community care” either. In areas where drugs have either been formally or effectively decriminalized for some time, like Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and several other larger cities, they are effectively legal as well, at least for personal use amounts. Decriminalization has been hailed as a step forward by harm reduction advocates, who liken it to Portugal’s efforts to to address drug use there, but what’s happening in the U.S. is quite different from the Portuguese approach. While Portugal has decriminalized drug use, it still imposes fines and other sanctions on drug users who are caught using or possessing drugs and refuse to get treatment.

How decriminalization can reduce harm. Harm reduction advocates believe that lifting the threat of jail encourages drug users to step out of the shadows. Keeping addicts out of jail also reduces the risk of a post-detox overdose. Opioid users who do a forced detox and withdrawal in jail often assume they can go back to using the same amount of drug they were using before the detox, but an opioid-free body is much more sensitive to the drug than an active user’s body, and a fresh-out-of-jail user can overdose on the same amount of drug he was injecting before detoxing.


Drugs are Winning: A graph shows recent data for overdose deaths in King County. That heroin deaths are dipping slightly might be because heroin users are shifting to fentanyl. Click the image for more info.

Stigma is the visible and felt disapproval society attaches to certain behaviors like prostitution, theft, and drug use; to social conditions, like poverty; and to physical conditions, like mental illness. With drug use, stigma can take many forms, from passersby avoiding the user on the street to employers refusing to hire anyone with a history of drug convictions. Destigmatization is the gradual process by which society becomes more tolerant of drug use and drug users. Drug use can be said to be completely destigmatized at the point where drug users feel no judgment from others and suffer no ill effects other than those caused by the drug. Collectively, harm reduction methods and the increasingly visible presence of drugs in the community contribute to destigmatization by making drug use seem more normal. Living near a needle dispensary, for example, or constantly watching drug use in the park, or seeing stories about Narcan on the news can have the effect of desensitizing people to the presence of drug use. Destigmatization is not a consciously implemented harm reduction method; rather, it happens incidentally to other methods, and it occurs so gradually that it is imperceptible to the public, and even to drug users.

Image (left): A 2022 Facebook post from the Seattle & King County Department of Health claims that 90% of drug users don’t get help due to stigma. The language isn’t clear, but what they appear to have meant “don’t get help” is “don’t seek help.” The underlying article cites a research paper that surveys studies from around the world where drug-users self-reported on perceived stigma and self-stigma (e.g., feelings that they are bad people and so don’t deserve help.) 

How destigmatization can reduce harm. According to harm reduction theory, stigma and shame prevent drug users from getting help and can even increase their drug use as they turn to the drug for relief from the psychic pain of these negative feelings. With stigma gone and no fear of being shamed, drug users are more likely to step out of the shadows, admit to others that they have a problem, and seek help. At the same time, they will feel less compelled to use drugs “just to kill the pain” (of stigma).

Heroin Injection Sites & Narcan

Another form of harm reduction is the “safe injection site.” These sites go by several names, depending on who’s talking about them, but I call them heroin injection sites, since that’s the most accurate and value-neutral term. There are a handful of legal heroin injection sites around the country, and several years ago King County Public Health announced its decision to sponsor two of its own, but this plan never went forward, possibly because of negative publicity and a ballot initiative (which ultimately failed in court). Notwithstanding King County’s official lack of enthusiasm for the project, there are probably at least a few clandestine heroin injection sites in Seattle. As injection drug use is being eclipsed by fentanyl smoking and its associated rise in mortality, heroin injection sites seem to be losing their elan.

Formal heroin injection sites come with an agreement by local authorities not to arrest or interfere with drug users within a certain radius of a given site.

How heroin injection sites can reduce harm. The most immediate risk of harm presented by heroin is overdose. A heroin injection site is a clinically supervised room where drug users can go to get a clean needle and inject heroin under the eye of someone who is trained to revive them with the opioid neutralizing drug Narcan should they overdose. While overdoses still happen frequently at these sites, the sites’ promoters can truthfully say that few or no overdose deaths have occurred there. Lethal overdose is a common occurrence among heroin users, and if we assume that any one use of heroin could lead to an overdose, it’s correct to say that injection sites save lives, at least in the short term. As with the needle dispensaries, there is the “engagement” factor as well. Staff at heroin injection sites can offer treatment referrals and other potentially life-saving services to any drug user who comes in. In Seattle and other cities, Narcan is also given to first responders and non-clinical civilians along with training in how to use it. Narcan’s low cost, ease of use, and efficacy as a life-saving treatment for opioid overdose has been demonstrated.


Each of the harm reduction methods I’ve described has its specific shortcomings. Needle exchanges – more properly called needle dispensaries – have been criticized for contributing to needle trash on the streets, for example, while heroin injection sites tend to increase drug use in the areas where they’re located, because addicts (and the drug dealers who service them) gravitate to those spots. And since the addicts who use injection sites don’t use them 100% of the time they will still be injecting themselves out on the streets around the clinic at least some of the time. And dying, too. Treatment medications (MATs) like methadone can create lifelong dependencies for recovering drug addicts and can be abused by active addicts who sell them them on the street or use them to create a “designer high.” Even life-saving Narcan can theoretically be abused, though evidence that it’s actually happening is scant. In practice, the housing first model is such an obvious failure that it’s been discredited even among many of those who once championed it. The basic flaw in the model lies in its failure to grasp the realities of addiction. The program was designed to accommodate maintenance addicts (i.e., addicts who don’t increase their dosage over time or experiment with new drugs) and those without significant behavioral issues. It works well for addicts who can use drugs while otherwise keeping their lives in order. But this type of addict is in the minority among narcotics users. Much commoner is the user who will continue their life on the street, regardless of whether they’ve got a room to flop in at night. In the photo below, the woman in the turquois jacket below sitting outside a rent-subsidized “housing first” high-rise in downtown Seattle. “She wanders around the area using and dealing drugs all day,” the photographer told me. “When I saw her, she had a wad of cash in her hand and a little drug briefcase. She lives in a tiny house village.”

Note: “Tiny house village” refers to any of a dozen or so city-sanctioned low-barrier shantytowns located around Seattle and run by one of the state’s largest low-income housing providers: LIHI. In addition to its taxpayer-funded  apartment complexes, LIHI gets around a million dollars per village per year to provide substandard housing for chronically homeless drug users and prostitutes. The organization says it provides on-site caseworker services, but it does not share information on the rate of long-term recovery of residents, and there are many reports of drug-related violence inside the shantytowns.

I spoke about this phenomenon of drug users who have housing staying on the street with Andrea Suarez, director of a street outreach and clean-up program called We Heart Seattle: “It’s a daily occurrence for me to see people loitering on the street using or in doorways, slumped over,” she told me…

The dead giveaway is that there’s a key around their neck or a key card. In casual interviews, people tell me that they like to hang out with their communities in what we call an ‘open air drug-scene’ where they can buy, sell, and use dope. Tents are often set up just for the purpose of using drugs in green spaces and in parks. I wish I had a dollar for every time somebody said, ‘Oh I’m fine. I have housing; I just hang out here. And now that prostitution is the number one funding source both men and women use to support their fentanyl habit, tents are set up to turn tricks for fast easy cash. There are predators who drive up and down Third Avenue waving cash out their window and using nonverbal gestures to solicit for a sexual favors in exchange for cash.

One thing addiction counselors always tell their clients is to avoid returning to the social milieu where they drank or drugged, but this isn’t possible for people living in low-barrier housing. Since the housing is set aside just for drug users, all the residents in those buildings use drugs, and drug dealers congregate nearby to service them. In the event that an addict living in low-barrier housing gets clean, it will be nearly impossible for them to stay that way, because temptation is everywhere. They can always move out, but the costs of getting into a market-rate apartment might be prohibitive. They can put themselves on a wait list for a subsidized non-low-barrier unit, but it might be years before their name comes to the top. Faced with these choices, many low-barrier housing residents simply give up on recovery. Low-barrier housing disincentivizes drug users from quitting and traps them in their addiction.

Decriminalization of narcotics has happened in a piecemeal way around the country, which has led to drug tourism, where drug users migrate from more restrictive states to less restrictive ones to get drugs cheaper and with less legal risk. Cannabis, which is now fully legal in 21 states, is a good example of how this works.  States where recreational marijuana is fully legal, such as Washington and Colorado, have documented the phenomenon of cannabis tourism, which they see as a boon, since the trade is taxed and generates additional economic activity. Narcotics tourism is happening in these two states in much same way, except that narcotics tourism is an economic drain, since the tourists tend to stay on and live on the streets, creating a burden in the form of added medical expenses, crime and court costs, and decreased quality of life for the hosts. Drug destigmatization can lead to drug normalization, which causes harm to society by lowering the quality of life in areas where drug use is prevalent. It causes harm to drug users by leading them to believe that drug use is a sustainable, low-risk activity and a valid lifestyle choice.

Image (left): The photo on the left shows a woman injecting heroin into the neck of a man in a touristy Westlake Park area of downtown Seattle. Scenes like this are common there now, often taking place within view of police. Seattle has moved past destigmatization and decriminalization of drugs to full-on normalization, with predictable results. Once any behavior is normalized, more people are likely to try it and the people already doing it are less likely to stop. (Why should they?)

True Costs

The cost of harm reduction programs can’t be measured simply in terms of dollars expended on those programs, but if they could be, the cost side of the equation would be trivial. If you totaled the amount spent by governments and NGOs to distribute free needles, run methadone programs, and so on, it would be just a sliver of total healthcare spending pie, and harm reduction advocates can argue, correctly, that that amount would dwarfed by the money municipalities save, at least in the short-term, in the form of decreased overdose hospitalizations and savings in court costs and jail expenses associated with decriminalization. By that calculus alone, harm reduction is an easy win, and that’s without counting the value of lives saved by the strategy. The problem with this view is that it takes no account of the social costs of allowing drug users to continue their addiction unimpeded: Needles on playgrounds are one such, cost. Having vagrant drug users shooting up on the street and living in parks is another. Increased property crime due to drug users stealing to support their habit is still another. These things are often dismissed by harm reduction advocates as “quality of life issues” or “nuisance crimes” and people who complain are accused of betraying their “privilege.” This gaslighting drives a wedge between addicts and the non-addicted majority, which is ultimately counterproductive to harm reduction’s objectives. Can we blame parents for putting their children’s safety above a drug user’s well-being, especially when the drug user doesn’t seem to particularly care what happens to him? People negatively impacted by harm reduction is a growing demographic, and it’s one that matters, politically. Drug-related squalor is growing worse in big cities, like San Francisco, that have robust harm-reduction programs, and that in turn is creating mass movements to reject “progressivism” in those cities.

But what about injection sites? Don’t they save lives? There are no sanctioned heroin injection sites in my city of Seattle, but there are five around British Columbia, just a few hours away. Given the cultural similarities between Seattle and BC, whatever works there should also work here. But do Vancouver’s injection sites work? Harm reduction proponents say yes, but they don’t explore what success means, other than to say that no one dies at an injection site. And that’s true, as far as it goes. Which is not very. An injection site will prevent a drug user from overdosing to death only while he’s at the facility. But to be protected from ever dying of overdose, he’d have to visit the site each time he injects (typically twice a day) for the duration of his addiction, even if it means he has to travel across town by bus every day. For years. Is that a realistic expectation?

A heroin user slumps against a wall in downtown Seattle. Would he be able to make it across town to an injection site twice a day?

Baked into the injection site philosophy is the assumption that drug users have a strong will to live and are willing to follow a demanding regimen in order to protect their health and stay alive. But is that assumption true? It might be true for the addicts who conscientiously use the sites, but in the main, it doesn’t seem to be. If most drug users cared that much about their well being, doesn’t it stand to reason that there would be far fewer addicts?

Where’s the data?

Even if injection sites got just a few people into long-term recovery, a case could be made that the sites are worth all the controversy and expense. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any studies to support the claim that injection sites save even a few lives over time. So why are there no studies? The difficulty of recruiting participants could be one reason. There are many factors at play in a heroin user’s addiction: he might quit and relapse repeatedly, for example, going in and out of treatment programs. He might spend time in jail. Addicts tend to have unstable living situations, even the ones who live indoors. A given addiction might move from apartment to apartment and from city to city several times in the course of a few years. There might be long periods where he’s incapacitated or otherwise out of touch. How does a clinical researcher monitor an individual like this closely when even family members can’t manage to?

Still, it’s possible to produce a meaningful study on such a population, as long as the initial sample group is large enough to allow for attrition. Let’s say you start a four-year study with a sample group of 1,000 participants* and you lose touch with 75% of them during that time. That leaves 250 participants who used the injection site more or less consistently, or otherwise stayed in touch, and they either stayed on heroin or got off it during the study period. Or they died. For more on how a study could be set up, see Appendix D. When the initial study period ended, participants’ progress would be followed over time to determine whether their use of the injection site correlates to their long-term outcome. If the sites saved just a few dozen people over the course of the study by encouraging them to get treatment and recover, the public could be convinced that the sites were worth the social costs. So why aren’t injection sites gathering that kind of data? Are they too busy saving lives to even keep track of how many they’re saving? Or is there another reason? Studies on users of injection sites typically track the number of referrals to treatment or short-term injection behavior. They don’t track year-over-year or long-term survival rates of participants. This 2014 summary of a review of 20 studies is typical in its assessment of study results. Note that the words survival, recover, and recovery are absent from this 7-page document. Also note the claim that injections don’t “lead to any disruptions in public order or safety in the neighborhoods where they are located.” This claim, which is probably self-reported by clinic staff or sympathetic public offices, contradicts the testimony of hundreds of actual neighbors living in those areas.  It calls the reliability of the study as a whole into question:

Click the image to see the survey.

Insite: A Case in Point

Vancouver Canada’s Insite injection clinic has been running since 2003. Its operator, Vancouver Coastal Health, estimates that in 2019 there were 170,731 visits by 5,111 individuals. With user numbers like these, and nearly two decades of experience, there should be an ample number of study participants and outcomes to demonstrate that Insite is saving lives in the long term by facilitating treatment or that it’s at least beating the performance of doing nothing. And yet there don’t seem to be any studies on that. I contacted Vancouver Coastal Health and asked a nurse in the public relations department named Deanna Lancaster if VCH had any data correlating long-term recovery to the Insite clinic. After asking me what I wanted the data for, she ghosted me, so I conclude that VCH doesn’t have that data. If they did have it, one would think they’d be shouting it to the skies

Image (right): The Insite heroin injection site in Vancouver, Canada proudly cites the number of clients served and the number of overdose “interventions.” What they don’t mention is the number of treatment referrals and the number of clients who have quit using heroin altogether. Source: Vancouver Coastal Health

According to Insite’s guided tour video below, you don’t need to provide any personal information to the staff. You have to be at least 16 years old (though they can’t make you prove this), and you have to give them a name. “But it can be whatever name you like,” the narrator says. “Make one up if you like.” If you’re using a made-up name, they ask only that you use the same name every time, presumably so Insite can track the number of unique clients served. But in this system, a client could use the clinic one day and die on the street of an overdose the next day, and no one would be any the wiser. Insite would count the client visit the day before and call it a win. Does this sound like real epidemiology?

“It looks more like a hair salon than anything else.”

Inside Insite Video: This thinly disguised promotional film on Vancouver’s Insite clinic devotes 10 seconds of an 8-minute presentation to treatment, and none to Insite users’ long-term recovery rate. The narrator reveals that users must ask about treatment, since that information is not volunteered. “Maybe you want to ask staff about treatment options,” she says, “like a third of the other people who visit here. And if you’re ready [!] and there’s room [!] someone’ll take you upstairs to Onsite, a detox and housing program on the second floor.” One wonders what a drug addict has to do to show Insite staff that they’re “ready” for treatment beyond simply asking for it. Also, what’s meant by “if there’s room”? Does Insite have to have a bed ready in their own building before they’ll refer a drug user for treatment?

The Elephant in the Room: Enabling

Why is it necessary to collect data on addiction treatment and long-term recovery in relation to harm reduction? Why isn’t it enough to show that injection sites reduce harm in the moment? To understand this, you have to know something about the psychology of addiction. Recovered addicts that an addict won’t quit the habit until the personal costs of the addiction outweigh the benefit in the addict’s already drug-clouded judgment. (This is known in 12-step parlance as “hitting rock bottom.”) Anything that makes an addiction easier for the addict to support – like free needles, for example, or a cozy place to shoot up – will forestall the day of reckoning when the addict has finally had enough and decides to quit. This in turn makes it likelier that the addict will eventually die of an overdose anyway. And in the meantime, while the addict is still using, he will continue engaging in all the other unsafe (that is to say harmful) behaviors typically associated with drug use. Behaviors like stealing and prostituting to pay for the drugs. And hanging out on the streets between fixes as addicts are doing in the streets around Insite.

Seldom is heard and encouraging word: The Insite injection room in Vancouver. Click to enlarge

Do staff at Insite encourage their heroin-using clients to get treatment? It doesn’t look like it. The vibe is gloomily sterile as you can see from the picture above. There’s no vase with flowers at the desk, no low-key art prints on the walls. Needless to say there are no posters advertising treatment services or mentioning the long-term risks of “safe” drug use. You check in with a name, get a needle or whatever, sit down at a booth, and inject. Afterwards, you chill out in a waiting room. And then you leave.

Free Supplies: Another way of enabling

  In July of 2020, the People’s Harm Reduction Alliance in Seattle advertised a service in which they would mail a variety of free drug supplies to anyone who filled out an online form. The Safe Seattle Facebook page had a volunteer request a variety of supplies and they were duly received. At no point, the volunteer reported, did anyone at PHRA offer him treatment options. That story is here. Three years before that, I visited the PHRA office in the university district and got a guided tour from the then director, Lisa Al-Hakim. Although there were stacks of literature on various other health services, the only information about treatment was a “call this number for help” item I found in a single dog-eared pamphlet that was lying on a coffee table.

To see a video of master enabler Kurt talking with heroin users click the picture

What former heroin addicts say about harm reduction

I manage a Facebook page that deals with public safety, and there are many recovered drug addicts who follow that page. They often tell me that they’re glad they kicked their drug habit before the age of harm reduction, because if they’d been addicted during the harm reduction era, they might never have gotten clean. Here are some typical comments:

I was a heroin addict in the late 1980s, back when possession of narcotics was a felony and you could get arrested and do time for simple possession. That is how I eventually got clean, by getting arrested and going to jail. The first time I was arrested I was in jail for 30 days, where I suffered withdrawal from heroin, cold turkey, and I was released after 30 days on the condition that I go straight into a 28-day rehab program, which my parents paid for. I was introduced to NA and AA thru the rehab, and was able to stay clean for about 2 years. Then I got back into the drugs, got strung out, and was arrested again for possession of heroin. I was given a 6-month sentence, which I did in work release. Once again, I kicked the drugs cold turkey in jail, was sent from work release to the King County Jail, then sent to the North Rehabilitation Facility in Shoreline [now closed –Editor] and finally returned to work release, where I finished my sentence. My caseworker there let me go to NA and AA meetings every day, and I have remained clean off drugs ever since, going on 25 years now. Now then, if I was a drug addict today, I would never have gotten clean. I would never have been arrested for possession, and I probably would have eventually died or ruined my body like a lot of my associates did. I consider myself lucky to have gone to jail long enough to get and stay clean. The decriminalization of hard drugs was a huge mistake – the only people who support it are either drug addicts or people who have no clue about the nature of addiction. –Paul
I know from frontline experience that housing first is not a solution for people who need treatment for a disease. I chose to move into a recovery house where I became manager and the zero tolerance for drug use helped separate me from people who used. The requirement to go to anonymous [12-step] groups helped me build a life where I could identify with others. Subsidized housing first that puts people who are at risk in apartments with other who are at risk creates a slum. There is no enforcement to better oneself. It looks nice when the governor comes to town, but day to day these places are trap houses and the people who live there are trapped and they cannot move without risking losing their housing. So even if they want to do better or be better they cannot. –Ann
I genuinely believe with every fiber of my being I’d be dead if harm reduction and safe supply was a thing when I was a practicing addict almost 20 years ago.–Vanessa
I’d be dead if this crap was around when I was a heroin addict. BTW: I am in favor of actual needle EXCHANGES, not needle dispensaries. –Jim


Why don’t harm reduction advocates push recovery?

There are two main reasons, the first being that the people running those locations believe that emphasizing recovery is a form of stigma and will discourage drug users from going to free needle tables and injection sites. There are no controlled studies to test this hypothesis. Second, many modern harm reduction advocates feel that using drugs is a valid lifestyle choice and not something that needs to be treated or recovered from. There’s nothing bad about drug use that can’t be addressed with harm reduction, they reason.

Shilo Jama, longtime director of Seattle’s People’s Harm Reduction Alliance (PHRA) has championed the drug-use-as-lifestyle idea and feels drugs shouldn’t be sanctioned in any way. He is himself a heroin user, and the message he gives other addicts is one of unconditional love and acceptance – acceptance of them and their drug-using behavior. Jama, who has no professional clinical qualifications, was an expert panelist on King County’s Opioid Addiction Task Force and was involved in developing the County’s plan to create several injection sites around the county. In a 2015 interview with KUOW, he explained that heroin was a positive force in his life. [Click on the picture below to hear that interview.]

Image: In recounting how he became the director Seattle’s premier harm-reduction organization, Shilo Jama talked to KUOW about how losing a friend to heroin inspired him to get involved: “I wasn’t going to let another person die from a needless death,” said Murphy, now the head of the alliance. But he didn’t want to give up drugs. Drugs had opened his mind, and they were a part of his social life. “To be perfectly honest, I have always enjoyed drugs and they’ve always made my life better,” he said. “I saw drugs as not only a means to escape but a means to inspire me for greatness.” Article here Now a harm reduction crusader, Jama has threatened to open his own unsanctioned heroin injection sites if King County doesn’t move forward with their own commitment to do them. Images: PHRA and KUOW.

The Shilo Jamas of America – and there are many – don’t especially want drug users to give up their habit. What they want is for everyone else to get over their hang-ups about drugs.

11 Things We Can Do To Make Harm Reduction Work Again

  1. Return to an evidence-based approach. Some harm reduction methods, like needle exchanges and MAT, have been proven to reduce harm with relatively low collateral costs. Others, like “housing first,” have not. Rigorous independent study needs to be done on the relationship between each harm reduction method and long-term recovery and survival rates. Any method that can’t demonstrate a positive relationship to recovery should be reworked or discontinued. At the top of the list for  scrutiny should be injection sites.
  2. Make recovery and long-term survival a major goal. The dominant trend among today’s harm reduction advocates is to see recovery as optional. That’s wrong. Instead, it should be one of the two pillars of the program. Treatment options should be prominently featured at any harm reduction location and providers should assertively offer these options to drug users in an appropriate, non-judgmental way. There are many successful models of recovery out there and many established recovery providers and harm reduction providers should be partnering with them.
  3. Spend more on treatment. Injection sites have been embraced by the public because they seem so much more available than treatment and recovery. Outreach workers have horror stories about people on the street saying they want to get treatment right now who get turned away because there are no available treatment beds nearby.  While it’s not realistic to expect that there will always be an open treatment bed in the neighborhood, we could be doing more to increase the supply. Injection site advocates claim they’re saving millions of dollars by reducing the money spent on emergency room treatment of overdose cases, and if that’s true, shouldn’t we be spending some of the savings on treatment beds?
  4. Earned housing, not “housing first.” Having a clean, safe place to stay does aid in the process of recovery; therefore, safe shelter and treatment beds should be a top spending priority for government. However, moving an active drug user into an apartment with no accountability has not been shown to improve recovery rates. Often, the addict ends up back on the street and the unit is trashed, which drains resources from an already overtaxed system. Instead of getting handed the keys to an apartment, an addict should be placed into detox and treatment. Then they can be given a pathway back to permanent housing. Once they’ve achieved certain milestones (getting clean, meeting with their counselors on time, staying out of legal trouble, etc.) and are able to abide by the terms of a lease they can be prioritized for a subsidized apartment. People who want to hang out on the street or in a tent in the park should not be qualified for a housing program.
  5. Call things by their right names. If you asked most people on the street what drug addiction is, they’d be able to give you a working definition. However, if you asked them about “substance abuse disorder” you might get a blank stare. When we change the names of things to avoid hurting feelings, we lose something in the process. Shacks for drug users don’t constitute a “tiny home village” and there’s nothing “safe” about injecting yourself with heroin. Even calling drug addiction a disease is problematic. While it is partly a disease, it is partly a choice as well, and if we’re not going to be honest with ourselves about that, we’re not going to be able to address it. When you have media using the term “safe injection site” with a straight face and public health officials referring to heroin as “treatment” you’ve gone too far.
  6. Keep the neighborhood clean. When needle exchanges were replaced with needle dispensaries, the neighborhoods around them started getting trashed up with needles. Thus, in reducing harm for one population (drug users), the handouts increased harm to another (the neighbors). Needle dispensaries should be phased out and true needle exchanges brought back. And while the transition is happening, any group operating a needle dispensary should take responsibility for reducing harm to neighborhoods by organizing needle clean-ups. If a group has the resources to give clean needles away, they’ve got the resources to pick up the dirty ones.
  7. Come to grips with drug tourism. Cities that normalize drug use become meccas for drug users from around the country, and these users become a significant burden on emergency response systems. “Treatment on demand” is a nice slogan, but it’s unrealistic to expect that treatment beds can be expanded to accommodate every addict who turns up from someplace else wanting to be helped. Cities should do unbiased** surveys on the user population so they can understand how normalization is contributing to their burden and take steps to alleviate it. Such steps could include bus tickets home for drug tourists and a redistribution of federal spending to support the cities that are struggling to support an influx of addicts from other states.
  8. De-platform the crusaders. Seattle’s Shilo Jama, an active heroin user, represents a major tendency among today’s harm reduction activists. He believes that using drugs is always OK and can be a positive thing. Accordingly, he never suggests to anyone who comes to his needle dispensary that they should get into treatment. That’s not harm reduction, it’s harm creation. No one with this outlook should be receiving taxpayer money or running any government-sanctioned program. Or serving on panels of experts.
  9. Implement balanced public oversight.  Every town and city that has an organized, government-sanctioned harm reduction program should also have an oversight board that monitors the program’s activities, measures its effectiveness against its stated objectives, shares its findings with the public, and makes recommendations. The board should comprise a balance of providers, addiction experts, law enforcement personnel, active and recovered addicts, family members of addicts, and representatives of the neighborhoods affected. Such oversight boards are necessary to counteract the tendency of harm reduction activists and their allies in government to go rogue with their programs.
  10. Rely on the justice system as needed. The assumption that most drug users want take care of themselves and know how to do that is wrong. Differing levels of agency and physical condition among addicts require different responses. Drug users who are mentally or physically incapacitated should be offered harm reduction while being strongly encouraged to get into treatment. Those who refuse treatment but continue engaging in problem behaviors in the community should be subject to the law. Since, 1994 King County has had a “drug court,” and it’s still nominally in operation, but in recent years it’s been fallen out of favor and use. It’s time to bring Drug Court back. Observational holds and/or short-term involuntary commitments, assisted with MAT, should be applied to addicts who are an obvious danger to themselves. These holds are also out of favor in drug-normalized communities, and so police will turn a vulnerable drug user in crisis loose because the user declines help. With predictably tragic results.
  11. Listen to recovered addicts. Harm reduction in its current form works for some drug users. It doesn’t work for others, however, and their voices should be part of the public conversation. Too often, harm reduction programs are pitched as if they represent the experience and aspirations of drug users generally, but people who have a deep history with the drug scene – and who aren’t pushing an agenda – know better. Drug use and recovery stories reflect a broad range of experience and that should be incorporated into the design of harm reduction programs.

Any community or facility using harm reduction programs should pause the expansion of those programs pending an evaluation of existing programs in terms of efficacy in terms of long-term recovery and integration with treatment providers. (Note: Don’t pause the programs, just the expansion of those programs.)


Handing out syringes in the late 1980s. Credit: Doug Wilson

One of my friends in recovery told me that when she was using, the first people to treat her like a human were the ones she met at a needle exchange. They brought her of the shadows, connected her with treatment, and put her on the path to recovery. That’s what harm reduction can be at its best, and that’s what it should aim for all the time. The harm reduction principle is as valid now as it was some 34 years ago, when that first needle exchange started operating at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma. The idea back then was to keep drug users alive and as healthy as possible while gently nudging them into treatment and recovery. It wasn’t a cure for the drug epidemic, but it worked well within its parameters and helped to broad base of support for the harm reduction model. But as the drug epidemic raged on and grew more lethal, government started throwing money at harm reduction (“the one thing that seems to  work”) and began loading the program with ever more magical expectations. And waiting to take that money and indulge those fantasies was an army of public health idealists, bureaucrats, and drug-use advocates. You know the rest of the story. In three and a half decades, harm reduction has gone from an act of thoughtful resistance to a flag of abject surrender. Its motto is: If ya can’t beat drugs, join ’em. Some harm reduction critics say we should end these programs, but that would be another act of surrender, a forfeiture of something good that was hard-fought and won. Fortunately, there is a third way. Instead of junking harm reduction or leaving it in the hands of the pro-drug crusaders, we can take it back. And we should.

Appendix A
Trading Places: When the Government Is Your Dealer

Among the many things that make life difficult for a drug addict are high drug prices and inconsistent drug quality. If we allow that high prices and bad drugs are “harm,” it follows that making drugs cheap or free, or improving the quality of drugs, is harm reduction. Given that, it’s surprising that more harm reduction advocates don’t call for either legalization of drug dealing, all the way up to the narco-traffickers, or for having the government just give drugs to users. As it happens, Canada is already experimenting with that, at the Crosstown injection site in Vancouver.

Click to read the article

The Crosstown injection site probably won’t be doing any long-term recovery studies. That’s because their clients have decided they don’t WANT to get off drugs. That’s not necessarily a bad outcome. If all their clients are maintenance addicts who don’t need to increase their dose and genuinely don’t want to get off the drug, the numbers will pencil out, because it will always be cheaper to buy these addicts their heroin than to pay the incidental costs of them using street drugs and stealing to pay for their habit. The thing about heroin, though, the thing that it makes it so hard for the addict to beat, is that drug steadily increases the user’s appetite for it. This is the phenomenon known as “chasing the dragon,” a combined physical and psychological condition where the user continually tries to recapture the overpowering rush they got from their very first high. But even as they approach that high-water mark, it seems to recede still further away from them, leaving them with an unquenchable thirst. Chasing the dragon is why opioid users on the street flock to the dealers who are thought to have a more potent batch of the drug, even if word has gotten around that the new batch is too strong and has caused several deaths. In one of the Crosstown videos, a client makes it sound as if the choice is between a safe supply of injectable heroin or the Russian roulette of drugs on the street. Including the notoriously dicey fentanyl. But that ignores the question of why addicts switched to fentanyl in the first place. They were chasing the dragon. How does the Crosstown clinic handle it when addicts ask for their dosage to be increased because their old high is no longer enough? Do they give in and let the addict  steer the course of their “treatment”? Or do they turn them away?

Appendix B

Click on the image to read the story.

This article typifies media’s shoddy or even deceptive reporting on the drug epidemic. In a several-hundred-word article about a dangerous new street drug called xylazine, the author never gets around to clarifying why the drug is out there in the first place. The implication is that evil chemists or drug dealers are dumping it into the fentanyl supply to kill addicts, but the truth, which I confirmed with a 5-second Google search, is that addicts have been seeking out xylazine because it prolongs their high. In other words, addicts WANT this stuff!

This article would like to be a “harm reduction” advocacy piece, but given the realities of this situation (drug users seeking out the drug, Narcan not working to reverse its deadly effects), it actually undermines the harm reduction cause. The harm reduction model is built on the questionable premise that drug users care about their health, that they have no agency, and that they’re innocent victims of unscrupulous drug suppliers. Do you suppose that’s why it’s not working to save drug addicts?

Appendix C
When Stigma Was Cool and Smoking Wasn’t

Do you remember that one time the government spent millions of dollars on gory advertising campaigns to discourage kids from using tobacco? And they required “WARNING: This could kill you!” labels on tobacco products? And one by one cities and states around the country started cracking down on public smoking? And then they started in with the “sin taxes” … Then one day you noticed that there weren’t as many people smoking as there used to be, and the ones you did see were out on their porches in the cold and rain, looking miserable. This was an organized, decades-long stigma campaign designed to curb the use of a prevalent and highly addictive drug. And it worked. Yet now, in the face of all evidence, the harm reduction advocates are saying it doesn’t.

Click here or on the chart to read the Forbes article.

Oddly enough, if you do a search for studies on smoking and stigma, you will find several that claim that it wasn’t really stigma that made Americans quit smoking: it was tobacco taxes. But that is belied by the chart above, which shows a downward trend that inversely follows the upward trend in stigmatization. It’s also contradicted very specifically by the the CDC and others, who have claimed that ad campaigns – campaigns that stigmatize smokers by associating them with smoking with ugliness, pain, and death –are effective.

Click image to read the CDC report.

Nicotine addiction is different from addiction to hard drugs in important ways, and a targeted stigmatization campaign would likely not be as effective for people already deep into a narcotics addiction. But it might work with young people thinking about trying a drug for the first time. At the very least, we need to destroy the myth, propagated by Hollywood celebrities and musicians like Kurt Cobain, that drugs are cool.

Appendix D
A model study to correlate injection site use to long-term recovery

Once a sample group has been recruited from the injection site client base, each participant could be surveyed at frequent intervals with some simple questions like these:

● As of today, are you still using heroin or other narcotics?

● If you’re still using heroin, are you still coming to the clinic? (How often?)

● If you quit using heroin, how long has it been? (It’s OK to relapse)

● If you quit, how would you say the clinic affected your decision?

● If you’re still using, how would you say the clinic affected that decision?

Deaths within the sample group that are known to have been caused by overdose or another heroin-related health condition could be included in the analysis as well, and tracking this particular subset (those who die during the study) can be facilitated by having participants file a form with the the local medical examiner and police: “Please notify JOHN Q. RESEARCHER, MPH at [Contact Info] in the event that JOE H. HEROIN-USER is deceased.” Injection site staff would be blinded as to who is in the study. Participation would be anonymous and entirely voluntary and would not affect the participant’s right to access the injection site. Participants could be compensated with pre-paid phones or other minor inducements to get them to stay in touch. As described above, this would be a qualitative study to determine how participants thought the clinic had helped them get off or stay on heroin, but it could also be simplified to to be a quantitative study correlating long-term survival rates to injection site usage, with a similarly sized group of heroin users who did not use the sites as a control set.

All photographs in this post are property of the author unless otherwise attributed. * One thousand study participants would be just one fifth of the number of heroin users that Vancouver’s Insite injection room claims they served in 2019. ** The survey would be managed by an entity that has no connection to the harm  reduction or treatment provider community and has nothing to lose or gain from the results. It could not be run like the so-called “one night homelessness counts” and homelessness surveys that local governments have undertaken in the past. Those surveys are done by volunteers who have no specialized training and who are often connected to homeless service providers who have an interest in showing that most of the people living on the street became homeless here.

Posted in Drugs, General, Politics, Squalor | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Over the Top

Is King County Metro running an entitlement program for managers?

King County has an incentive pay program called Merit Over the Top for “senior employees” (i.e., lower and middle management) who are judged by their supervisors to be outstanding performers but are at the top annual step of their 10-step pay range and so can’t get paid any more. The “over the top” part means over the top of the 10th and highest step in the pay range. The “merit” part means that the bonus is earned and not automatically granted. When the program was begun in 2001 the amount of the bonus was flexible within a wide range, but since 2017 it’s been fixed at either 2.5% or 5% of the employee’s salary, depending on the supervisor’s recommendation. In practice all bonuses are 5%. The bonus is spread out over a year’s worth of paychecks and is paid in the year following the year in which it’s awarded to the employee, based on their annual performance evaluation.

Who’s eligible?

So who gets the extra cash in their paycheck? According to the relevant administrative code (KCC 3.15.020):

An appointing authority may grant an employee incentive pay up to five percent above the top step of the range for a period of twelve months, if all of the following conditions are met:

      1. the employee is not a department director; 
      2. the employee has been at the top step of the prior or current range for two years before the award of the increase; and
      3. the employee has demonstrated continuous outstanding performance;

The intent of Over the Top was to keep the best employees from leaving King County for greener pastures, but it has turned out to be something quite different. The King County Council and Executive Dow Constantine know the program isn’t working as intended but has been unwilling to make changes.

Metro Transit: An Over the Top case study

The Over the Top program has an annual budget of $7 million countywide, but among the dozens of King County departments, Metro Transit (“the bus company”) gets the biggest chunk of the money. In 2022, 380 Metro management employees will get paid a total of $2,265,952 in Over the Tope bonuses, which comprises 32% of the total $7 million allotment. Since Metro’s 4,500 employees represent 32% of the County’s total workforce of 14,000 we can assume that money is allotted to each department or hiring unit by workforce size and then doled out by supervisors, possibly according to unwritten quotas.

Use it or lose it.

Department allotments wouldn’t roll over from year to year, so any bonus money not awarded to employees by the end of each year would be lost. That would naturally be an incentive for department heads and upper-level managers to dish out bonus money to people whether they deserved it or not. 

The screen below shows an extract from the list of King County Metro Transit employees who were awarded the Over the Top bonus in 2022. The full document can be found here:

I’ve blocked out the full names of Metro’s Over the Top recipients for their privacy, but I will share the list with the full names with any local journalist who’s interested in pursing the story and contacts me through this page. Make note of the shaded rows because I’ll be discussing those below.

Problem: There’s no remotely objective standard of measurement

How do we know supervisors aren’t using Over the Top to reward favored employees? –We don’t. Tools could be developed to determine standard productivity and job performance for each job description, for example, and these could then be used to demonstrated that employee Joe Smith had “exceeded” them for a given year. But no such tools could be developed, so ultimately the decision is left in the supervisor’s hands.

There’s some vague guidance in the document below, but that document merely restates that the Over the Top bonus must be earned by outstanding performance and it must be earned year after year. It doesn’t say how such performance is to be measured, which means that it’s essentially left to the supervisor’s discretion.

This screenshot is an extract of a longer document, which is here.

Problem: No one’s reviewing the bonus recommendations

It might keep the Over the Top system more honest if others could see exactly why Joe Smith got a bonus. Is there a way for the public – or the employee’s peers – to see why some people got the bonus and others didn’t? –No. An employee’s performance evaluation would have a record of the supervisor’s overall assessment of their performance, and there might be a bonus checkbox on there, or special wording (“I’m recommending Joe for a bonus”) or some special form to be filled out, but that information is privileged and can be viewed only by the supervisor, the individual employee, and the personnel department. It’s not subject to a public disclosure request by citizens or other employees. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because opening an employee’s performance file to the public could cause more mischief than it prevents. However, in the absence of public review, there should at least be a meaningful internal review process for checking the bonus awards.

So is there such a review? Theoretically yes, but in practice no. For Metro, the person who signs off on the bonuses for Metro employees and could review them if he wanted to is Metro general manager Terry White, but when White was asked by an employee whether he reviewed the recommendations, he said no.

Are ineligible employees getting Over the Top bonuses?

A sign that the bonuses are being awarded inappropriately is that a good number of them were apparently made in violation of the “two years at the top step” provision. Some of the rows highlighted in red in the bonus list linked above are for employees who were hired in at Metro less than two years before the bonus recommendation would have been made in an annual performance review, so normally they would not qualify for the bonus.

In the image below, I’ve highlighted the “less than two years” employees from the extract above. Note that these employees (JAC, LW, SS, and MKT) hired on at Metro in 2019, so the only way for them to have been eligible to get the bonus in 2022 is to have transferred in from another job in the King County system that was paying them at or above the top step for a transit section manager. There are 18 such employees in the complete bonus list for 2022. Were they all transfers from somewhere else in the County system? It doesn’t seem likely, but I will ask for information on the bonus recipient transfer status in a subsequent public disclosure request.

There could be many more bonus recipients who were ineligible, but we don’t whether there are because the data returned from the public disclosure request I used here doesn’t show what pay step the employees were on. I have since put in another public disclosure request.

Did work-at-home Metro Transit managers really do outstanding work?

Over the Top pay is awarded to Metro managers based on outstanding performance for the previous year, so the 2022 bonuses were given for work done in 2021. But due to the COVID pandemic, all these employees would have spent much of 2021 working from home, and many are still doing that.

Given that their supervisors weren’t able to view how well these employees were doing their jobs, how did they determine they’d done “outstanding” work? Not to say it’s impossible for an employee to do outstanding work from home, but given the temptation to slack off for an employee who doesn’t have a work quota and who knows no one is watching them, we would expect some adjustments to be made to the evaluation system used in the pre-pandemic days. Were such adjustments made? We don’t know, but it’s unlikely. What probably happened instead is that supervisors (who were themselves working from home) simply recycled their employee evaluations for the previous year or two along with their Over the Top recommendations. We could test this inferentially by comparing the list of the 2019 bonus recommendations (2019 being the last full pre-pandemic year) with the lists for the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021. If the lists were similar between pre-pandemic and pandemic years (adjusting for attrition and for newly eligible Metro employees) then we can infer that managers weren’t doing anything differently for the stay-at-homers and were just recycling their bonus recommendations year after year. Which is something an in-house auditor accused them of doing several years ago, as you’ll see.

Metro facilities were neglected during the COVID pandemic as this bus-shelter-cum-mini-mart shows. The Metro manager responsible for this shelter has been working from home and might have even be getting a bonus.

Who’s the essential worker?

A better measure of whether a Metro manager is providing outstanding performance would not be their supervisor’s opinion of them but their customer’s opinion. So who was the customer? In some cases, it was the bus operators and maintenance staff. In the course of doing their jobs, the operators often have to talk to the various “base chiefs”* and those chiefs need to be onsite at the several Metro bases where buses park so they can talk with the operators for whom they were the first-line supervisors. But starting in early 2020 these base chiefs, too, just like other managers, were told to work from home.

What effect did base chiefs staying at home have on their bus driver customers? One driver told me that service from the chiefs declined noticeably after they were sent home. Turnaround time for phone calls increased dramatically, he said, and, as a result, issues weren’t getting fixed as fast. This in turn drove productivity down across the whole system.

This is not to blame the work-at-home base chiefs for those problems; many of them probably wanted to show up for work at the base, but they weren’t allowed to. Notwithstanding that, it’s hard to make the case that their performance was “outstanding” while bus driver calls weren’t being returned and productivity was sagging as a result.

It’s easy to see why bus operators would be disgruntled at their treatment relative to Metro managers. While managers they needed on the job were being sent home so they could be safe and not spread COVID, drivers, as “essential workers,” were still required to show up for work each day and expose themselves to thousands of potentially infected bus riders. In some cases, the most basic safety measures (required masks and spaced seating for passengers, Plexiglas screens protecting drivers) weren’t put in place until months after the drivers starting asking for them and months after the managers had already been sent home for their safety.

In addition to taking on the extra risks of being exposed to the public, drivers were routinely compelled to do overtime during the worst stage of the pandemic, averaging 12 hours a day in many cases. By contrast, managers were doing their same 40-hour pre-pandemic work week from the comfort and safety of their homes. (Metro was even giving them a furniture and wi-fi allowance.) There were no bonuses and no hazard pay for bus drivers and maintenance workers who had to report for duty as usual, but Over the Top bonuses were still being doled out to managers at their same pre-pandemic level, even as Metro was reeling from a budget shortage caused by revenue drying up during the pandemic. (See article below.)

Metro was paying stay-at-home managers bonuses even as revenues were threatened by the pandemic. Source: Seattle Transit Blog

An auditor sees the problem but can’t find the solution

In 2017, the King County Auditor’s Office audited the Merit Over the Top (MOT) program in response to an employee complaint. For the three years they focused on (2013-2015) they found that a surprising 70% of management employees countywide had qualified for the bonus, and they projected that unless changes were made to tighten up the program, that percentage would stay about the same. As noted, the program is designed to serve as an incentive to exceptional employees to stick around, but, as the auditor’s summary report noted, if the bonus is being given to a majority of employees it defeats the purpose of rewarding superlative performance, and the bonus will eventually be seen by employees as something they’re entitled to rather than something they have to earn.

Supervisors might be feeling pressure to give employees the ratings they need to get the bonus year after year, the auditor’s report said, and “this is particularly true for employees already receiving MOT, who will have their pay reduced if their supervisor does not give them an outstanding performance rating. [The auditor] found that 97 percent of employees who received MOT in 2013 also received it in 2014.” 

Perhaps most important, the audit discovered that one of the key premises of the program was faulty, namely, that high employee turnover was a problem for King County. Comparing the turnover rate among four local government employers, the auditor found that King County’s turnover rate was about the same as the others.

The auditor’s summary report is here:


The same problems the auditor identified in 2017 are still there today. The summary report ends on an unhopeful note, saying that “making [needed] changes will be challenging” and regretting the fact that there is no template for making those changes. “Unlike in many other areas where there are clear leading practices, [King County’s] compensation policy, particularly in the public sector, lacks widely agreed upon practices, making it difficult to determine the best way forward for MOT.”

The impetus for fixing the Over the Top program at Metro should come from the highest levels, starting with King County Executive Dow Constantine and Metro’s general manager Terry White. Unfortunately, Mr. White isn’t known for making substantive changes at his agency, and neither was his predecessor. Judging by the discrepancy between White’s speeches and blog posts and his actual record of accomplishments, White appears to have been hired for his “wokeness” and his support of his boss Dow Constantine’s ideological agenda rather than his competence.

“You’re doing a great job, Terry.”

Transit safety, ridership, and revenues began declining several years ago, and that process has continued into White’s tenure, which began in 2020. Bus operators and even the union president have complained to Constantine and White about vagrants smoking drugs on the buses and in shelters, but their concerns were ignored. White has applied himself more assiduously to projects like “Black Lives Matter” bus art, and he’s used Metro’s blog, funded by King County taxpayers, to make inflammatory (and often factually untrue) statements about policing and racial incidents in other states. All with the blessing of Executive Constantine.

King County Metro general manager Terry White dedicates a
“Black Lives Matter” bus in November of 2021. Source: King County Metro

It’s broke, but who’s going to fix it?

King County’s Over the Top bonus pay program for managers is highly subject to abuse. There’s no agency-wide standard for determining who should get the bonus and no effective review process. Apparently, all you need is a supervisor who likes you and is willing to say you’ve been doing outstanding work. The large proportion of managers receiving the bonus belies the claim that they’ve been doing “outstanding” work. After all: If everybody’s outstanding, then nobody is.

Dow Constantine has been King County Executive since 2009. He knows there are problems with Over the Top, but he hasn’t done anything to fix them. (Photo: Shoreline Area News)

As if to underline the sloppiness of the program, it appears that the bonuses have been given to managers who couldn’t have been at the top step of their pay range for two years because they hadn’t even been working at Metro for that long. The problem of the ineligible employees getting the bonus has been brought to Metro’s attention by at least one employee and by the King County auditor, but in five years’ time, no action has been taken.

I raised this issue and others last month with Brian Cammozi of the King County Ombudsman’s office, but instead of answering my pointed questions about Over the Top, Cammozi referred me to the King County administrative code establishing the program and sent me a link to the 2017 auditor’s report. A Metro employee told me that he, too, got dead-ended by Cammozi, just as he’d been dead-ended by Terry White.

No one in charge at King County or Metro has refuted the Auditor’s findings or specific claims that Over the Top bonuses are being given to ineligible employees, but no one’s doing anything about it either. It’s precisely this kind of government waste and neglect for which a free press is the remedy, and that’s why the Blog Quixotic is pursuing this matter. In my next piece, I’ll discuss specific individuals who might have been given the bonus out of personal favoritism rather than merit.

–David Preston

Did you appreciate this article? Do you support honest journalism? Then please …


*See for example “Transit Chief – Operations” and “Transit Chief – Vehicle Maintenance” in the full list of bonus employees. There are a few dozen of these “base chiefs” in the list of Over the Top recipients.
Posted in Corruption, COVID, Equity, General, Government Waste, King County Government, King County Metro, Pandemic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Abolitionist

By David Preston

One evening last week, a police contact whom I’ll call Officer Terry messaged me to say he’d just finished a mandatory (WAC 130.11.020 (1)(r)) two-hour online “anti-bias” training course. The course, entitled “The Criminal Legal System: Structural Inequities, Monetary Sanctions, Policy and Reform,” is offered by the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC) at their facility in Burien, Washington and is taught by University of Washington sociology professor Dr. Alexes Harris. It includes a series of PowerPoint slides narrated by Dr. Harris and is divided into four modules.

Dr. Alexis Harris (Alexes-Harris.com)

A captive audience

I asked the officer to give me his impressions of the course material. “My reaction on seeing the material was, What is this?! It sounds like CRT [Critical Race Theory] you hear Chris Rufo exposing. The absurdity of the ‘curriculum’ speaks for itself. It reminded me of another anti-bias training we had in 2019 where the instructor was another college professor. He had a captive audience of several hundred of us. He started down the implicit bias rabbit hole, and the pitch was ‘You are biased, and you can’t disagree with me about that. Statistics back me up.’ That’s an oversimplification, but that’s how it came across to me. I suffered through it. My takeaway from both these anti-bias trainings was that police departments are merely checking a box to say that, yes, our officers sat and listened to this.”

“Do we need training? Yes. We need anti-bias training. We do not need CRT. CRT is NOT anti-bias, it is Marxist. Anything Marxist is fundamentally anti-American and anti-freedom. Anti-bias training is smart from a risk-management perspective; it’s similar to hazardous materials awareness, sexual harassment prevention, and the like. But someone dropped the ball on checking the curriculum this time.”

He sent me this video he took of one segment of the course…

All slides and videos are from the “Structural Inequities” online course.

“The iceberg is a metaphor for structural racism according to Harris,” he said. “The implication is that cross burning (overt racism) and structural racism (the racism “beneath the surface”) are directly linked, that overt acts flow naturally from thoughts or social relationships. I disagree. I would argue that cross burning is a tiny chunk of ice, floating by itself in the big ocean of society.”

“In her presentation of crime statistics, she removes freedom of choice and personal responsibility from the equation [of black people who commit crimes]. In her view, blacks commit crimes because of structural racism. And if they’re caught, convicted and imprisoned? That’s structural racism, too. So everything is structural racism.”

–So what about black-on-black crime? Harris had anticipated that objection. In the slide below, she raises the issue but then quickly dismisses it, saying it’s a discussion for another time:

Black-on-black crime: an issue for another day

I asked Officer Terry whether any of his fellow officers liked the course.

“One coworker took it the day after me and he had rhetorical outbursts in response to Harris’s claim that punishment of criminals always reflects bias. ‘What about personal responsibility?’ he said. Another took it over the weekend. The first officer and I asked the third one, sarcastically, So how did your CRT training go? He just shook his head and rolled his eyes and said something about it being a waste of time.”

“Our command staff have to take the course, too. I talked with one of our commanders about his experience and he was similarly unimpressed with the course.”

I asked my contact: Did Harris provide any tips or strategies for how law enforcement officers should behave differently than they are now, particularly with regard to black citizens? “No,” he declared. “There was no guidance on how officers should behave differently.”

Officer Terry felt the course should be exposed for its CRT and Marxist underpinnings, but after reviewing the course material, I didn’t think I could make a strong case for that. I found the course troubling for other reasons, though. Regardless of whether the material is actually Marxist, some of it is still controversial and non-scientific, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself, when opinions are presented as fact and students are not allowed to challenge them and are “tested” on them as if they were factual, that’s a problem.

One-way communication

There is a short multiple-choice test like the one below at the end of each of the four modules. These could be used as a tool to ascertain whether the officers understood the main points Dr. Harris was making (whether they agreed with them or not), but they could also be a subtle way of getting the trainees to agree with her. Trainees’ answers are determined to be “correct” or “incorrect” responses to the trainee’s choices. There’s no way for the trainee to signal that they disagree with the premise of the question; trainees must accept the material as presented in order to complete the course.

Like other UW professors, Dr. Harris is evaluated by her students at the end of each course, so the concept of being rated on her abilities is not new to her. Moreover, it’s a common practice for government-contracted training courses to include an evaluation at the end, with an eye toward improving the course. However, trainees taking the “Structural Inequities” course are not invited to provide feedback on the course after it’s over. Why? Could it be because no factual information is actually being taught in this course? It’s reasonable to infer that the CJTC chose not to solicit feedback precisely because they knew this training would be perceived by trainees as ideological indoctrination. Given that, the last thing they’d want to is invite trainees to air their grievances or create a paper trail showing that trainees found the course to be of little value.

Lack of a formal evaluation process wouldn’t stop trainees from giving informal feedback, but such feedback can be easily ignored. One of Officer Terry’s colleagues did some critical feedback on the course to their commander who had also taken the training and who also saw problems with it. The commander agreed to pass along the feedback but was “not encouraging” about whether the message would get through.

When I asked Dr. Harris about the lack of an evaluation process for the course, she didn’t respond directly to the question. (See my questions to her in the “Going to the source” section below).

Personal Opinions Matter

Along with the course materials Officer Terry sent me, he included one of Dr. Harris’s tweets in which she thanks her research collaborators and encourages them to continue their “fight for [police] abolition.”

Officer Terry found this tweet disturbing. “Great,” he said, ironically. “A police abolitionist who is training… the police. It’s like letting a computer hacker service your computer, a computer that will one day melt down from malware. Who at the CJTC let this Trojan Horse in? What a disgrace.”

Police abolition means different things to different people, but many take the word abolition literally to mean the ending of police as a social institution. What the word means might not matter so much in the intellectual void of the Twitterverse, but it matters a lot in the context of a scholarly lecture or police training course. Does Dr. Harris think that police should literally be abolished? If so, then why would she be providing a course designed to reform them? And what implications does being a police abolitionist have for her ability to present a fair view of what role police have in society?

Rather than speculating as to what her understanding of the word meant, I asked her in an email whether she considered herself an abolitionist and, if so, what the term meant to her. She declined to answer, saying it was a personal question and not related to the course material.

In a September 2020 interview with King 5 news anchor Joyce Taylor, Harris spoke favorably of “depolicing.” Depolicing, like abolition, has a wide range of meanings, so in my email I asked Harris what that term meant to her. She again declined to answer, saying it was a personal question.

It gets worse

In the same interview, Harris repeated an oft-cited myth on the left that modern policing has its origins in the slave-catching “patrollers” of the antebellum South:

Source: King 5 TV

A reasonable person might conclude that statements like this reflect the speaker’s attitude toward police officers, and white male officers in particular.

Still, Harris made this statement back in 2020 in the heat of the George Floyd riots. I thought that she might have changed her position since the, so in my email to her, I pointed out that the first five municipal police forces in the U.S. were created in Northern cities, the first one being in the strongly anti-slavery city of Boston, in 1835 [Source] and asked her if she still believes that there’s a direct connection between “slavecatching” and police. But here again, she declined to answer on the grounds that it was a personal question and had nothing to do with the material or the way she taught the course.

Going to the source

In all, I asked Dr. Harris nine questions about herself and the course. I didn’t bring up Critical Race Theory or Marxism because I didn’t see anything in the course material Officer Terry gave me suggesting that it reflected a Marxist perspective, and in any case,. I didn’t want to muddle things up with an arcane discussion of theory. Most important, I didn’t want to put Harris on the defensive as I knew such a questions would have. My questions to her therefore reflected only the reasonable concerns Officer Terry brought to me about her attitudes toward police and about the lack of practical guidance provided in the course.

You can see the full text of my questions by clicking on the image to the right.

Dr. Harris told me she couldn’t answer all my questions in detail, and in fact she didn’t answer any of them in detail, and in some cases she skipped the question all together.

Below is a synopsis of my questions with Harris’s verbatim responses. In some cases, I had to guess on which answer went with which question. I gave her numbered questions but she didn’t reply in the same order:

Question 1: Can I view the course material online somewhere?

Alexes Harris: I don’t think it is online for you to access. I’m not sure how law enforcement access the modules.

Question 2: What specific implications does structural racism have for police engaging with black and brown offenders they witness engaged in crimes?

AH: [No response.]

Question 3: Would you describe yourself as a police abolitionist? If so, what does that mean to you?

AH: [No response.]

Question 4: Do you support “defunding” the police? If so, what does that term mean to you?

AH: [No response.]

Question 5: Did you work with any patrol officers in Seattle or elsewhere in Washington as you were developing this training? If so, what did they contribute to the training? If not, why not?

AH: The cadet training facility* asked me to prepare a training on structural racism and my area of research – monetary sanctions. Their request was in response to the new state statute that requires a certain hours of this type of information. The leadership at the training facility (current and former law enforcement) reviewed all material. I have presented to different groups three times and incorporated all of their feedback and suggestions. 

Question 6: Some of the material is controversial but it is presented as factual and the post-module quizzes reinforce that. Given the one-way nature of online training it could be an obstacle to learning. Would you consider making the course more interactive? If so, how would you do that?

AH: People are not required to pass any test prior to moving through the modules.** No one is monitoring their responses in fact there is no where to enter in test question responses. It is supposed to be reflective. I do think material is best learned through interaction. However, the online modules were what the training facility wanted.

The material is all based on research that is peer reviewed. Any claim or fact, concepts I discuss has links to official sources (are cited as on each slide) and I also provided a bibliography of all sources.

Question 7:  There is no post-course evaluation. Can you see how that might prevent students keeping an open mind about the material? Give me your thoughts.

AH: [No response.]

Question 8: Do you have a metric by which you judge whether this course is having any effect on the behavior of law enforcement officers? If so, what is that metric?

AH: [No response.]

Question 9: In a King 5 interview from 2020, you said that modern policing evolved from slave-catching in the antebellum South. Do you still believe that? If so, how does it influence your training material?

AH: [No response.]

*The Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission is not a “cadet academy.” It provides in-service training to all Washington peace officers (except WSP). It also runs the Basic Law Enforcement Academy but officers in training are called recruits, not cadets.
**Officer Terry disputes this claim: “I had to answer the questions correctly to move on. I know this because in one of the modules I missed two of the questions and had to take it again and get the correct answers to get to the next module. 

A few minutes after sending her reply, Dr. Harris sent me a clarifying note. Perhaps she felt that leaving six questions out of nine unanswered looked bad and she wanted to explain:

“I’ll add to what I just sent you,” she said. “I think many of these questions should be directed at the leadership at the WA law enforcement training facility as they were the ones who decided on what and how the curriculum would be designed. I also will not answer any of the personal questions as they are not relevant to the scholarship and teaching I engage in.” [Emphasis added.]

Dr. Harris talks about her research work in this video from 2020. (YouTube)


Officer Terry and his colleagues believe that anti-bias training is a necessary part of their job, but they struggle with some of the concepts and claims in Dr. Harris’s course. My initial purpose in writing this piece was to help her better connect with trainees like Officer Terry who are understandably skeptical of both the material and the trainer. Officers are less likely to be receptive to such training when it’s filtered through an ideological lens and where there is no classroom engagement, as there would be with an in-person class or even a zoom meeting. I wanted to see whether Harris was open to an officer’s feedback when passed along by a third party, but I didn’t want her to see me as hostile, so I was careful how I worded my questions. Unfortunately she made scant reply to three of my nine questions, ignoring the others.

To my question about whether she’d sought input from officers while devising the course, Harris replied that she’d prepared it in response to a request from the CJTC and that “current and former law enforcement” had reviewed it. In other words, she didn’t answer the question. She left unanswered substantive questions about how she measured the success of the course or how a trainee might put the material into practical use. Should officers treat black citizens differently than white ones? I asked her. –No response.

The “Structural Inequities” course features a raft of statistics, terminology, and theories, but there’s little information that a cop on the street can use to do a better job of engaging with people of color. If the  course were summed up in a line or two, it would be: The system’s biased and so are you. Here’s why… And this is sadly typical of the “anti-bias” training given officers today.

In her follow-up email to me, Harris suggested I take the matter up with the CJTC: “I think many of these questions should be directed at the leadership at the WA law enforcement training facility as they were the ones who decided on what and how the curriculum would be designed.” Forgive the pun, but that’s a cop-0ut. I will ask the CJTC about this, but I expect they’ll probably brush off my questions, too. But one thing I’m sure they won’t do is say that they contracted with Dr. Harris for a training course that wouldn’t give officers practical guidance on how to reduce bias in policing.

On the matter of Harris’s personal beliefs on policing, those do, in fact, have a bearing on her effectiveness as a trainer of police officers. How could they not? Her controversial views are a matter of public record, easily discoverable by any prospective trainee; they’re an open door for any skeptical trainee to walk by and slam in her face, as I’m sure many have done. “So you think I’m a latter day slave catcher? You want to abolish my job? I’m tuning you out…”

That Dr. Harris chose not to respond to my questions about her public statements speaks to her credibility, and, ultimately, her character. It’s as if she’d been caught plagiarizing another academic and then simply denied it. I sent her a final email explaining why I felt her beliefs do have a bearing on her effectiveness as a trainer, but she didn’t respond and I don’t know if she even read it.

Maybe Harris doesn’t care what her trainees think of her or her course anyway, and maybe she doesn’t have to. As an academic apostle of inequity (a black female, yet) her reputation is made so perhaps she doesn’t have to care about making sense or changing minds. In retrospect, Officer Terry and I might just be barking up the wrong tree here. In a world looking for affirmation that cops are bad, asking questions about how they could get better seems to miss the point.



Slave catchers and police: What’s the connection?

Top image: Slave patrollers check papers of black men on the road in the pre-Civil War South. These roving militias were largely funded by a tax on plantation owners. Their job was to prevent slave escapes and capture “runaways.”

Inset: Seattle’s first and only black police chief, Carmen Best. Best resigned in late 2020 after the city council approved cuts to the police budget. (Karen Ducey / Getty Images)

Bottom: A protester is arrested near City Hall by Seattle police during a gun-rights rally in 2018. (Ted Warren / AP)

Slave catchers and police: what’s the connection? Despite the claims of anti-police activists and their allies in the media and academia, there really isn’t one. Slave patrollers were bands of armed and mounted deputies in the antebellum South. They were not tasked with keeping the peace or mediating disputes between individuals. They had one job only and that was to patrol the roads for runaway slaves. All other law enforcement duties were left to local constables and deputies. Standing police forces generally didn’t develop in the South until after they developed in the North, and this was because the South was more rural.

The first modern municipal police forces were founded in Northern anti-slavery cities like Boston (1838) and New York (1845) (source) just years after the creation of London’s Metropolitan Police Force (the Bobbies) in 1829. American police were tasked with the same job as those in London: keeping the peace. If American police evolved from slave patrollers, what did the Bobbies evolve from? I’d be curious to know what Dr. Harris thinks about that, if the question’s not too personal.

So where does this mythical link between slave patrollers and modern-day police come from? Modern police, like the slave patrollers of old, are an armed body empowered to enforce the law, so there’s a superficial similarity there. It’s also true that police departments created in the South after the Civil War were tasked with enforcing racist Jim Crow laws and racist social norms. But that was primarily a function of Southern society and not policing per se. Southern courts would be even more culpable for that state of affairs as Southern police forces, so why doesn’t Dr. Harris extend her argument to courts as well? Why doesn’t she style herself a court abolitionist? (In a way, she is one, but I’m sure she would never use that term to describe herself or any of her colleagues. It’s too soon for that.)

Unlike the slave patrollers and the notorious Southern sheriffs, modern police are required to enforce laws equally on all citizens, and if they fail to, there are legal remedies. Equating two institutions – slave patrollers and modern police forces – based on characteristics that define one institution but not the other is intellectually dishonest.

On complainers

In this tweet, the black woman in Dr. Harris seems to be repudiating one of the academic woman’s core principles. If life is “never Fing fair” and people should “suck it up” as she says, then why is she teaching a course designed to make life more fair so people won’t have to suck it up? Or does she believe that some complainers are more equal than others?

Did you appreciate this article? Do you support honest journalism? Then please …


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Sawant on Trial: Deconstructing the Recall

Below is an overview of the case for and against recalling Kshama Sawant. Bear a couple things in mind as you read it.

You can see a full Sample Ballot here.

First the definitions. “Malfeasance” and “misfeasance” in this context mean, respectively, a public servant intentionally causing harm in the course of doing their duty or causing harm by failing to do their duty properly.

Second, understand that all three charges have been vetted by three successive courts, each of which found that, if true, they were sufficient to justify a recall. The courts also found that there was a sufficiency of evidence presented by the recall campaign to go forward with a “trial,” which in this case is a recall election. The juror-voters of District 3 will decide if the charges are true, in which case they’ll vote YES to recall, or not true, in which case they’ll vote NO, don’t recall.

When Sawant objects that she has never been convicted of anything in court, she is right, but that misses the point. The voters are the final court here, and only they will decide whether she’s guilty or innocent.

The Charges

Charge 1: Sawant violated the city ethics code by using city resources to support a ballot initiative and failed to report it to the Seattle Ethics Commission, so called.

Analysis: Sawant has already pled guilty to this charge and paid a fine to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC), to whom she is answerable as a city employee. While acknowledging that she misappropriated funds, Sawant says the amount was trivial (about $1700) and that she didn’t know what she was doing was wrong. She feels that since she has admitted wrongdoing and paid a fine, the matter should be put to rest.

Sawant’s claim that she didn’t know what she was doing was wrong is defensible, but only if one takes an extremely generous view of her motivations. By the time the SEEC fined her for spending city money on her political projects, several complaints had already been filed against her with the Commission for the same kind of violation. In fact, Sawant has had the most complaints filed against her of any single councilmember since the SEEC was created in 1967. Unfortunately, the SEEC dismissed all of the complaints against Sawant but this last one, so that might have sent her a message that she was allowed to fund her political causes with taxpayer money.

Charge 2: She “disregarded state orders” on Covid-19 by letting hundreds of her supporters into city hall for a rally when it was closed to the public.

Analysis: Sawant admits letting several hundred people into city hall one night during the George Floyd protests but says she didn’t do anything wrong and that her group was masked, “distanced,” and careful.

You can see from the picture that the crowd at city hall was not social distancing was not being practiced. Whether Sawant broke the law depends on whether you consider a health mandate to be a law. (A mandate isn’t a law, but it does have the force of law. It can be enforced by the government and people can be penalized for not following it.)Sawant clearly didn’t intend for anyone to be harmed by her actions that night, and whether they were unintentionally harmed would depend on it being determined that people at her rally had gotten sick because of being there. It’s worth saying, though, that people who support lockdowns (including many of Sawant’s own followers) do so because they feel harm will necessarily result from people gathering in large numbers indoors.

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant joined a large group of protesters who marched to Mayor Durkan’s house on the afternoon of June 27, 2021. This footage was taken at nearby Magnuson Park. Source: KING5

Charge 3: Sawant led a protest march to Mayor Durkan’s house, the address of which is concealed by state law. She thus caused Durkan’s location to be exposed, putting her at risk.

Analysis: Sawant admits to being at the march; she does not admit to leading it, and indeed there’s no evidence that she did lead it (whatever that means). However, she misses the point. Sawant does have followers and they were there with her at the protest, so it’s fair to say that she led some people at the march, and those people ended up at Durkan’s house. Sawant’s claim that she didn’t know where the march was going is ludicrous. She certainly knew that it was a protest against Durkan, and she knew that it ended in an exclusive suburban neighborhood where a march would normally never end unless the subject of the protest was right there. The odds of Sawant not being told (or not realizing on her own) that the march was going to Durkan’s house are effectively zero. She knew.

It’s not known whether Sawant broke the law, but if she had, one would think we’d have heard by now. However, that too is beside the point. It can be reasonably inferred that she and the other marchers intended to harm Ms. Durkan by striking fear into her… fear for herself and her family’s safety. Sawant and others addressed the crowd through a bullhorn and some marchers left threatening, vulgar graffiti at the mayor’s home. Indeed they DID create fear, as Durkan stated immediately afterward.

Durkan’s address was concealed because or her former job as a federal prosecutor… a person with many violent enemies. Sawant well knew this at the time she participated in the march on Durkan’s home.


The basic facts of this case are not in question, since, with the exception of “leading the march on Durkan’s house” Sawant admits to everything. What’s unknown is whether any of those facts can be used to infer that, by her actions, Councilmember Sawant did significant harm to the public or that she violated her oath of office to uphold the law.

For Sawant’s part, she of course rejects that conclusion.

One might decide that while none of the charges by itself is enough to support a recall, together they show a pattern of disregard that IS enough to justify remove her. However, all that’s actually required is for any one of the charges to stick.

We know that most readers won’t be considering any of this and will instead vote based on whether they like or dislike Sawant personally. And that’s allowed, too, but just know that recall petitions are difficult to get through the courts, and that is precisely so they can’t be used simply as popularity contests or undemocratic “election redos” as Sawant has accused this one of being. In any case, we’ll soon see what the voters think.

Posted in Corruption, General, Kshama Sawant, Politics, Seattle City Council | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Community Leaders Support Sawant Recall

November 23, 2021
CONTACT: Henry Bridger II


SEATTLE, WA – Today, Seattle city leaders representing multiple faiths and backgrounds are releasing a statement in support of the Recall Sawant campaign.

This unprecedented act from such a large & diverse group reflects a great concern about the illegal actions of Councilmember Sawant and her inability to truly serve the people of District 3. From her damaging rhetoric to ignoring a public safety crisis, Sawant has shown she is not fit to serve as a councilmember in our city.

Joint Statement from the Jewish, Black, and Asian Communities

“Justice, justice you shall pursue” – Deuteronomy 16:20

Religious and community leaders from across Seattle today joined together in support of the Recall Sawant campaign, issuing the following statement:

Today, we want to make something emphatically clear: Councilmember Kshama Sawant does not speak for us, nor our communities. Only we can do that, and only we should do that. In making this statement, we encourage District 3 voters to support the Recall of Councilmember Kshama Sawant.

We have not come to this recommendation lightly. We practice and teach acceptance and forgiveness. But District 3 voters ought to be aware of Sawant’s long history of attacking our communities and hi-jacking our efforts.

Sawant regularly trades in rhetoric that gives rise to antisemitism, resulting in violence and hatred directed at the Jewish community. She has also stoked chaos in the black community and sought to hijack the efforts of Black Lives Matter organizers to promote her own political agenda. These behaviors have been well documented by news coverage and amount to a record that we simply cannot condone or support. Kshama Sawant has consistently sought to exploit and politicize the painful circumstances of our communities for her own personal gain. These craven behaviors do nothing more than to further divide us as people and contribute to the incitement and spreading of hate.

The Seattle Asian community has repeatedly attempted to bring concerns to Councilmember Sawant regarding the loss of vibrancy in the International District resulting from the cities lax attitude toward crime in the district. Sawant refuses to advocate for the Asian community because she falsely equates crime with poverty and exploits our problems for political gain. Small businesses are still recovering from damage sustained during riots where so many businesses experienced violent property damage and looting – much of which she encouraged. Sawant appropriates the cultural identity of the Asian community for political gain and gamesmanship – but turns her back on the community’s needs. That is why we support the recall of Kshama Sawant.

Our communities support the recall of Kshama Sawant because she admitted to guilt in using city resources to support a ballot initiative and failed to comply with public disclosure requirement related to this support; she disobeyed state orders related to Covid 19 by admitting hundreds of people into City Hall on June 9th of 2020 when it was closed, endangering public workers; and, she led a protest to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s, the location which Sawant knows is protected under state confidentiality laws.

As the Seattle Times recently said in their endorsement of the Recall – “Voters should hold Sawant accountable for transgressions against civil governance and remove her from office.” These are not characteristics of those who should be trusted to lead our people, and why we cannot support Sawant remaining in office.

(See full document with signatures below)


At your service,
Henry Bridger II
Campaign Manager & Chair
Recall Sawant Campaign

Photo: King 5 News



This material was not part of the above Press Release but relates to it. 

This video was shot at Kshama Sawant’s city hall demonstration of June 9, 2020. Sawant was trying to use the meeting to wrest leadership of the BLM movement from black people, but this speaker calls her out for that and asks her to stop.

Credit: Jake Goldstein-Street

Posted in Corruption, Crime, General, Seattle City Council | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Prostitute Shot in Seattle, Won’t Cooperate With Police

The material below is in an excerpt from private security cam footage taken at the corner of 97th and Aurora Ave North in Seattle on October 20, 2021. Watch the first part of the video paying close attention to the background and you can figure out what’s going on.

The woman – who is evidently a prostitute, based on her clothing and her presence at this location, which is frequented by street prostitutes – is walking down the sidewalk with a man when two other men approach from behind and confront her. She then runs out into the street toward the security camera, but before she can make it across, one of the men on the sidewalk fires a pistol and strikes her, knocking her to the concrete. All three men then run off together.

Police and medics arrived shortly thereafter, thanks to some bystanders who stopped to help, and the woman was rushed to Harborview Hospital, where she was treated and survived.

It’s likely that the woman knows or at least has some information about her attackers. For example, she probably has some identifying information on the man with whom she was strolling casually at the beginning of the scene. However, despite this, according to police sources, she refused to “be a victim” (i.e. provide testimony needed to prosecute) or cooperate with a police investigation, so no charges will be filed even if the police know the identity of her attackers. The woman is known as a “regular” on Aurora Ave N., and this is not the first time she has been assaulted.

It’s common for street prostitutes in Seattle to refuse to cooperate with police investigating assaults on them. There are several reasons for this, but among them are a general unwillingness by street prostitutes to testify against a john or a pimp for fear of retaliation, especially given that the perpetrator is unlikely to do a long jail stint and will be out in no time. Instead of being stigmatized and punished, pimps in Seattle are likely to be rewarded with media recognition and even government contracts, provided that they claim to have left their lives of pimping behind. (For reference, google Raz Simone and Dre Taylor, both ex-pimps who made it big.)

Even when the perpetrator is locked up and out of commission, he might have confederates on the street who will take revenge on the “snitch.” Another reason prostitutes make reluctant victims is that the women might be ashamed to admit – in court, on record, and under oath – that they have been prostituting themselves. Finally, they might be afraid that if they cooperate with police they will be expected to quit prostituting themselves, get off drugs (if they’re using, which many are), and get out of “the life.” Which in some cases might be a very difficult proposition.

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Show us your papers!

September 17, 2021

Reader: This is a COVID testing station at Seattle’s Alki Beach. It’s been there a couple months, one of several that have popped up around town during the pandemic. Yesterday the King County Health Department decreed people would have to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test before they could get into restaurants, bars, or public events, and today I see that a “no photography” sign has appeared on the testing station. It’s funny how the government tries to make us respect medical privacy in a public place like this, yet at the same time they’ll make us show our vaccination records to some local bartender or ticket taker.

David: There are three problems with this signage. First, whoever put it up is misinterpreting HIPAA laws. HIPAA doesn’t apply to private citizens; it’s for health service providers.

Second, with the exception of a few top-secret military facilities, people are allowed to take photographs of anything that happens outdoors in a public place, and no public official can prevent them from doing that. This has been upheld in a number of court cases. For a time after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, some officials, on their own initiative, were telling people they couldn’t take photographs of government installations or sensitive infrastructure, like airports and hydroelectric dams. Whenever the officials were taken to court on that, they lost. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to take pictures of people standing in a line to get vaccinated or tested for COVID. It’s still an invasion of their “privacy” in a sense, but as long as you’re outside the yellow tape, you can take a picture.

Third, I guess the irony of this situation is lost on people. Right above the “No photography or video” sign is a camera and a notice that the whole area is under 24-hour surveillance.

How’s that for privacy?

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Slumdog Billionaires

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. –Sinclair Lewis

This image of homeless tents against the backdrop of lavish sports stadiums near downtown Seattle reminds me of a scene one might find in a documentary on growing pains in the developing world, where the skyscrapers of a Shanghai or Rio de Janeiro float mirage-like in the distance above acres of squalid shanty towns.

Whence comes this contradiction of extreme wealth and extreme poverty? Leftists say it’s all about structural inequality and resource distribution, and while that’s one of the reasons, I would submit that a greater one is corruption. Wherever you see a slum and skyscrapers side by side, you’ll find a government that has the material resources to resolve the contradiction but doesn’t because its been “captured” by a caste of self-interested bureaucrats.

Corruption isn’t unique to the one side of the political spectrum; it looks and acts the same under left-wing or right-wing regimes. The determining factor for corruption is not the particular ideology a regime espouses but rather the will of the citizenry to resist it and the tools they have with which to do that. A tradition of strong democratic institutions like Seattle’s is a good bulwark, yet even a strongly democratic society can be subverted insidiously, especially when that society is subjected to a series of tectonic culture shocks.

Over the course of its life as a major city, Seattle has had a well-educated and politically engaged middle class, a strong tradition of respect for democratic institutions, and a low tolerance for political corruption. Ironically, these safeguards began to undermined as a wave of successive tech revolutions brought a massive influx of wealth and tax revenue into the region. Along with the stampede of tech-money tycoons has come a real increase in wealth disparity, made more apparent by the arrival of tens of thousands of homeless people from outside the region, many of them severe impediments to being housed or gainfully employed. Critics of the tech boom point to these destitute souls as proof that the wealthy are driving up rents and putting people out of their homes. Although some of the destitute were forced out by rising costs, most weren’t. Dozens of news interviews of Seattle’s street people have them saying they came here from other states. Meanwhile there is no scientifically gathered evidence showing that a large number of the homeless were living here securely before being priced out of the market.

The putative homelessness crisis has given rise to a legion of leftist activists and politicians, who promised to solve the crisis by raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for subsidized housing units. Their promises to tax the rich and build housing haven’t panned out, but despite this, their influence has expanded to the point where they have captured Seattle and King County government and are well on their way to taking over the whole state.

The leftists have achieved this coup by speaking a language that voters understand – the language of equality and compassion – and by allying themselves with the non-profit housing sector, which, in the last three decades, has leveraged federal investment tax credits and gifts of public land to forge a real-estate empire worth tens of billions of dollars. The alliance between leftists and the low-income housing sector is personified in one of Washington’s longest-serving and most powerful politicians: Frank Chopp, who cofounded two of the largest housing and social services operations in the state: the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) and Solid Ground. As Washington’s Speaker of the House for 17 years, Chopp controlled committee assignments and steers legislation, which allows him to guarantee a continuous flow of millions of dollars in federal and state tax money to the organizations he founded… and in all likelihood still controls.

Seattle officials could get all the homeless people off the street in a year if they chose to, through a combination of enforcing nuisance and drug laws, providing compulsory drug and mental health treatment, and building low-cost but effective shelters. But ending the “crisis” is the furthest thing from their minds, since the homeless services empire and the leftist political regime it supports would necessarily end along with it. So instead, the leftists do the opposite of ending the crisis: they inflame it. By defunding police, relaxing drug laws even further, and by not enforcing nuisance and trespassing laws. This attracts still more homeless and jobless people from other states, who make it appear that the “crisis” is worse than ever and therefore needs even more tax money to be raised (from billionaires or the middle class, whoever puts up less resistance) in order to fix it. Having a permanently visible population of homeless people on the streets, in tents, and in RVs ensures that each time the leftists and their social service allies go to the taxpayers with their hands out, they will be rewarded with still more money, land, and political favors, all in the quixotic effort to “end homelessness.”

This corrupt cycle would bankrupt many another large city and local politicians would be tossed out on their ears in short order, but that hasn’t happened in Seattle. Why? Because, up until recently, the city council has had hundreds of millions of dollars in tech boom mad money to play with, so it hasn’t had to lean hard on sales and property taxes to finance its projects. But that’s now changing. As the tech giants leave town or expand their operations elsewhere, the once seemingly endless corporate revenue stream begins to dry up, and sales and property tax hikes are imposed cover the gap. These regressive taxes have been piling up on the backs of middle-class citizens to the point where they are now enough of a burden on some people to cause them to move out of the area, shrinking the tax base even further as they do.

One might wonder why voters haven’t become fatigued with the incessant begging and broken promises from their elected leaders. It’s largely because in spite of all the betrayals, Seattle voters, like the true believers they are, remain naive and disengaged, unwilling to demand better choices at the ballot box and disinclined to do much beyond voting, complaining… or leaving.

For now, “progressive” Seattle voters aren’t willing to do the hard work of looking at the data and rethinking their assumptions about the people running the show at city hall. They are uninterested in the question of why the “tiny house villages” going up around the city aren’t followed by a decrease of the number of tents in the park. Nor do they particularly care that the woman who oversees the tiny house village network (LIHI’s Sharon Lee) is making over $200,000 a year. As long as her group is doing something to address income inequality and help the homeless, that’s good enough for them.

The local press furthers the leftists’ designs by showcasing all the good work they do, while ignoring the question of why it doesn’t seem to be helping. There have been hundreds of soft-focus news pieces and op-eds about citizens befriending a homeless person or dropping off Christmas presents for children at homeless camps, but there have been no reports about influence peddling by homeless camp operators at city hall and no serious investigations into where Seattle’s homeless denizens are really coming from or why they’re here. Maybe our local news outlets simply don’t have the investigative muscle to tell this story. Or maybe they lack the character to question a status quo that they helped create.

If you asked the average Seattleite how they can tolerate so much political corruption in their city, they’d give you a bemused look and say, “What corruption?” And if you asked them what they know about the connections between LIHI’s executive director Sharon Lee and past and present city councilmembers they’d shrug their shoulders and go, “Who?”

Ultimately it’s the naive faith by the electorate in their leaders that explains why, in the midst of so much splendor, there is so much squalor.

–David Preston

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Tent camp photo in first picture: Mildred
Photo of panhandler with sign: David Preston
Photo of vagrant with finger: Anonymous

Posted in Corruption, General, Homelessness, Media, Politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Green Lake Treasure Hunt

Seattle’s Green Lake Park boasts everything the modern family could want in an urban recreational opportunity.

Campsites galore…

First aid stations throughout the park…

Handy ID bracelets for visitors…

And an online database to keep track of campers’ itineraries…

A slice of wilderness tucked away among the mansions in one of Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods, Green Lake Park has it at all.

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He was taking a shit right in front of them

August 20, 2021

Reader: Not to add more fuel to the downtown inferno, but this picture was sent to me by two out-of-state attorneys who came to meet with me and other clients last week. As they left their hotel to grab a morning coffee, this guy was taking a shit right in front of them.

When they first told me they were coming to town, I said “You’re not gonna stay downtown, I hope. Because it’s a shithole. Find someplace else.” But they said they already had reservations.

They invited us out to dinner, and we told them to pick a restaurant that wasn’t anywhere near downtown. That’s still more business lost for downtown hotels and restaurants, all because of the city council’s policies that enable this kind of behavior.

They’ll probably stay in Bellevue in the future. Anywhere but here.

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He kept trying to pay her for who knows what

August 25, 2021

Reader: Here’s a picture I took in Pioneer Square of a gal with her pants down trying to recycle her feces while a homeless-looking guy on a bike [obscured by the utility pole in this shot] kept opening his wallet trying to pay her for who knows what.

David: This might sound like an odd question, but how do you know she was pooping?

Reader: An odd question for an odd situation. I don’t know it for a fact, but at one point I saw her goodies and she kept moving and adjusting her sitting position, in between yelling and twitching at the guy who kept opening his wallet.

Posted in Drugs, General, Homelessness | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

They’ve nodded off

August 26: Morning

Reader: These two guys just bought their drugs and now they’re parked on 57th across from the Ballard Commons Park. They’ve nodded off, with the car running and music playing.

At 2 pm, they were still out. I came by and shouted at them to see if they were OK. The guy in the plaid shirt opened his eyes, told me to fuck off, then nodded back off. I walked by again at 5. Still nodding off.

They were knocked out for at least nine hours. I quit paying attention after that, so it might have been much longer. 

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You can’t go home again

This was my first time in downtown in Seattle in over a year. Sadly, nothing has changed. The smell of urine and garbage is overwhelming. It’s a cesspool.

One guy said, “Give me twenty bucks and I’ll quit harassing you.”

I said, “Fuck off!” And he did.

(I had my pepper spray out and visible, so that might have helped to persuade him.)

Ghostly. That about sums it up.

Got a shopping list? I’m sure she has everything you need…

Here we are at the waterfront…

Maybe you just need a place to catch some zzzz’s…

And now… back to Pioneer Square.

I’m done. Sick to my stomach. The smell of urine and feces is beyond imaginable. Who in their right mind would go downtown now? It’s a cesspool.

This was a big mistake. I went for an event at Lumen Field and had to go through all this to get there. It’s just not worth it. Mayor Jenny Durkan is living in a dream world.

-Lake City Laura

Unicorn graphic by:

What does Commercial Use mean? – Vecteezy Support & FAQs

Posted in Crime, Drugs, General, Homelessness, Squatters | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

You got any money for me?

August 17, 2021

This guy was in Seattle’s famous Pioneer Square downtown today, asking tourists for money. My friend Kimmie said his demeanor was threatening.

“You got any money for me?” he shouted at a passing couple with a young child.

“The area smelled especially bad,” Kimmie said. “It’s been hot, which makes the stench that much worse.”

I asked her if she saw anyone giving the guy money.

“Hell no! They were scared out of their minds. The look on their faces was so sad.”

Posted in General, Homelessness, Squatters | Tagged | Leave a comment

Tales of the Resistance

Reader: I’m sending you before and after pictures of some recent work. As individual citizens, we have to do something to counter the rampant propaganda from leftist agitators! My personal focus is exposing so-called social justice groups for the cash cow cults they are, whose leaders thirst not for equality but only for power, who accomplish their goals by stirring up division where there was once peace.

City council candidate Nikkita Oliver calls herself a “police abolitionist” – a position that, in my view, should automatically bar anybody from holding public office!

Don’t let Oliver’s utopian promises fool you. She’s stands behind socialism, which is a gateway to communism, a leading unnatural cause of death the world over. 

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“This breaks my heart and infuriates me.”

This drama unfolded last week at an ARCO gas station in Seattle’s SODO district, less than half a mile from two major league sports stadiums and in full view of people walking and driving by. 

Scenes like this are now common in the gritty, industrial parts of Seattle, which are avoided by police and ignored by civic improvement groups.

“They’re doing heroin right there.”

The Google “street view” of this spot as of June, 2021 (see below) shows a group of several vagrants hanging out there, suggesting that the vagrants are a permanent fixture of the ARCO parking lot here.

Ironically, the businesses in this area have to pay an extra assessment over and above their regular business and property taxes, because they’re in the SODO Business Improvement Area or BIA. The BIA tax is supposed to pay for members to get an increased level of police services, but you can see how well that’s working out…

So why is this happening? Or rather, why is it allowed to happen? There are many reasons, but at the root of it all is leftist ideology and corruption. The ideology part comes from social justice activists, both within and without government, who claim that “homelessness” (by which they mean vagrancy) and associated drug use and crime are the result of “inequity” in society, which must be dealt with not by putting vagrants in jail or forcing them to get treatment but rather by giving them more social programs and benefits, like free housing. These people are steering the ship in Seattle now. They control the city council, the mayor’s office, the police chief, the city attorney, the courts, and all major departments within city government.

These officials are not necessarily corrupt themselves; many of them genuinely believe their social justice rhetoric. But by their actions, they have opened the door to corruption. Homelessness is big business in Seattle, and the people who make money off it naturally want the gravy train to keep rolling, but they’re not so interested in being held accountable for the hundreds of millions they get from city coffers to address homelessness. So rather than working to get vagrants like the ones in this video off the street and into drug treatment and stable housing or sent back to the communities they migrated here from, the corrupt homeless service tycoons push policies that will keep the vagrants right here in the public eye, where they can always be pointed to as evidence that we need to keep spending more money on the problem of homelessness until it’s finally solved.

That’s it in a nutshell.

This content originated from the Safe Seattle user community on Facebook,
but we can’t post it there because it might violate Facebook’s “community standards”
and cause the Safe Seattle page to be unpublished.
Posted in Corruption, Crime, Facebook, General, Homelessness | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Mirror Mirror

Reader: I watched a guy shooting up into his neck today, using a Bank of America window as his mirror. This is at 5th and Olive in downtown Seattle. I feel like it says so much about the sad state of this city. It also serves as confirmation that my decision to get a job transfer, sell my Seattle home, and move away from this city is the best thing for my family.

Posted in Facebook, General | Tagged | 1 Comment

Here come da judge

Accused dog killers shouldn’t be tried in the press for the same reason accused cops shouldn’t be. This post isn’t about an accused dog killer, though. It’s about a King County judge who ignored prosecutors’ requests and also probable cause statements and bumped felony animal cruelty and second degree robbery charges down to a misdemeanor. A Seattle judge was then given the case, and that judge determined that the accused dog killer could go free until his next hearing. Click the image below to see the background story.

Many Seattleites want to know who the judge was in this case, so here he is: Marcus Naylor. Naylor’s background is public defense, so he’s used to taking the defendant’s side.

Click on the photo to see the King County page profiling Judge Naylor
(Current as of June 1, 2021)

We are indebted to KIRO radio host Dori Monson for this information.

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Everyday Tragedy

This is the uncensored version of a post appearing on
the Safe Seattle Facebook page for this date.

Reader: I’m an 11-year resident of this city, and sadly I see this literally every day getting to and from my bus stop on 3rd Avenue and Pike. I appreciate Safe Seattle a lot and thank you for your focus on these current issues and your viewpoints.

Note: The attached photo, sent by the reader, shows a scene that is now commonplace on the streets of Seattle. However, Facebook claims that photos like this violate their community standards (!) and they have the threatened to unpublish Safe Seattle if we show them to you. Maybe this one would have made it past their nanny-bots, but why take chances?

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Do you think she’s in danger?

May 17, 2021 ~ The following post was removed by Facebook from the Safe Seattle page for allegedly violating the platform’s community standards about sexual exploitation. Even though the pictures were blurred and no locations were mentioned. The story is obviously not about sex but about illegal drug use. –David Preston

Reader: Mid-afternoon on a day last week. I was driving along a major arterial in Ballard when I saw a fully naked woman face-down on the corner in front of one of the shops there. Her legs were sprawled out and she had blood smeared on her torso and other parts of her body. (I found out later that she was not wounded, so this must have been menstrual blood.) Although this was a high-traffic area for both foot and car traffic, it looked as though nobody had stopped to help, so I pulled over and called 911.

As I was describing the scene to the dispatcher, the woman began rolling around, flailing and flopping all over the sidewalk. She then sat up and started twitching, scratching herself, swatting invisible flies around her head, and talking to the air.

By this point, two other passersby had stopped, and I could see that one of them was also calling 911. One of them, a young man, tried talking to the woman, but she wouldn’t respond. She just continued chatting away with her imaginary associates in a language I didn’t recognize and was probably just gibberish.

As you can see from the photo on the right, her shoes and clothes were strewn about on the sidewalk. After a few minutes (while we were waiting for either medics or police to show) the woman stood up, picked up her shoes and clothes, and, still stark naked, walked about aimlessly in traffic at the intersection, stopping cars and nearly causing collisions. Eventually she made her way to another shop where she stood on the patio and resumed her gyrations and conversations with imaginary partners.

The good Samaritan guy showed up again, approached her and offered her a bottle of water, which she took from him and drank up in the blink of an eye. He tried talking to her again but she continued ignoring him and went back to her hallucinations.

The first SPD officer then arrived. He approached her and said, “The nice people at this establishment say they need you to move on,” whereupon she snapped to for a moment and said, “I really appreciate that,” but she continued flailing and made gave no indication that she was going to leave.

He tried a different approach. “Have you had any drugs today?” he asked. “I don’t believe in that,” she replied.

He asked her if she wanted to go to the hospital, but she shook her head and said no.

“You want to buy some coffee?” he said. “You’re gonna have to put your clothes on to do that.”

At this point, he turned to me and the other two people who’d stopped and asked us what had happened. We told him what we’d seen, but, as it turned out, none of us had been there for the opening act.

Mind you, we weren’t the only people on the scene. We were just the only ones who appeared to be paying attention. This was all playing out on the patio of a boutique food shop with customers inside and individual pedestrians, couples, and even families passing by on the sidewalk just a few feet away. Except for a few of the kids, not one of them stopped or even turned their heads to look.

I asked the officer if there was REALLY nothing he could do. “What would you LIKE me to do?” he snapped. The frustration in his voice and actions was unmistakable.

I said, “Take her in for a psychiatric evaluation and or medical check.” He told me the police can only do that if the subject requests it, and this woman had clearly declined his offer.

I wondered if what we were witnessing was drugs or mental illness. “Drugs,” he said emphatically. “Look at her eyes.”

(Yes, I had noticed her eyes were bugged-out and wild.)

The officer told me there the woman wasn’t breaking any laws, since neither nudity* nor public intoxication are crimes in Seattle. He said the only way they could arrest for nudity is if someone complained that they were “offended.”

“Are you offended by her?“

“I am not offended by her nudity, but I am deeply offended by the entire situation.”

“Well, if you’re not offended by the nudity we can’t do anything.”

“Do you think she’s in danger?”

“Sure, all kinds of danger,” he replied.

Two more SPD cars then arrived and the three of them began working jointly to persuade the woman to put her clothes back on. Eventually, she began dressing herself, but in her drug-induced confusion, she couldn’t figure out what piece of clothing went with what body part. She tried to wriggle both legs into a neck gaiter, and an officer said, as politely as you can imagine.

“Ma’am… I don’t think that’s where that goes.”

When the back-up arrived, the first officer told me to stick around in case any of them had questions for me, but now he said I was free to leave, and since I had an appointment to get to, I did.

It was 7 or 8 minutes from the time I called 911 to when the first officer arrived and the entire episode was about 20 and the whole thing felt surreal, from beginning to end. The woman’s behavior was shocking enough, but what was also shocking is that of the dozens or hundreds of people who passed by, no one seemed to take notice. I know they saw the woman and were aware of what was happening, but for some reason, they refused to look. Maybe they’re just learning to accept this as the new normal.


*There is no law against nudity. There is a law against “indecent exposure.” Washington’s indecent exposure law makes it a misdemeanor to “make any open and obscene exposure of his or her person or the person of another knowing that such conduct is likely to cause reasonable affront or alarm.” In other words, there must be lewd or obscene behavior for an officer to take action. In order for the police to make an arrest, we must have witnesses currently in the public place where the nudity is occurring who must make a complaint.

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What’s your community worth to YOU?

Community Corrections Officers and Public Safety

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Washington state doesn’t have either parole or probation for state prisoners returning to society. Instead, we have something called community custody, whereby a trained community corrections officer (CCO) will supervise a released offender for a variable period, determined by the court. During this period, which can run from six months to life, the CCO monitors the offender’s compliance with the court’s conditions of release and helps them transition back into society by getting them into job training, counseling, or whatever it takes. With community custody, part or all of the offender’s original prison time can be suspended, but there’s a catch. If the CCO finds the offender to be out of compliance with the conditions of release, he may send them back to jail for up to a month.

Roger Goodman is a Democrat representing the 45th District in the Washington state legislature. A 13-year veteran of the House, Goodman chairs the influential public safety committee. In late February of 2020, Goodman proposed three bills that would, if passed, drastically change the state’s community custody program first by cutting the time the average offender is subject to report for custody and by cutting some $50 million from the Department of Corrections’ community custody budget. This would force DOC to lop off hundreds of CCOs.

Goodman’s bills, which we shall describe below in more detail, caused an uproar in the corrections community. They had not been discussed with CCOs, their unions, or the communities across the state that they would affect. The first time CCOs heard about them, they had already passed through the Washington House and were on their way to the Senate.

Within hours of the news breaking, I was approached by a CCO I’ll call Terry and asked to interview him for an article. “We’ve got to get the word out that this is a really bad idea,” he told me. The next day I met him in a local cafe and we had a long discussion, which I’ve transcribed below.

–David Preston

David: What’s your background? What’s your stake in these proposed bills?

Terry: I’m a community corrections officer with the Washington State Department of Corrections. I supervise a myriad of cases, that come from some different jurisdictions. There are 25 in all and they include SOSA (Sex Offender Sentence Alternative), DOSA (Drug Offender Sentence Alternative), FOSA (Family Sentencing Alternative), CCJ (Community Custody, Jail, which denotes a crime that was sentenced often suspended but 364 days or less ), CCP (Community Custody, Prison), ISRB (Indeterminate Sentence Review Board – primarily used for sex offenses of an extreme nature), ICOTS (Interstate Compact, where a person commits crime in another state and lives in Washington so DOC supervises on behalf of sending state) and so on. These control both the prison custody and community custody sentencing guidelines, and each has a different system that we are expected to know. I have degrees in criminal justice and sociology with minors in psychology and have been working in social work and law and public safety for over a decade.

My caseload is primarily high-violent, high-violent property drug cases, because those offenders are at the highest risk of reoffense.

David: Do citizens generally know what you do and how important it is?

Terry: Not at all. In fact, on National Night Out this year, my team and I went out and contacted civilians the way police officers do, and out of over 100 contacts we made, not a single person knew what a Community Corrections Officer (CCO) was, but when they learned what we do and how we keep them safe, they were happy to hear that we were out there and around. We do not drive marked vehicles, and sometimes we are not geared up. Sometimes we are simply conducting field work and checking up on supervised individuals in public. But you may never even know that we’re there. We’re the ghosts of social work and law enforcement.

David: Tell me more about what you do and how it’s different from your counterparts at the Seattle Municipal Court’s probation office or the police.

Terry: Seattle Municipal Court probation officers primarily work in an office setting. They do not have arrest or warrant issuing capabilities. They do not conduct home visits on supervised individuals. But to me, if you truly want to know how an individual is doing, you go see them in their home environment. I can call someone into an office, sit down with them, and they can tell me anything they want, but I have no way to verify whether they’re telling me the truth.

Additionally, since offenders know that a municipal probation officer (PO) can’t arrest them, there’s no teeth behind all the carrots. Also, Municipal Court supervises only misdemeanors, so they’re not dealing with violent felonies, they’re not dealing with sex offenses. They’re only dealing with municipal offenses. A good portion of municipal cases read, “Shall supervise through DOC.” If a person already has felonies, a judge will often sentence them, at the municipal level, to municipal probation. But then municipal probation often kicks them to DOC and says, “They’ll be supervised through DOC,” because they know that we actually have some capability of effecting change. Additionally, we do it for about 20 to $25,000 less than what municipal court POs make per year. Oftentimes CCOs will leave for municipal probation.

On the comparison with police, we are similar to law enforcement in that, unlike Municipal Court POs, we have arrest capabilities. I conduct warrant sweeps where I arrest individuals on warrants. I am firearms certified like a police officer. I am Taser certified. I carry pepper spray… In fact I sometimes look very much like a cop. I have my ballistic vest with the word OFFICER on it. I routinely work alongside multiple agencies (federal, state, local) to get what I consider to be people who need getting off the streets and away from the community. We walk into high-risk situations. Oftentimes we’re even more at risk than the police because we show up unannounced. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked into a house and I see multiple people there, and I’m there to contact one person who may not be in violation of [their release conditions] at the time. You walk into some houses and BAM, you see a gun on the table. Well then it’s a whole different ball game. But unlike police, we do not have radios to contact dispatch. We are out here on our own, flying solo. And we do it because we know what we do matters. Every day.

David: How do your powers differ from those of a police officer?

Terry: A police officer has a broad jurisdiction. He has jurisdiction over both you and I sitting right here in this cafe now because we are in public and if he contacts us for cause he has arrest capability over us. But as a DOC officer I have no power or jurisdiction over you unless you’re under my supervision.

We have a very broad range of jurisdictional powers over a very limited number of individuals who are earning their way back into the community. When under community custody or probation or parole, a supervised individual has a limited Fourth Amendment right. An individual working their way back into society faces multiple challenges and oftentimes faces temptations. My ability to interrupt a crime cycle is contingent on my ability to conduct searches (with reasonable cause). So, if I find meth in your pocket or you’re consuming methamphetamine and you drove here today, I might search your car, because I have reasonable, articulable cause that you are consuming or possibly dealing drugs. This has sometimes spiraled into me taking pounds of methamphetamine off the streets. It takes years, oftentimes, for law enforcement to build that kind of case. We stop it, and you never hear about it.

David: Why can you do that? Is it because regular law enforcement would have to surveil and get a warrant…

Terry: –and confidential informants, and do controlled buys. Let’s say I’m supervising you and I go to your house and you’re not expecting me. You don’t clean the place up that fast. It’s not possible. Also, we have the right to go wherever you are, as long as we have reasonable cause. So if you have a warrant out on you, and I locate you, reasonable cause becomes me asking, “What else is going on here?” My team and I have gotten guns, dope. We’ve interdicted sex offenders. I don’t know how much you know about sex offenders, but most of them are considered to have cyclic activity. It’s much like serial killing. They go through a phase, and if you interrupt that cycle, you stop the potential harm. So having the ability to do what we do is critical for public safety.

David: Tell me more about community custody. Why is it important? How many CCOs are out there doing your job and how have the numbers fluctuated over the years? Has it gone up or down?

Terry: Community custody can be court ordered by judges once you’re released from prison, but you can also be sentenced to community custody instead of prison. It’s sort of a hybridization of probation and parole. You can’t be sentenced to parole, but you can be sentenced to probation. So you’re released early with the understanding that you still pose a risk, and that’s where community custody comes in.

In determining how to supervise someone and for how long, we have a risk scoring system. We use an assessment tool called the WA-One. It asks a bunch of questions relating to criminal history. There’s static risk, based on the facts of events and what was going on in the life of the individual at the time, and dynamic risk, based on feelings, circumstances, and things that change with time or place. The assessment looks at everything and calculates a risk of reoffense score. Low risk means just that. High Violent or High Drug, High Property or High Violent Property Drug means that person is a high risk of committing those types of crimes again.

Part of what we do is we maintain accountability for court-ordered conditions. Conditions of release. We help give general structure to people’s lives after they’re released from prison. And if ordered by the court, the person will also have to go to drug and alcohol treatment. We maintain the accountability there, and we say: Are you actually doing what you’re supposed to be doing? OK, let’s see some documentation. If you’re not, we have recourse. We can sanction you. Because what we’re finding is that people will say to a judge that they’ll do a lot of things, but then they don’t do them, and without us there’s no recourse. The court does not have time to hear about every person who does not go to drug and alcohol treatment. We monitor law-abiding behaviors, too, so if I’m contacting you and contacting your family, and you’re getting rave reviews and you’re really trying, I’m able to go to the court and say, “Hey, he’s doing really well. This is awesome. This is good.”

We assist with jobs and finding housing. DOC will pay for three months of clean and sober housing for people being released from custody. We have hundreds of resources and connections for jobs. I don’t personally connect people with a job, but we have a guy that comes in every week and he specifically scouts out jobs that are felon-friendly. He will provide the released offender with lists of job contacts, helps them write resumes.

If you want to go to training, we will pay for that. We will monitor that and say “Hey, you’re going to school.” The court has what they call affirmative action. That’s where somebody comes in and they have a paycheck that says they’ve been working 40 hours with 10 hours of overtime. And I say, “Awesome. You did great. This week is awesome for you because I can account for your hours. You’re not sitting around doing nothing. If you want to go to school. I won’t force you to go to school.” And most oftentimes they do.  But if you’re in school, I will monitor it. “Hey, how’s school going?” I’ll ask you. And you might say, “Oh, I’m really struggling. I had to drop my job.” And I’m like, “OK. Let’s find you some resources so you can cover your rent for this month because you did take on a pretty intense training program.” We have the ability to give these people references and help them get all of those things.

David: That’s not what most people would think of as affirmative action.

Terry: I don’t think they mean affirmative action in the same way that you think of it normally, but it’s behaviors affirming of your intent to lead a successful life, and so by bringing me a school schedule or by bringing your grades every semester to show that you’ve been going. Rather than me sitting down there grilling you, like, “What have you been doing with your time?” every week, I get people into things so their time is automatically accounted for. If you worked 60 hours this week, I’m not gonna get on ya about what you did on your two days off.

It’s about reestablishing positive relationships. Oftentimes we are able to help families reconnect, because if the family doesn’t trust this person, and they’re calling me saying how is he or she doing? And I say, “They’re going to school, they’re doing all this good stuff,” and they’ll say, “Oh. Maybe I will reach out to her again.”

But on the flip side, we’re also able to say [to the supervised individual], “You’re not doing anything with your time, so I must assume that you could be getting into trouble. If you have no job… If you’re living God knows where… If you’re not engaging in anything positive… If your treatment provider says they haven’t seen you in three months… then I begin to wonder what’s really going on there. Maybe I tighten up a little bit and bring you in. Let’s say you stop reporting every month. Ok then, maybe I have you start coming in every week. Or maybe I call you on the spur of the moment and say, “Where you at? Stay right there. I’m coming.” Maybe I get to know your associates and your friends…

David: Do you think the taxpayers are getting a good value for the money with community corrections officers?

Yes. From what I read and see in the news, the public keeps saying they want accountability. They want “community service officers.” You have that already, right here, with me. Only you do have to be convicted of a felony first, or enough misdemeanors that it gets you to DOC. But otherwise, I already do all the CSO stuff. If you’re not engaging in treatment and continuing to use controlled substances, and it’s clear that you’re not rehabilitating, I may take you into custody. My holds are “no bail” so you’re not going to get out in 24 hours. You’re going to have a longer time out.

But it could also be self-directed, where somebody says to me, “Hey, I know I’ve been screwing up a lot. I want to go to treatment.” I can refer you, then and there, and pay for transportation. I saw a news story last night about how the community doesn’t pay for transportation to treatment. Well DOC does. We’ll put you on a bus direct. Sometimes people will call me from jail and say, “I wanna go [to treatment].” I will arrange pick-up and a release date, directly. You can walk out of King County Jail and the treatment bus will pick you up right there. And we will pay for that. And you can stay there as long as you need, up to six months.

David: Does all this really translate into improved behavior?

Terry: Sometimes. Again, it’s up to the individual. I can lead horses to water all day long. I can offer you various springs to drink from. I can’t force you to drink from them, but if you don’t, and your behavior becomes criminogenic again, we can go right back to the barn.

David: So do you have a sense that you’re making a difference in the lives of people?

Terry: Yeah. Every day.

David: Give me some examples of that, without mentioning names or other personally identifying info.

Terry: A good example would be today, where I got a call from a guy I supervise. He’s kind of struggling right now. And he said, “You know, you gave me a lot of tools, but I need to ask for some advice and I need to know if you can help me find some other things to utilize.” I said, “Absolutely.”

David: So this is an ex-supervisee? You didn’t have any power over this guy? He just came to you?

Terry: Yes. It’s not uncommon to have formerly supervised individuals come to me with asks. I get calls from guys who are doing great. They’ll say, “Hey I moved down to [redacted] in southern Washington, and I’m running a job site right now cuz while I was on DOC, I got into the PACT/ANEW program. My wife and I just bought a house and I wanted to tell you thanks. Thanks for hooking me up.”

David: The people you deal with who have difficult behaviors, like violence and sexual abuse, do you ever see them change?

Terry: Yes. That’s the population I work with right now, and it’s somewhat less successful, but there other reasons why I think that happens. But the short answer is yes some of them get better, because everyone is capable of change. But people seem to think that everyone wants change, and that’s not necessarily true. You have to want to change, and that’s the piece that I can’t give an individual is the want.

David: Some people perceive you as an agent of the state who harasses those who have done their time and have been released.

Terry: I get that all the time, and what I ask these people is: “Do you think the people I supervise would be doing better without me?” And they usually say, “Well no, but they wouldn’t be doing any worse either. And society isn’t any better off.” And my next question to them is: “Oh really? How are they supporting themselves? Is it truly a victimless crime when they’re out dope dealing and maybe selling fentanyl to a high school kid who then ODs? Is it a victimless crime when they’re living in flophouses?” And that makes them think it over. And they still don’t like us, but then, they don’t like the police either. They want us to be social workers, which we are, but we wear two hats, really, and it’s one of those deals where when you switch the hat from social worker to law enforcement people like you less because suddenly you are the hard stop, you are the accountability. And let’s face it, some people just don’t like to be held accountable. They wanna do what they wanna do.

David: You see yourself as a social worker as well as a law enforcement official? Talk more about that.

Terry: Every day I have people that call me up for advice. I helped a guy recently who’s young, and he’s got quite a few felonies under his belt already, but I keep him trying. He called and said, “Can you stay late? I need to fill out a job application, and I don’t know how to do it.” He’s never had a job before. And I did stay and help him. And he got the job. And I’m so frickin’ proud of him.

David: Is this something that people who challenge you with the harassment thing just don’t know about you? That you’ve got this dual nature of a being an enforcer but also a helper?

Terry: Yes, some of my supervisees think that, too, and if they haven’t seen the social worker side of me it’s because they’ve never enabled that side of me, even though I’ve offered it to them. I put on whatever hat you present to me as needing, so if you come to me and ask for help, I’m going to help you. I can’t tell you how many times I arrest someone, they get out, they report again, they start talking about Where did I go wrong? What can we do differently? They bring it up, not me. I have a guy I’ve arrested and sent to prison, and his mom will still tell you to this day that he respects the hell out of me because I didn’t cave in to his puppy eyes. He’s been calling from custody and saying, “OK, will help me fill out this application for this program. Will you help me get in it? Will you write me a recommendation?” I said, “Yes I will.”

David: Sounds like you’re being a stand-in parent for some of these folks. The mom or dad or stable uncle they never had growing up.

Terry: Absolutely. A lot of times it’s that people didn’t have the structure, and I’m familiar to them [as an authority figure] and so they instinctively fight it. I didn’t have structure growing up myself, and so I’ve always been more on the structure side. But unlike some of my supervisees, I went the opposite way from how I was raised.

David: If these bills are passed, how’s that going to affect you and your colleague? How will it affect the state as a whole?

Terry: My office alone, which is a small office, supervises 400 to 500 people who are active in the community and are on supervision for an array of offenses from murder down to property crimes, and we also have a couple hundred offenders on warrant right now that we’re  trying to find, so if you take that one office times the many in the state, you’re looking at from 15 to 20 thousand people active in the community being supervised. How much do you know about your neighbor? I’m not saying that your neighbor is an offender, but they are out there, and sometimes people just need a little extra supervision to get going.

Often we help families reconnect. If the family doesn’t trust this person, and they’re calling me saying, “How is she doing?” I can say, “She’s going to school, she’s doing all this good stuff.” And they’ll say, “Oh. Maybe I will reach out to her again.”

David: The bills as proposed wouldn’t eliminate your office or any other office, but they would cause a reduction. Is that correct?

Terry: It would be a devastating blow because how then do we do our job? They’re deciding based on a blanket ruling to drop hundreds or thousands of people off supervision. That’s something that we do on an individual basis only after careful consideration, using a case plan that highlights the person as an individual, with their individual needs and triggers. But now our department is trying to force a mass release from supervision at the cost of public safety. It’s basically saying everybody whose current offense is x-y-z will be dropped.

In California they did away with several crimes as post-release supervisable offenses because they weren’t deemed violent anymore. And Washington has done it before too. 

David: Crimes such as?

Terry: Robbery 2 is no longer considered a violent, “strikeable” offense, as in the “three strikes law.  But if you’ve ever seen what a Robbery 2 looks like for that individual victim.

David: What does it look like?

Terry: There is violence. There are threats. There is fear. There are weapons. There can be assault. In the most recent one I saw, the individual who was robbed was absolutely terrified. To me, if you do that to someone for personal gain, in an illegal activity, and for that not to be considered violent? It’s wrong. And in this particular crime, two individuals were struck hard in the face with the butt of a gun. And you’re telling me that’s not violent? That’s violent! And let’s say they plead that down even further. Maybe they get assault 3 with burglary or something like that. Now they’re going to be supervised at this low-risk level. This person’s willing to engage in highly violent activities, but we’re going to supervise them at the same level as somebody who walked into a café like and said, “Give me your recorder, dude” and you hand it over to them. That’s not OK.

David: These proposed bills seem to have come from the top at the Department of Corrections. I don’t think the legislative sponsors came up with this on their own. What happened there?

Terry: I wish I knew. We were blindsided by this.

David: When did you find out about it?

Terry: Last week.

David: Do you know when the bills are scheduled to be voted on?

Terry: I honestly don’t. I’ve heard that they’re most of the way through, and I’m still wrapping my head around how that could happen and what they were thinking. This is terrible. Even our union was blindsided with it. To me it’s pretty shady on the part of Representative Goodman as well as our own department. Our department is sacrificing public safety for some money. That they’re going to do what with?

Often we help families reconnect. If the family doesn’t trust this person, and they’re calling me saying, “How is she doing?” I can say, “She’s going to school, she’s doing all this good stuff.” And they’ll say, “Oh. Maybe I will reach out to her again.”

David: What union represents CCOs?

Terry: AFSCME and WFSE.

David: Are the unions planning a response to this?

Terry: They’re scrambling now, begging us to tell all our families to call their legislators to tell them to vote no. But again, we’re so far behind the curve here, we didn’t even know that this was coming, all these proposed bills. And they were not even gonna put this out to the public and were trying to sneak this through. I don’t know if you remember this from the last session, but almost every bill that they tried to sneak through without a public vote didn’t pass. They’re still trying it anyway though. It’s alarming.

David: I assume no one from DOC upper management asked you or your colleagues for input.

Terry: Not at all. In fact, now that people have blown the whistle on it, they’re spinning it as, “Oh your caseload will be reduced. Don’t worry about it.” My contact standards are through the roof and it’s hard, but reducing my caseload is not going to make for a safer community. I would rather work harder than to not be sure that things are being done correctly and then lose track of people. We had cutbacks in 2009 and Maurice Clemmons is a prime example of what happened then. There were 16,000 offenders dropped off supervision and cases were missed because CCOs were dropped, cut, and laid off. And field files, which is what we call the paper casework, were shuffled around and offenders got lost in that. I mean it’s already hard enough not to have people slip through the cracks, but imagine that you suddenly have gaps in CCO coverage. Wide ones.

Maurice Clemmons was a released offender who was “in the wind” after the state legislature slashed community custody resources in 2009

David: I remember Clemmons. Vaguely.

Terry: Maurice Clemmons killed the Lakewood Four (police officers in Lakewood Washington).  His case had been shifted around in the scramble of layoffs. CCOs were being transferred and moved around and they ended up supervising cases that they were familiar with. We do get a really good level of familiarity with a lot of our guys and their families over time. And even if they do go on warrant and we don’t know where they are, we’re pretty darn good about flushing them out.

David: Clemmons got dropped from supervision?

Terry: He was not dropped. However, his case had gone through so many hands that nobody had had time to familiarize themselves with him or his habits or who he was. Maurice Clemmons was in the wind.

Clemmons murdered these four police officers at a coffee shop in Lakewood Washington 

David: And that happened because of CCOs getting laid off?

Terry: Yes. Sixteen thousand offenders were cut in 2009, and I don’t know how many CCOs. But CCOs were definitely cut and 16,000 offenders just went POOF, gone, suddenly nobody knew what they were doing. Clemmons wasn’t dropped but his case was shuffled from one to another to another to another. And it’s like the game of telephone, where by the time it got to the tenth CCO or however many it was, he got lost and nobody knew where he went until he resurfaced at a coffee shop like this, and four police officers lost their lives. I’m not saying it was preventable, but here’s the thing. I may not always know where my guys are, but you better believe I hear chatter about what they’re up to, and I’m putting that out to multiple agencies. We can’t prevent everything, but I at least know the guy’s on supervision and not just a random field file that’s suddenly thrown on my desk with ten others cuz they laid off 200 CCOs.

I would ask them about that $50 million dollars they think they’re saving. I would say, What is your community worth to you

David: Are you saying that kind of thing might happen again if these bills are passed?

Terry: Yes. I am confident that that will happen.

David: Is your job in danger?

Terry: I don’t know. They tend to do last hired first laid off, so maybe not. Or maybe yes. It depends on where I fall in that first round. But it’s not about me; it’s about the community. It’s two years before the next cycle of our contract comes up. That’s not enough time to assess the damage. In 2009 they had these big layoffs and they tried to recover, but they didn’t start restaffing and reupping until 2014, so five years passed and things went pretty tanky before they started beefing up CCOs again.

You asked how many we have statewide. Right now we have 1,000 to 1,200 give or take.  And that number has fluctuated. They dropped two or three hundred in 2009. And they were saying the same thing then that they’re telling us now, “Your caseload just got lower, don’t worry about it.” It did get lower and that’s great if you’re a pencil pusher or you’re an accountant, but at what cost to everyone else?

David: Ahhh. Is it the accountants pushing this?

Terry: I don’t know. I don’t know who’s in charge of this or who thought this was a good idea, but I’d sure like to sit down with them, cuz I don’t think they’ve ever walked a day in my shoes.

David: Is it political?

Terry: I think so. I think it’s absolutely part of the police reforms that are happening in Seattle and statewide, and I’m not saying reform isn’t necessary, but along with shortening sentences, we’ve taken away a lot of time that prison has to change offenders and make them better. They talk about prison not reforming people, but defense attorneys love to drag out trials so they’ll drag them out for the two years maximum, so the accused has already spent two years in jail. Now you get to prison and you’ve got just six more months there. It takes six months to get into a [prison-based] program. You’re not gonna make it. You come out in the community having nothing. Nothing. Prison actually has been able to help people, but you need the time. And then you need the actual support afterwards in the community, and that’s where DOC can be very supportive. People don’t think that community supervision works, but if I’m offering you avenues to better your life and you’re not taking them, whose fault is that?

David: Maybe the bill’s sponsors are thinking that you can be replaced by a diversion program such as LEAD.

Terry: I believe they are. I think that’s kind of what they want my program to go to, but LEAD has not historically been doing fantastic. They say they reduce recidivism, but just because crimes aren’t being charged and people aren’t being jailed doesn’t mean you have reduced them. We interrupt crime, sometimes forcefully, by arresting someone and stopping it. Sometimes that needs to happen but LEAD can’t make it happen.

David: You said the people you supervise are high violent. But that’s not true for the people the LEAD program supervises, is it?

Terry: Lots of high-violent people get referred to LEAD because they get referred for the instant [most recent] crime. They’re not looking at what the person’s full criminal history before sending them to LEAD. So yeah, I can tell you, I have people who are involved in the LEAD program who are DOC-classified as high-violent because of multiple factors in their history. Without going into too much detail, there are felony assaults, rape…

David: So that history is not taken into account when making the decision to put someone in the LEAD program?

Terry: Not that I’m aware of. If it is, I don’t know about it. I just know that I have people with lengthy criminal histories, and they’re getting in the LEAD program and they’re still doing that stuff. Why? Because a LEAD case manager is not going to come to your house. They are not going where you are. They are staying in an office and you [the offender] are coming to them. If I’m an offender, I can present very well in an office. I don’t know if LEAD even gives UAs [urinalysis tests for drugs] but if they do, they’re not observed. Nor are treatment UAs. You’d be surprised by the number of people who laugh about the fact that they get away with surreptitious drug use everywhere but DOC, because we stand in there and watch you pee. It’s awful. But… you’re not gonna be able to slip some fake pee in there either. DOC is a hard stop, and that is why people don’t like us, because we are… a wall.

For an article about Representative Roger Goodman’s
support of the LEAD program go

David: Let’s go through these bills one at a time. The first one I’ve got here is SHB 2394. It’s requiring that community custody terms will run concurrently, rather than consecutively. This means that offenders will spend a lot less time overall in your care. Tell me why you think that’s not a good idea.

Terry: There’s no failsafe built into it. We know in about six or seven months whether a person needs lengthy supervision. They haven’t enabled an easy pathway for us to position for that either, but what they’ve done is to give way less supervision time. So what if it’s been six or seven months and we’re like, “Oh no. This person is definitely not amenable to community custody and they need a lot of accountability.” We have no recourse there. They’re just done.


David: How long is the ideal time in community custody for a high-violent offender?

Terry: That depends on them. Everything is dependent on the individual. Let’s say we have a guy who commits a robbery 2 in Snohomish, which is a violent felony, and he’s not picked up on that yet but there’s probable cause for the police to arrest him, and then he commits a robbery 2 in Seattle, and he’s not picked up on that yet, and then he goes on to commit another robbery, in Pierce County. And he’s caught and charged with all three crimes, but they’ll do what they call a global sentence, which is where each jurisdiction sentences him. As part of these jurisdictions he gets x amount of prison time, and he gets x number of community custodies, so when he gets released from prison, however long that sentence turns out to be, he has three separate community custody sentences.

“People laugh about the fact that they get away with surreptitious drug use everywhere but DOC, because we stand in there and watch you pee.”

David: …that are going to be run consecutively. One at a time.

Terry: Yes. They’re based on the time of the crime and the time of the sentencing, and they’re based on the fact that these were three separate events. This was not one event. But with this new bill, he’d  now be serving them concurrently, all at the same time. So it would be 12 months instead of 36 months. Poof, two thirds of the crimes he committed are effectively gone.

David: So now the person has 12 months instead of 36 months? And you’re saying that that’s not enough for you to work with?

Terry: We’re also losing the revocable time, which we can effectively add back in to their sentence if we decide they’re not making any progress. What if it’s seven months into his community custody and I’m still not getting compliance? I’m spinning my wheels. Now we only have a few months left with that offender. What if he needs to go back into custody for a longer period? I have no recourse. The community, the victims, have no recourse. Now again, I’m all for an easier pathway. If he’s doing great and this was his wake-up call and this was the time that he got it, I have no recourse to say, “Hey, let him off, he’s good.” [I’ve lost the ability to reward as well as to punish.]  Either way it’s a blanket bill. It doesn’t give the CCO any [options]. And who knows this person better? The CCO or the person up in Olympia who’s making these blanket policies to release people from community custody?

David: You mean blanketing in the sense that it treats all offenders the same, correct? It cuts everyone’s time down, regardless of their individual progress or situation.

Terry: Yes. With absolutely no justification for why they’re doing that. So if I want somebody to get off community custody early and I have a reasonable pathway to do so, I would have to justify why. Well, the legislature is proposing to do that same thing only with no justification. They’re putting the community at risk because they don’t know how this person’s going to behave when they get out. Not only that, did they get resources in prison? I can tell you that most prison sentences doled out by this state do not even give them enough time when you factor in “good time” [time off of a sentence for good behavior in prison] to get resources. Even just to complete a training program.

David: This bill is supposed to save $24 million. Sounds like a lot of money.

Terry: It sure does, but what’s your community worth?

David: A hundred CCOs will lose their jobs if this passes, according to my information.

Terry: I bring forth, once again, the example of Maurice Clemmons, who killed the four police officers after he was effectively dropped from supervision because of staff cuts. What about the shuffle there? You’re gonna lose a hundred CCOs, and a lot of people will drop off supervision too, but not the balance might not be in favor of the CCOs and the caseload might actually go up. So the CCOs left behind are going to absorb those additional caseloads. So you’re a CCO who gets laid off and all your cases that don’t get dropped come to me. Maybe I don’t know your guys that well and I don’t have time to get up to speed with them. Maybe some of them become field files lost in a corner. Like Clemmons was.

David: Next bill. SHB 2393. It allows a qualifying person to earn supervision compliance credits and reduce their term of community custody. That means they’ll be getting time off of supervision for good behavior, on top of any time they got off of their original sentence for good good behavior….

Terry: If you do your 30 days and you didn’t get any violations then I’m fine with you earning some credit off. But every day that you’re in the community if you’re not following the court-ordered conditions of this treatment, if you’re being arrested by other agencies, if you’re being referred to LEAD on a daily basis you are not in compliance. Why should you get credit for that?


David: It does say in the summary here that they would only get their credit if they are in compliance with community custody conditions.

Terry: I see these people two to three times a month sometimes less than an hour each time. If this person is unemployed, if this person is doing all these other things, I don’t actually know that they’re in compliance. You’re not giving me enough time to develop this rapport, to even know that the baseline would be off. How long does it take you to get to know someone?

David: So you’re saying they’ll do their good time and get off of community custody early before you can form a relationship with them and have a sense of whether they’re in compliance or not?

Terry: I’ve had people do really really well for 11 months, and then on month 12 I stumble on them in a dope house they frequent because I was there for someone else. Should they be given credit for the rest of the 11 months when I bust them with two pounds of heroin that they’re dealing? Or should I have some kind of recourse where I can say, “No, we’re not ready for you to get off of supervision yet.”

David: Wouldn’t you have the option of taking way their “good time” and extending their time on supervision if you caught them in a dope house?

Terry: You would think that, but judges and historically DOC do not remove good time. In fact, I’ve had judges literally say, “I’m not sure I can revoke good time,” which makes me want to flip tables.

David: Even when the offender was clearly not in compliance?

Terry: Yes. Hands down. I do not take lightly removing someone’s freedom, but sometimes it needs to happen, and sometimes you need more time with them. Sometimes people get off supervision and totally flounder because they don’t know how to be accountable to anyone and this was the thing keeping them accountable. But again, you don’t know that if you’re automatically giving them good time. Couple that with the other bills you mentioned. Someone getting out of prison might have one year of community custody [instead of two because of two terms running concurrently] but because of this new bill community custody just got cut down again and now it’s eight months. As a citizen, how do you feel about that? Is that enough time? There’s a reason these bills are being put forth together.

David: The last one is SHB 2417. It allows sanctions for low-level violations to be non-confinement sanctions and allows a person’s sixth and subsequent sanctions to be optionally considered low level, instead of the current policy, which is, I guess, to consider them high level, which triggers a return to custody. To me this sounds like it’s giving you flexibility and cutting through red tape. You won’t have to consider the sixth low-level offense as a high-level one.

Terry: Let me put that back on you. How many times should someone get to violate conditions of the court that were imposed when they were released early? And what do you consider to be a low level?


David: It says it’s giving you the flexibility to decide that.

Terry: In reality, it’s taking away the teeth that we have. Right now, especially in King County, what we have, is all carrot and no stick. We are the last bit of teeth. It’s triggered at the sixth time someone violates. Let me put this in practical terms. Let’s say I have someone who steals cars because they have to support a meth habit and they have been using meth consistently, and I’m saying “Hey, it’s the sixth time you’ve done this.” CCOs would actually like to be able to bump the sanction up for that, not down. We would like to put even more teeth into it, to where we could say, “You know, if you do this again, it’s not gonna be just 30 days. I might pull 60.” Sometimes that’s enough to keep people in line. And they’re going “Ehhh, it’s not worth that.”

I have literally had individuals I supervise tell me, “I can do three days. Screw you. It’s nothing.” They’re taking away a lot of discretion, and I mean, at the end of the day, if a CCO is burned out or they have given up, what’s gonna be the easier route? To do more paperwork and put them in for longer, or to let them off? Right now our policy says we shall [treat the sixth low-level violation as a high-level one]. If you change that to a may, the revolving door is going to get worse and worse and worse.

David: So you’re saying that, because of this bill, you will be encouraged to see the sixth offense as a low-level one. It also has a provision for third party review to see how many of these offenders you let off the hook for the sixth offense.

Terry: I already can view the sixth offense as low-level if I want. So if somebody is engaged in treatment, and it’s verified that they’ve been going and going back to jail would interrupt that, and I’m able to get in touch with their treatment provider and we can discuss it as a group with wraparound care I don’t have to arrest them on the sixth low-level violation. I already have the discretion to do that, but what about the people who refuse to engage? Now you’re taking another tool away from me, saying to the offender: “Well you’re not engaging in anything but, eh, it’s really not a big deal.” Never mind the fact that they took a reduced sentence and agreed to follow the court’s conditions, but they haven’t done so. And now? Meh… no biggie.

I already have the carrot and the stick, but the people who are not engaging, I’m not giving them a carrot, but that’s what this is. It’s a carrot for nothing. And it takes away the fear. And it’s not that I want people to be constantly in fear of being sanctioned, but sometimes I do an intake and we sit there and we talk about the level of consequences. Man that sixth violation gets scary. Along about violation number four, they start asking, “How many have I got left? How many before the real teeth come out?” And I say, “You only got one left,” and they go, “OK, OK, I’ll go to treatment.” That’s a big incentive, but now they’re taking that away from me, because why would I bother justifying why I decided to treat the sixth low-level offense as a high-level one?

David: The bill also mandates that new “Underlying 21” offenses cannot be used by a CCO to return someone to custody if the prosecuting attorney notifies DOC that they’re not going to be charged for the new crime. Some examples of “U-21” offenses are assault 1, assault of a child, burglary, child molestation…

Terry: We have an active bunch of prosecuting attorneys, but they are hampered by time constraints. They’re overwhelmed. So say I catch one of my supervisees in the act with a firearm or dealing dope, and charges can’t be filed in time. Bye! They’re back out on the street. It’s the revolving door again.

I would toss this back to DOC and the legislature, who removed some of the items from the list of violent offenses, and say why? We don’t even have the Underlying 21 anymore. It’s more like Underlying 18. They said assault 2 is not violent anymore. And the Underlying 21 is what you’re charged with, it’s what you’re convicted of, so that assault 2 might really be an assault 1 that was plead down. So you have very very violent people released on non-violent offenses, and they’re no longer anything. How’s this working out for us?

Plea bargains move the seriousness of offenses downward. This results in truly violent offenders often being classified as non-violent, which in turn skews the data and supervision time as well as prison sentences. The community ultimately pays that price and the victims even more so. Domestic violence is often, for example, assault 4, which under the strikeable offenses is non-violent. Robbery 2 we talked about now being considered “non-violent,” despite the inherent violence written of it as defined by the RCW. I’d like your readers to understand that this lessening of offenses results in the public getting data that suggests violent crime is down when it’s not. And their conclusion is therefore we are over supervising people, and this is simply not the case.

David: Which one of these bills are you most worried about?

Terry: I’m worried about the fact that they’re put together as a package. I’m worried about all of them together. Any one of them, put together with the others, will be catastrophic for communities. I can’t tell you how often victims contact us as CCOs. They’re terrified to go to police, but, as a CCO, I might be able to remove an abusive partner. Maybe someone tells me that their boyfriend who is under my supervision has been using meth…

David: Why are they afraid to go to the police?

Terry: Because they know the police cannot intervene. They have no options. But [domestic violence] victims call me, and they say things like, “He’s been using meth and I’m really scared. He threatened me last night.” Well, I don’t have to tell the individual how I know that, but what I have the authority to do is call him in for a UA. Maybe I need to hold him longer than three days.

Yeah. Or they’ll tell me, “He’s gonna be here at this time. If you show up, he’ll have a gun.” I show up, arrest him, and I get him and the gun off the streets.

David: Do victims know that you can do this when they call you?

Terry: Victims will often come to me instead of police, because they know I have the ability to keep them anonymous. And I can work faster. More efficiently.  I have the ability to work with law enforcement without being the patrol guy who has to put it all in a report. A lot of times people don’t know where I get the information, and I don’t want to give up where I get my information from. And I don’t need to, because if I can go there and verify it, then I know that it happened. I can testify to it personally.

David: What can the average citizen do to stop these bills and help you do your job better?

Terry: The first thing you can do is to call and email your legislators, because the legislature is not even putting this up for a public vote. I’m pretty sure they were hoping this wouldn’t be leaked to the public. If our union just told us about this last week, that’s pretty alarming.

David: When people call their legislators, what should they say?

Terry: They should say they would rather have a safer community than to save a few dollars. The state has a surplus of cash. I’m pretty sure a lot of what they want to do with this money is to funnel it into programs that are not evidence based. DOC uses evidence-based research, and evidence-based sanctioning processes, and evidence-based programs and cognitive-behavioral therapy. And now they’re gonna take that evidence-based model and say, “Nah.”?  Would they do that if it was climate change? That’s evidence-based, right? Would they throw climate policy out the window? -because that’s essentially what they’re doing with community custody policy. And I would ask them about that $50 million dollars they think they’re saving. I would say, What is your community worth to you?  We have no clue about what they’re going to do with the money they save, other than that they’re gonna try a whole bunch of new things, and most of them don’t guarantee any safety for victims or any recourse for CCOs in supervising individuals at risk of reoffending. It’s just adding more carrots to a ripe field of them.

Another thing citizens can do is when they see us out (because we’re usually marked, the vest says DOC) come up and talk to us. I will happily tell you what a DOC officer does. I give suckers to kids all the time who think I’m a regular police officer, and I don’t always correct them. Come up and talk to me, and if you have questions about who’s in your area or what we do or what resources we offer, we’ll tell ya. I am always happy to talk. We’re out and about and if you saw us in uniform, you’d probably think that we’re just regular police.

David: Do you do ridealongs?

Terry: We do not, mainly because of safety risk. We contact individuals and things can go sideways very quickly. They say they want to save $50 million, but they can’t even spring for radios that connect to Dispatch. I ask legislators considering this, would you walk into a house filled with gangsters and guns and no radio to Dispatch?  Cuz I do. If they’re not going to add money to our budget, they at least shouldn’t be taking it away.

David: Anything else citizens can do to help?

Terry: Report things. If you know someone’s on DOC, which a lot of people actually do, you can contact any DOC office (Google’s a beautiful thing) and if you know the person’s name, we can probably find them. If you know that something’s going on, tell us. If you want to report that they did an awesome thing, that’s cool, too. I need collateral contacts every single month. If you want to call me and say, “Hey, my neighbor’s doing great, he’s cutting his yard and he looks really healthy,” awesome. When you see me stop by his house, tell me that. You’re a collateral contact; you’re helping him succeed, you’re helping me articulate getting him off supervision sooner. But on the flip side, if you call me up and say, “Hey, he’s got people coming over here all hours of the night and his house got shot up the other night but I was too scared to call the police,” then tell me that too. You can do a lot as a citizen.

David: Parting words?

Terry: I think that these bills are too blanket and as much as we focus on diversity and individuality, these bills would not allow me to focus on the individual. They are offering everyone the opportunity to slip through the cracks, instead of letting CCOs build a relationship and a rapport and then making an informed decision. They’re doing that supposedly to save some money, but at what cost? At the cost of community safety.

Did you appreciate this article? Do you support honest journalism? Then please …


All CCO photos above from the Washington State Department of Correction. More info here
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The Ed McKenna Affair

Dedicated to the Honorable Ed McKenna

The glitter of Seattle’s economic miracle has rubbed off. There’s more money here than ever, but with money comes problems that money can’t solve. Homelessness is one. According to a recent “one night count,” there are some 4,000 people living unsheltered in Seattle, making us third in the nation overall and first per capita. People are living under bridges and in tent camps and RVs all over the city, and many of them and struggling with drug use and mental illness. Some are committing crimes.

There isn’t enough jail space to hold all those who are committing felonies, to say nothing of those who do less serious crimes, like shoplifting, and there is growing sense that jail is not the answer for many of these non-violent offenders anyway. So courts have been experimenting with alternatives. First it was drug court and mental health court, where a judge would suspend a criminal sentence in lieu of an offender’s agreement to enroll in a  treatment program of some kind. But in recent years, special courts have been eclipsed by “diversion programs” that are more streamlined and offer intensive case management and referrals to a variety of support services, including mental health care, drug treatment, and housing.

The largest of these is the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, or LEAD. LEAD is the brainchild of Lisa Daugaard of the Public Defender Association (PDA), a private group that once contracted with Seattle to provide legal representation for indigent clients but now focuses more on program delivery and advocacy. LEAD’s star has been rising in Seattle and around the country for the last decade. It’s been featured on respected news magazines like Frontline and praised in editorial and news columns across the country. In a 2019 opinion column, New York Times writer Nicolas Kristof said the program showed that Seattle had “figured out how to end the war on drugs” and last fall  Daugaard was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” Grant of $500,000 and her program’s annual budget got a boost from $2.5 to $5 million from the Seattle city council, although that money is currently on hold while a skeptical Mayor Durkan weighs the evidence for the program.

Click the picture to read a glowing NYT op-ed on LEAD

The Seattle Municipal Court is busy, and whenever judges can refer an offender to one of these programs, they will. When they can’t for some reason, they are likely to offer the offender easy terms, suspending sentences in lieu of the offender agreeing to go for mental health counseling or outpatient drug treatment, and promising not to reoffend. But it often happens that offenders – especially repeat offenders – will skip out on the treatment and counseling and reoffend within days or even hours of being released. Often, when that happens, city prosecutors won’t increase the penalty and ask the court to impose a stiffer sentence or keep the offender in jail. Instead, they’ll ask for the same deal as before: time served and a promise to attend treatment. Naturally, the public defender approves this plan as well; it’s their job to get their client as light a sentence as possible.

Occasionally a judge will get fed up and try to stick their foot in the revolving door. That’s what this story is about.

(If you see a notated word, you can click on it to see the note.)

On December 10, 2018, the presiding judge (1) of Seattle’s municipal court, Ed McKenna, expressed his frustration at a probation deal that the prosecution and defense had agreed to for a prolific offender named Francisco Calderon. Calderon was not part of LEAD or any other diversion program, but he was a revolving door offender, and on that day he was before the judge on an assault charge, one of several misdemeanor offenses he’d committed in the last few year. The deal the prosecutor and Calderon’s defender wanted McKenna to approve in exchange for Calderon’s guilty plea was to let him out of jail with time served and a promise that he’d attend treatment programs.

But Judge McKenna was skeptical. Noting Calderon’s uncooperative demeanor,and his apparent unwillingess to change his behavior,  McKenna decided to leave Calderon on ice pending a thorough review of Calderon’s long criminal history. Calderon and the attorneys were clearly displeased by this outcome, and when the next hearing rolled around, Calderon was even less cooperative. He had to be brought to the post-review hearing against his will – “I don’t give a crap!” he yelled from his cell when told he was due in court – and Judge McKenna, less convinced than ever of the efficacy of the agreed sentencing recommendation, handed him the maximum tern of 364 days in jail.

Francisco Calderon

My friend Jennifer Coats was in court that day and described what happened in a story she wrote for the Safe Seattle Facebook page on January 23:

Under police escort, a handcuffed defendant, Francisco Calderon, was brought into the courtroom. He was there under charges of assault on a stranger. Calderon had been picked up at 88th and Aurora on November 18, 2018.

Prosecuting attorney Kristina Georgieva asked the judge to dismiss the charges and let Calderon go, with two years of probation. After reviewing Calderon’s criminal history, Judge McKenna noted with dismay that Calderon had over 60 convictions, including felony assault, assault with a deadly weapon, and numerous other assaults. That’s not even all the arrests, he pointed out. And thirteen of those convictions had occurred since 2010.

In Calderon’s defense, Moore replied that Calderon had been in mental health and drug treatment for the past two years and was currently residing at the House of Mercy, a halfway house for offenders trying to reintegrate into society. He noted that Calderon was born in 1963 and said that was a long time to acquire all the charges. There was also a gap when Calderon didn’t have any convictions, he added, optimistically.

But the judge was unimpressed, noting that the no-convictions period was while Calderon was in prison. “The question I have,” said Judge McKenna, “is, at what point does the city decide to protect the public? Given someone’s history such as Mr. Calderon’s, isn’t it likely he’s going to commit another offense… and most likely a serious offense?

Jennifer Coats

The story on Judge McKenna’s comments and his decision to go so far above the prosecutor’s recommendation in sentencing Calderon made waves at city attorney Pete Holmes’ office, waves that were amplified when KOMO TV’s Matt Markovich ran his own piece on Calderon a week later. Holmes, an elected official, is in charge of prosecuting cases in municipal court. He’s the one who ultimately approves sentencing recommendations, including the one offered in Calderon’s case. Holmes took McKenna’s sentencing decision and the subsequent media coverage as a personal affront. So did Anita Khandelwal, head of the King County Department of Public Defense. DPD contracts with Seattle to provide defense attorneys for  indigent clients like Mr. Calderon, and her team had worked together with Holmes’ on the Calderon probation deal that McKenna had criticized and set aside. 

Eleven weeks later, on April 19, a Seattle business group hosted a panel discussion as part of series called City Makers on the city’s failing response to the issue of prolific criminals. Ed McKenna, who was one of the panelists, elaborated his position on “prolific offenders” like Calderon and why the City Attorney’s handling of them was a problem. “It’s really a prosecution-driven system,” McKenna told the audience:

The prosecutor makes a recommendation to the court. They gather the evidence. They look at the videos, they talk to the witnesses and they negotiate with the defense attorney and basically they say if your client accepts responsibility for, say, this theft, we will recommend X as a sentence. If your client insists on proceeding to trial however, we are going to ask for something different. In other words, more. So, in other words, reward a defendant for accepting responsibility for the actions that they’ve taken.

What we see now, however, is typically an avoidance of court oversight, so a prime example is just this past week I had a defendant that had been charged with two counts of theft. Two different cases, one from Macy’s the other from Target, downtown Seattle. The person had a serious history of drug offenses and thefts on their history. So it was apparent to everyone that the person had a drug problem when apprehended and one of those cases they had two grams of heroin in their pocket and admitted to stealing to support their habit. And the recommendation from the prosecutor was: Plead to one of those cases, dismiss the other and impose eight days in jail, which the person already served and close the case.

“Close the case” means there are no services. And I said, “Isn’t this exactly the type of offense that the community is complaining about? What incentive does the defendant have to not reenter that store and what services are we going to impose on this defendant to ensure that they get the treatment they need? So they don’t re-offend and then be back here next week.” And the response was, “Well, he’s serving eight days.”

The host asked: “So it really is literally zero effort to change behavior then?” And McKenna replied: “In many of those prolific offenders, there is not a significant effort.” More on the City Maker’s story here.

As presiding judge, McKenna might have thought he was free to speak his mind on such matters, free to criticize the City Attorney’s policies and free to opine on the state the court generally. What he didn’t know was that at the moment, Pete Holmes and Public Defender chief Anita Khandelwal, whose policies he’d questioned, were crafting a public indictment that would have deep implications for McKenna and for Seattle’s criminal justice system as a whole. On April 24, they delivered the letter to McKenna’s office and sent a copy to the Seattle Times. The Times published it the same day, so by the time McKenna read the charges against him, thousands of his fellow Seattleites had seen it too. The letter is below: 


The general charge against McKenna was that he had violated the state’s judicial ethics rules (the Canons) that are designed to assure an impartial judiciary. Specific charges included that:

  1. McKenna had claimed at the City Maker event that he was “forced” to accept the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendation 99% of the time.

  2. He had asked prosecutors to stop being lenient with offenders and to impose longer sentences so that he wouldn’t have to be the “bad guy” when he chose to go beyond them, as he did on the two recent cases covered by KOMO.

  3. He had invited reporters into his courtroom on specific days so they could witness a “premeditated display” of judicial toughness, which included having a defendant brought to court with a “drag order.”(2)

The letter concludes by asking McKenna to step down as presiding judge and to either “comport [himself] in a way that conforms with the Canons of Judicial Conduct” or to recuse himself from all criminal cases. And until McKenna refused to step down as presiding judge, the authors pledged that they and their staffs would boycott the regular bench-bar meetings he called.

Pete Holmes and Anita Khandelwal

Faced with this ultimatum, McKenna had three choices: He could ignore the letter, repudiate the charges, or acquiesce. Ignoring the letter would have amounted to an admission of guilt, as would acquiescing to the demand to step down as presiding judge. He chose to repudiate the charges.

In a brief response letter published next day in the Seattle Times, McKenna declined to step down as presiding judge. He said his accusers’ interpretation of his remarks at the City Maker event were incorrect and he denied the claim that he had invited members of the press or public to come to court to see a specific sentencing. He noted that the two individuals mentioned as witnesses denied it as well. With respect to the other allegations, including claim that McKenna had asked prosecutors for longer sentences, he said the claims were “too vague for a detailed reply,” but he left the door open for his critics to approach him privately with specific complaints. 

The judge ended his response with a reference to the Rules of Professional Conduct for members of the state bar and directed Holmes and Khandelwal to “correct your errors.”


I will return to the Holmes-Khandelwal letter, but first we have to rewind the clock a month to consider Judge McKenna’s relationship to a person who can be considered a silent partner in this drama. Lisa Daugaard of LEAD, whom I introduced above.

Since at least the summer of 2018, Daugaard and McKenna had been carrying on a public quarrel over the city’s probation program. Daugaard has said that probation and jail are not lowering recidivism rates and that a greater share of the city’s budget should be given to diversion programs like hers. At a large city council hearing in October 2018, she advocated for money to be moved from the city’s probation budget into a handful start-up diversion programs for youth she was associated with. “The reason we supported the probation reduction plan,” she told me, “was that we are committed to data-driven policy and were familiar with the poor case for probation as a crime reduction strategy. There is no research-based case that municipal probation is effective for a large swath of the population; however, there is an extensive, rigorous research base that it is not [effective] or is even counterproductive.”

This kind of talk was worrying to Judge McKenna, who relies on jail and probation as sticks to be applied to those offenders who don’t respond to the carrot of diversion programs. And he’s been particularly skeptical of Daugaard and LEAD. Just days before the first Calderon hearing, he explained his views to a group of neighbors at a police advisory council meeting in north Seattle, as recorded in the meeting minutes:

Ed is concerned about the harm reduction and low barrier approaches to
drug addiction. He thinks they make it ok to keep committing crimes. And he believes that it is hard to address mental health needs when people are using drugs and alcohol. He thinks Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) is not effective regarding recidivism. One criticism he has of LEAD statistics is the conviction rate, which is based on 3 months, a time period too short, since many convictions take a lot longer than that. 

Lisa Daugaard

That Daugaard had a bone to pick with McKenna is clear, and given Daugaard’s influence at the Municipal Court and in city politics generally, it’s no surprise to think she would use it. Though her method was less direct than McKenna’s, it was no less forceful. On March 23, 2019, two days after McKenna had delivered another one of his long sentences to a prolific offender, Daugaard sent an email to nine of her colleagues in the public defender community, listing several potential ethical violations by McKenna. She asked the recipients to look into her claims and, if they turned out to be “well-founded,” to file a complaint against McKenna with the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, the voter-established body used to investigate ethics complaints against all Washington judges below the federal the level:


Note that one of the recipients of the email is Anita Khandelwal, head of the Department of Public Defense.  Given that Daugaard seemed to have the goods on McKenna, it’s noteworthy that she didn’t file a complaint herself. “I’d rather that it not be PDA [Daugaard’s Public Defender Association], as [Ed McKenna] is already going around town attacking me by name as a threat to public order, but there are those of you who would be expected to object to this.”

There are those of you who would be expected to object to McKenna’s behavior. Maybe the City Attorney could join.

That was a rather obvious cue. 

As it turned out, City Attorney Pete Holmes did join the project, in a big way. Though he wasn’t one of the original email’s named recipients, Holmes did get a copy of it, as a public disclosure request to Holmes’ office later revealed. A month and a day after Daugaard sent her email, Holmes and Khandelwal published their broadside against McKenna.

The Holmes-Khandelwal missive differs on a couple points from the Daugaard email, but the thrust is the same, and the centerpiece of both is the claim that McKenna “invited” or “arranged for” Ms. Coats and Mr. Markovich to come to his courtroom to witness the “spectacle” (Daugaard called it a “publicity stunt”) of him sentencing uncooperative offenders to long terms. But note that while Holmes and Khandelwal did pick up on Daugaard’s cue about a complaint, they did not not follow her advice on how to make it. Or so it would seem. Daugaard had asked readers to “explore” her claims – some of which she only suspected were true – and if they determined them to be “well-founded” then she hoped they’d make a judicial ethics complaint. Meaning an official complaint to the Commission on Judicial Conduct. 

Why didn’t they go to the CJC? Or did they?

The Commission on Judicial Conduct is composed of three judges, three attorneys, and six non-attorney citizens. On the Commission’s About page is a description of its mission:

The function of the Commission is to investigate and act on complaints of judicial misconduct or disability. All fifty states and the District of Columbia have judicial conduct agencies . Washington’s judicial conduct commission was constitutionally created when voters passed the amendment to Article IV, Section 31 of the Washington State Constitution in November 1980. For more information, see the governing provisions section of this website.

As seasoned attorneys, both Holmes and Khandelwal knew about the CJC’s function and its primacy in handling complaints against judges. Indeed, the same judicial canons they cite in their case against McKenna are the CJC’s version of the 10 Commandments. But just in case they weren’t aware of where to lodge their complaint against McKenna, Daugaard spelled it out for them in two places: in the subject line of her email (“Judicial conduct complaint about Ed McKenna”) and at the end, where she directs readers to explore her allegations and, if well founded, to make a “judicial ethics complaint.” Was Daugaard suggesting that recipients file a complaint any old place? Like in the newspaper, maybe? No. 

So why didn’t Holmes and Khandelwal go to the CJC? Well, we don’t know that they didn’t. The CJC enjoins complainants from disclosing the fact that they filed a complaint or discussing the details, but it doesn’t preclude them from bringing the same complaint concurrently in the public forum. So Holmes and Khandelwal, and also Daugaard, and any of the other people on Daugaard’s Cc list,  may also have filed complaints with the CJC. And unless those complaints were upheld, the rest of us would be none the wiser.  

Would there have been any disadvantage to them in bringing the complaint against McKenna both publicly and privately? No, not really. They risked nothing worse than a scolding from their fellow jurists for publishing their letter, which they duly received in an op-ed from the other judges (see below). But that scolding came several days after they made a splash in the Times, and the response was muted.

One McKenna supporter said confidentially that a formal complaint to the CJC would have required Holmes and Khandelwal to perjure themselves, and that’s what kept them away. But I disagree. Since their most solid accusation against the judge was little better than conjecture it could not be considered an outright lie. Ergo: no perjury. Evidence suggests that McKenna invited people to court to hear a sentencing, they wrote. Not “evidence proves.

Holmes and Khandewal would have painted themselves into a corner if they’d gone to the CJC exclusively, because if they lost in that venue it would have been game over. And even if they’d prevailed, it’s certain that the CJC’s sanction on McKenna (3) would not have been as harsh as the one they called for in their letter. I believe they did file a complaint against McKenna with the CJC, but since dismissed complaints are confidential, no one will ever know.

The Scolding

A week after the Seattle Times printed the Holmes-Khandelwal letter, they printed an op-ed signed by seven judges criticizing Holmes and Khandelwal (and, indirectly, the Times itself) for not following Washington’s constitutional procedure for disciplining judges:

As judges, we write to express concern that this process for addressing complaints against Seattle Municipal Court Judge Ed McKenna has been bypassed, the authors wrote, in favor of public complaints released to the media by Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and Anita Khandelwal, director of King County Department of Public Defense. [ . . .  ] There are good reasons why complaints against judges are not made public until the Commission on Judicial Conduct finds probable cause for the validity of the complaint. If complaints were made public, it would have a chilling effect on judges if they had to respond to every unhappy litigant that publicly made unfounded allegations. Such an environment would provide an incentive to tip the scales of justice with unfounded public complaints to influence the judge’s discretion or to retaliate for judicial decisions as a way to control the ultimate outcome of future cases.

The Case on its Merits

Let’s turn now to the specific charges against McKenna. I will identify each charge by the party or parties who made it.

Charge 1 ~ Judge McKenna met with city council candidate Ari Hoffman “in the middle of a court session” casting doubt on his impartiality (Daugaard)

It’s true that Hoffman met with Judge McKenna in the judge’s chambers. Hoffman showed up in McKenna’s courtroom on March 13, 2019, which happened to be the day of the James Lamping sentencing. He was not there at the request of McKenna but at the invitation of Jennifer Coats, who had been following court proceedings for several months by then and thought Hoffman, as a council candidate running on a platform of public safety, might find them interesting. McKenna recognized Coats in the courtroom and called her and Hoffman over to chat between sessions. I asked all three of them, Hoffman, Coats, and McKenna, if they’d discussed any of the cases in progress that day, and they each told me no. After I read Lisa Daugaard’s March 23 email, I asked her if she knew what McKenna and Hoffman had talked about in court that day, and she told me she didn’t. Did she think it was inappropriate for a judge to talk with candidates at the courthouse? I wondered: 

That would not be per se improper, no. The crux is always that a judge must both (a) be actually open-minded about the resolution of a case on its own merits and without reference to his or her own political advocacy objectives or making a point or sending a message via a case before the judge; and (b) that this impartiality and neutrality be perceived as well as real (appearance of fairness issues). Meeting a particular candidate who had a public posture about the way cases were being approached by the prosecutor in the courtroom could send a message contrary to that required neutrality and impartiality. Whether this sort of conduct would in fact be improper would be a fact-driven question.

So did Ed McKenna send a message by meeting with Hoffman privately? That’s a stretch. Hoffman wasn’t a celebrity, and McKenna had never met him before Jennifer Coats introduced the two men to each other. What was the judge supposed to do? Tell Hoffman to get out of his courtroom? Any civilian who’s visited Seattle Municipal Court know that’s not how it works. Judges – and particularly the presiding judge – are eager to chat with visitors and educate them about the court. I saw this for myself when I showed up in another judge’s court as an observer. As soon as the session ended, both the judge and the prosecutor approached me and asked if they could answer questions. Even after I told them I write for the Safe Seattle Facebook page, with which they were both familiar.

Ari Hoffman

Daugaard had a chance to ask Hoffman about his conversation with McKenna when she met him seven weeks later, on May 14, to discuss the LEAD program, something she did with all the leading council candidates. By that time, Hoffman had already gotten a copy of Daugaard’s March 23 email, and he decided to ask her about it. He told me what happened:

I waited till the end of the LEAD briefing and said, “This was such a nice meeting. In the future if you have a problem with me or hear something about me, call me. Don’t write emails about me.” She said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I confronted her on the email two more times and she denied knowing what I was talking about. Then I pulled out the hard copy and showed her what she’d written.

(Daugaard disputes Hoffman’s account. “As soon as Ari asked me about the email, I discussed it with him,” she told me.)

I asked Hoffman, “Did she ever ask you what you and McKenna talked about in court that day?” –No, he said.


Charge 2 ~ Judge McKenna was doing political organizing. (Daugaard)

Daugaard said in her email: “I suspect there may be judicial ethics issues about EM’s political organizing work in which he goes around town saying untrue things about policy and practice, misrepresenting the efficacy of court programs, and generally advocating for a general approach to crime that might cause reasonable people to question his impartiality in individual cases.” [emphasis added] Her interpretation is highly subjective, of course, but beyond that, absent some evidence that McKenna had spoken out about a specific case in progress this complaint would not merit consideration by the CJC. Again, the key idea here is that a judge not speak out about an individual case in progress, and especially while court is in session. Canon 2A (Rule 2.3) states:

  1. A judge shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice, or engage in harassment, and shall not permit court staff, court officials, or others subject to the judge’s direction and control to do so.
  2. A judge shall require lawyers in proceedings before the court to refrain from manifesting bias or prejudice, or engaging in harassment, against parties, witnesses, lawyers, or others. [Emphasis added.]

Did Judge McKenna say something to the media, to private citizens, or to community groups that would cause a reasonable person to question his impartiality in a particular case pending in his courtroom? Daugaard’s email doesn’t speak to that.

On a personal level, Daugaard’s position is rather disingenuous. She faults McKenna for political organizing, but she’s no slouch at politicking. In October of 2018, Daugaard appeared at city hall at the head of a large contingent of activists from her “Budget for Justice” advocacy group. They were asking the council to cut $4.2 million from the jail and probation budget over the next biennium and give it to youth- and minority-centered “restorative justice” programs with names like: Community Passageways, Creative Justice, and Got Green. A program run by Daugaard’s own Public Defender Association was on the wish list, too, along with one run by the Washington Defender Association, several of whose members Daugaard had included as Cc’s on her March 23 email.

Naturally, Ed McKenna saw Daugaard’s request to slash funding from things he liked and give it to ones that she liked as a threat. She had also publicly criticized his approach as being costly and ineffective. As presiding judge, why wouldn’t he be entitled to criticize hers in turn?  He did do that, in fact. In remarks to the North Precinct Advisory Committee some two weeks later, he said

The SMC’s probation program is under fire by citizen group Budget For
Justice. BFJ is advocating dis-investment in the local criminal justice
system, and in particular cutting the probation program’s budget by 90%
over 3 years and diverting the money to fund juvenile offender services.
Lisa Daugaard spearheads this effort (she also co-chairs the Community
Police Commission).

In making those criticisms McKenna said he was speaking for himself only, and not the Seattle Municipal Court.


Charge 3 ~ Judge McKenna made public and private statements that call his impartiality into question. (Holmes-Khandelwal)

In their April 24 letter, Holmes and Khandelwal say:

Canon of Judicial Conduct 1 provides that a judge shall act “at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary.” You have repeatedly made statements that undermine public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary. On April 19, 2019, you spoke at the Downtown Seattle Association’s City Maker breakfast. There, you suggested that you felt bound to follow prosecutors’ recommendations 99 percent of the time. This suggests the very opposite of impartiality – and that you disregard the advocacy of defense counsel.

Here’s what McKenna actually said at the City Maker event (bold text added):

We had that when I was a prosecutor we looked at prolific offenders. We called it the ‘high impact offender project’ and persons were on that list and those persons were targeted for additional effort. Judges typically 99 percent of the time will follow the recommendation of the prosecutor. And we rely on the prosecutor because we expect that they are going to make a reasonable recommendation based on the defendant’s criminal history of the nature of the offense and the strengths and weaknesses of their case. And so we rarely exceed a prosecutor’s recommendation in those cases. And so really it’s pretty much a prosecution-driven program.

Ms. Khandelwal later clarified in an email to KUOW’s Sydney Brownstone that while McKenna hadn’t said he felt bound to follow prosecutors’ sentencing recommendations, there was a clear implication there. Perhaps, but in any case, McKenna is just stating a fact, he and his fellow judges all rely on prosecutors for sentencing guidelines. Here’s how  he explained it to me in an email:

The plea form itself only has a space for the prosecutor’s recommendation, not the defense. That’s so the defendant will know what the prosecutor will argue to the judge. The form also clearly says that the judge doesn’t have to follow the recommendation and can impose any sentence up to the maximum.

When judges sentence defendants, we don’t know much about the case, other than what we have access to. That can be because police officers only had time to write a short report, because prosecutors didn’t want to share too much information about their case to prevent the defense from learning of its weaknesses, because the case didn’t proceed to trial, or several other reasons.

In most cases, we only see the police report and criminal history. The prosecutor knows the strengths and weakness of their cases, meaning they evaluate witness credibility and testimony, defenses to the charge, and other information available to them. Judges assume, in most cases, that prosecutors have conducted such investigations and their recommendations are reasonable based on the strength of their cases. That’s one main reason that judges usually follow the recommendations. While judges will of course hear the defense arguments regarding sentencing, virtually every plea in our court is an “agreed” recommendation, as it was in the Calderon case. Agreed recommendations have become so prevalent that one prosecutor, when questioned, actually told me that she thought all pleas actually had to be “agreed recommendations.”

I need to clarify the point about the plea form. Judges always ask the defense for their sentence recommendation. Likewise, we always provide the defendant an opportunity to speak at sentencing. The defense recommendation simply isn’t in the plea form, unless they squeeze it in somewhere. Once the plea is accepted, the prosecutor is bound to their recommendation. Basically, knowing what the prosecutor wants in advance of the plea provides the defendant an opportunity to weigh potential consequences of the risk if they go to trial. 

Context is important here. McKenna made his comments about accepting prosecutors’ recommendations by way of arguing that prosecutors have been acting too much like defense attorneys. One doesn’t have to accept that hypothesis, but it is at least reasonable, and it fits with the rest of McKenna’s argument and with many media stories and Scott Lindsay’s “System Failure” report, which was the subject of the City Maker panel. Holmes and Khandelwal, by contrast, are ignoring McKenna’s argument about too-soft prosecutors and suggesting that McKenna is relying too much on their judgment. It’s as if they hadn’t heard anything else he said. 

They further complain that McKenna has had “numerous conversations” with Holmes and his prosecutors in which he criticized the City’s sentencing recommendations and requested longer sentences so that he could use his discretion to impose a longer sentence between the two without looking like “the bad guy.” But again, given McKenna’s premise that agreed sentencing recommendations are too light, asking prosecutors to be tougher seems reasonable. It does not seem prejudicial to the accused in general or to any accused in particular. We take for granted that Holmes and Khandelwal did not agree with McKenna that Holmes’ prosecutors were being too soft, but why didn’t they challenge McKenna’s argument on the merits instead of charging him with bias?

They claim he had another option. “As a judge,” they wrote, “you have the authority to impose any lawful sentence once a defendant is convicted and are not required to follow the City’s sentencing recommendations.” Which is true, and yet when he tried to use that authority to sentence defendants Calderon and Lamping to a longer sentence, they and Lisa Daugaard attacked him for it, accusing him of playing to the news cameras.   


KOMO’s Matt Markovich

Charge 4 ~ Judge McKenna invited KOMO reporter Matt Markovich to attend court on certain days so he could see McKenna making examples of repeat offenders, denying defendants their 6th Amendment right to allocution. (Daugaard, Holmes-Khandelwal)

This would be the most damning charge of all if it were true. But it’s not true. And there is no evidence that either Daugaard, Holmes, or Khandelwal made any effort to ascertain that it was. KOMO reporter Matt Markovich made two appearances in Judge McKenna’s courtroom, and on neither one of them was he invited by Judge McKenna so he could he witness a “publicity stunt.” I asked both McKenna and Markovich at least twice: Did you arrange with for KOMO to be there on a certain day to witness a certain sentencing? They both said no.

But wasn’t Markovich’s appearance in the courtroom suspicious? How did he know that this would be a good story? Because Jennifer Coats had told him. Coats had taken McKenna up on a general invitation he’d made to the audience at the November 2018 NPAC community to come see how the court worked. After making a few visits, she began working on the Calderon story for Safe Seattle, and at the same time she told Markovich, whom we both knew, that she thought it would also be a good piece for KOMO.  After talking with Coats about Calderon case, checking the court calendar, and securing permission to film in court, Markovich showed up.

When the Holmes-Khandelwal letter appeared in the Seattle Times, on April 24, I got back to Coats right away, because she was mentioned in the letter, and so was Safe Seattle. (The authors had confused Safe Seattle with a group called Speak Out Seattle, suggesting that they couldn’t even get basic facts straight.) I said, “They’re saying McKenna arranged with Markovich to be in court. Do you know anything about that?” Coats said “No. That didn’t happen.”

“Are you sure? It does look kind of suspicious, Markovich being there at the time of those two dramatic hearings.”

Coats reminded me that McKenna sees those prolific offenders day in and day out. There are plenty of Francisco Calderons going through the court’s revolving door. Go there any day court is in session, she said, and you’ll see one.


The Gun That Wouldn’t Smoke

In the weeks and months following the publication of their letter in the Seattle Times,  Holmes and Khandelwal’s evidence on the Markovich fell apart. In their letter, the pair had mistakenly identified Jennifer Coats as being a member a neighborhood group called Speak Out Seattle. Elisabeth James, a leader of Speak Out Seattle didn’t like that, so she confronted Holmes at a public event and asked him how he knew McKenna had invited Markovich into his courtroom on a certain day. Holmes told James he had an email that implicated McKenna on that, and she could see it if she wanted. But when James followed up with Holmes’ office, the email they gave her – the one that was supposed to constitute evidence against McKenna – was the March 23 email from Lisa Daugaard! (4) When I learned of that conversation, I asked Markovich if there was some other email Holmes might have had implicating him:

Hi, David. No email like that exists at all. I have an email exchange with Gary Ireland [public information officer for the Seattle Municipal Court] asking for permission to put a camera in the courtroom before the Calderon sentencing in January [0f 2019]. That’s the only communication I had with the court prior to filming in Judge McKenna’s court room.

I spoke with Lisa Daugaard several months ago about this and challenged her on it.  The only email I exchange I had with Judge McKenna’s courtroom before the hearing was to ask permission for a camera in the courtroom – it’s practice we in TV News do all the time and it’s the judge’s decision to grant it or not.

I did say after the ruling to Lisa in a phone call when I was putting my story together that I thought Judge McKenna was sending a message with the sentencing – but that was after it happened and it was only my opinion. Lisa declined to do an interview with me.

Leaving no stone unturned, I asked Daugaard, via email, what evidence she for her claim about Markovich and McKenna. She didn’t produce any, but she did send her recollections of a discussion she’d had with Markovich on the subject after the Holmes-Khandelwal story broke. This is taken from notes she made at the time: 

On Wednesday May 22, after a City Council briefing on the Prolific Offenders report, Matt Markovich of KOMO approached me to discuss the events surrounding the Calderon sentencing, my email to the City Attorney’s Office and the King County Department of Public Defense, their letter, and Judge McKenna’s response. Matt indicated he had seen my second [March 23rd] email to CAO/DPD.  He said “I remember making [a] statement [about McKenna playing to the cameras] to you.” [ . . . ] Without me asking, he offered to explain how it came about that he was in the courtroom for the Calderon hearing. He said “Judge McKenna invited Jennifer Coats to observe court hearings, and she invited me.” Mr. Markovich used the word “invited.”
She added this:
The note I included in my second [March 23rd] email to CAO and DPD, about Judge McKenna reportedly stepping down from the bench to meet with Council candidate Ari Hoffman, was based on a conversation on March 22 with an assistant City Attorney, after a meeting on other subjects, in which that Asst City Atty reported that that had occurred. My impression was that CAO attorneys had witnessed this firsthand. Ari Hoffman, on May 14, at a meeting at PDA, having seen my email in response to a public records request, said it didn’t happen that way — they didn’t meet in court.
As part of her response, she forwarded me an email she’d sent to Andrew Lanier on May 15, 2019. Lanier is Matt Markovich’s producer at KOMO, and when he saw Daugaard’s March 23rd email, he wanted to know what evidence Daugaard had to back up her claim:  

Hi Andrew,
I’d be happy to talk with you, though I don’t know that it will add to the story. The “inviting reporters” point (those were not the words I used–I said “arranged with”) wasn’t the crux of what I was getting at in my communication with the City Attorney and DPD, but rather, the use of an individual case to send a message about a broader policy position with which was judge was affiliated. My obviously informal email wasn’t meant to be a source document, but just to initiate a discussion about whether the City Attorney or DPD had additional information and whether they were aware of the various episodes I alluded to.
In a different, earlier, set of notes I sent to the same offices, on January 23, I recounted, very close in time to when it was made, the comment KOMO’s Matt Markovich made to me when he called about the Francisco Calderon case.  He said he knew the judge “was clearly playing to the camera.”  This is either a verbatim quote or very close — it was a memorable comment and I made the note immediately after.  I believe he also said Judge McKenna had called him (Markovich), which is the only specific fact I shared in the March 23 email you sent an excerpt from.
After a gap of four months, that is the best recollection I have of exactly what Mr. Markovich recounted about Calderon. I later surmised that the “call” may have been “arranging,” because reporters again showed up in Judge McKenna’s court to witness the sentencing in what would otherwise seem like a fairly routine case, that of Mr. Lamping, where Judge McKenna announced that was employing a creative new sentencing technique for a person suffering from substance use disorder. It seemed unlikely to me that the TV crew would just happen to be in court for this particular, fairly routine case. That, together with what Mr. Markovich had told me in January, led me to say that it appeared that the judge had advance awareness of the reporters’ presence–but again, that wasn’t the central point I raised with DPD and the City Attorney.  The point was whether the individuals’ cases were being used to advance the judge’s previously and publicly announced policy agenda, rather than being adjudicated by a neutral and impartial magistrate who was truly open to the case the defendants and their counsel made during “allocution,” the 6th Amendment right of a defendant to attempt to persuade the judge at sentencing.
Of course, both of the departments I wrote to had had lawyers in the courtroom to observe, so I didn’t expect to be the primary source of information about this set of events. The only additional information I had besides what would have been evident to anyone in the courtroom was the call from Mr. Markovitch on January 23, where he characterized Judge McKenna’s demeanor and apparent motivation as I have described above, and, I believe, said the judge had called him.
Let me know if you need anything more.
Lisa Daugaard

On December 13, I sent Pete Holmes and Anita Khandelwal, separately, via email and post, a list of 10 questions regarding the McKenna affair. I explained that I was writing this article and that I was trying to understand how they arrived at the decision to publish an open letter to McKenna rather than following the constitutionally created process of the Commission on Judicial Conduct. I also wanted to know whether they’d spoken with Lisa Daugaard about her March 23 email, which they had both gotten, and what steps they had taken independently to ascertain that Daugaard’s claim about about McKenna and Markovich were correct. Here’s a copy of the version I sent to Holmes: 


I got no answer from either of them, but when I asked Daugaard whether they had spoken with her about their letter or had followed up with her for details about the Markovich allegation, she said no. Matt Markovich told me they hadn’t spoken with him about it either. As far as we know, Anita Khandelwal never approached McKenna about it but Judge McKenna told me that he and Holmes did speak about it briefly in person and that at that time he told Holmes he had not invited the media to his courtroom:

Shortly after the Calderon sentencing, Mr. Holmes came to my office to express his displeasure at my sentencing. At that time he also told me that he was going to join with the defenders in making a motion to reconsider my sentence. Recognizing that as ex parte contact, a clear ethics violation in itself, I told him I would have to recuse myself from hearing his motion. Apparently, he thought twice about his motion because it didn’t happen. In that same conversation however, he also complained about the media coverage. I informed him that I had not invited the media and explained they had been invited by a member of the public. Despite my telling him directly that I had not invited the media, he made public allegations anyway.


Within days of the Holmes-Khandelwal letter, Judge McKenna decided to try and exonerate himself by filing a complaint against himself with the CJC based on the same charges. And that complaint was duly dismissed, according to a KOMO story, after a months-long investigation. On February 7, 2020, the CJC issued a press release stating that after a preliminary investigation they had found McKenna to have committed no misconduct. Below is an excerpt of the CJC press release. Click to see the full document:

On first flush, it would seem that the Holmes-Khandelwal gambit failed. Judge McKenna didn’t accept the charges, didn’t step down as presiding judge, and didn’t recuse himself from criminal cases before the court, as the pair had demanded he do. Meanwhile, seven respected judges from across the sate published their own letter which, though it didn’t exonerate McKenna outright, thrashed Holmes and Khandelwal for not following the process.

But all that was cold comfort, because in the meantime, Holmes and Khandelwal have applied their own sanctions, just as they threatened: “As long as you remain presiding judge and convene bench/bar meetings,” they declared, “neither the City Attorney’s Office nor the Department of Public Defense will attend.” And they’ve been as good as their word. From April 2019 till now, Holmes’ and Khandelwal’s staff have refused to attend these monthly meetings.

McKenna described how the Holmes-Khandelwal boycott was affecting his court: 

It doesn’t impact the operation of the court but it does impact the rights of defendants and procedures for attorneys. For instance, at a recent bench bar meeting, we discussed the problem of attorneys and defendants appearing late for the master (trial) calendar and ways address that behavior. In the absence of the prosecutor and public defender, (reps from the private bar still come) we decided to note an FTA [failure to appear], meaning a defendant’s right to a speedy trial starts anew. That’s a significant impact to defendants rights. Also, we ordered that attorneys would need to immediately report to their assigned court for trial without delay, meaning late attorneys could potentially face sanctions. The boycott is really silly in that it it doesn’t impact the court, but rather it punishes attorneys and defendants by forfeiting their right to provide input to the court. We still hold the meetings, though less frequently.

McKenna added that the Department of Public Defense, Khandelwal’s office, is contractually obligated to come to the meetings (5) but that Khandelwal had continued boycotting even after McKenna had pointed that out to her.

Meanwhile, Khandelwal’s attorneys have been reflexively filing affidavits of prejudice against Judge McKenna in all indigent cases assigned to his court. Two weeks after Holmes and Khandelwal published their letter, a court insider contacted me with a tip:

Both the Seattle City Attorney’s Office and Department of Public Defense (DPD) are submitting affidavits to get cases moved out of Judge McKenna’s court. An affidavit for a change of judge can be submitted once for each case, and whenever a case is assigned to Judge McKenna, some attorneys are automatically submitting affidavits of prejudice. That direction is likely coming from higher up. What I’m telling you can be checked by referencing the affidavits, which are a matter of public record.

The goal is to have zero cases heard in McKenna’s courtroom, and this is already impacting his calendar. The affidavits are being filed in retaliation against McKenna, because he actually sentences people for crimes committed, and apparently his enemies at the offices mentioned think this is a bad thing and want to force his resignation.

I looked into it, as the reader suggested, and discovered that there had been a marked increase in affidavits of prejudice filed against McKenna. Data I got in response to a public disclosure request shows that affidavit filings against McKenna from Khandelwal’s lawyers more in the six months after the Holmes-Khandelwal letter compared to six months previous! From late October 2018 to late April 2019 Khandelwah’s lawyers filed 116 affidavits. Holmes and Khandelwal published their letter on April 24, 2019, and in the next six months, 311 affidavits were filed. Here’s a list of them in an MS Excel file.

Do affidavits of prejudice matter? They can. Consider this one, for example: 

It was filed on May 8, 2018 by public defender Rebecca Bradlow. Because of this affidavit, Judge McKenna was removed from the case of a young, gang-affiliated man named Sabbona Waqo, who was in court on his third charge of gun possession. Since Waqo had violated his previous probation conditions by carrying a gun, he should’ve gone straight to jail, but the defense and prosecution had other ideas. They decided to offer Waqo a plea deal by which he could skip jail and have the charge dropped altogether. All he had to do was promise not to commit any more crimes and to attend an eight-month restorative justice program called Community Passageways, which happens to be one of the programs Lisa Daugaard was calling for the city to fund in 2018 with money that had been allocated for the city’s probation office (see above).

Sabbona Waqo

I later spoke with the director of Community Passageways, Dominique Davis, and he told me that after showing up to the program a couple times, Waqo dropped out and didn’t return. But on July 18, 2019, Mr. Waqo, his new public defender, Elaine Saly, and city prosecutor Jenna Robert all signed off on a document saying Waqo had “demonstrated a connection” to Community Passageways, and the gun charge was dropped. Less than six months later, Waqo allegedly shot another young man to death in Pioneer Square. I asked Ms. Saly and Ms. Robert why they had just checked the box saying Waqo had attended the Community Passageways program when he clearly hadn’t. They did not respond.

Would Judge McKenna have been tougher on Sabbona Waqo? Would he have insisted that the prosecution and defense do more to verify that Waqo had attended the Community Passageways program and demonstrate to the court that he was reformed? His history suggests that he would have, but we’ll never know now, because Anita Khandelwal’s public defender had him removed from the case. 

An affidavit of prejudice mimics the guilt-by-accusation strategy that Pete Holmes and Anita Khandelwal used in their public indictment of Judge McKenna. A lawyer who files one doesn’t have to say why they think the judge is prejudiced, just that he is. And while there is a limit of one affidavit per case, there is no limit to the number that attorneys can file overall. That makes the affidavit prerogative subject to abuse, particularly where several defense attorneys are working for one boss, like Anita Khandelwal, and that person has a vendetta against a particular judge.

Prelude to an Investigation

In mid-April 2019, long before I knew about Lisa Daugaard’s email, I proposed a meeting between Daugaard and Judge McKenna in the belief that they could reconcile their differences or at least agree to continue their public disagreement in milder tones. Daugaard agreed to meet, but McKenna declined, suggesting that I was naive for trusting Daugaard. So I met with him privately, and when I did, I brought a list of concerns Daugaard had asked me to question him about. It was similar list of criticisms that was in her email. The main charge was that McKenna was deciding sentences in advance of allocution, as evidenced by the Markovich broadcasts. In our meeting, McKenna assured me that wasn’t doing that, and he questioned whether Daugaard didn’t have a political motive for saying that.

When the Holmes-Khandewal letter came out, I was astonished to see how closely it resembled the list of grievances Daugaard had asked me to bring to my meeting with McKenna. I got back to her immediately and asked, Did you help them write that letter? No, she replied. But she didn’t need to. Her criticisms of McKenna were widely held at both the city attorney’s office and at the Department of Public Defense and elsewhere. I accepted that answer at the time. It wasn’t until Ari Hoffman shared Daugaard’s email with me months later that I decided the affair needed more looking into. 

(Non. Tu t’accuse!)

In reviewing the McKenna case, I believe that his accusers acted shabbily, but I don’t feel they share equal blame. Lisa Daugaard was within her rights to criticize Judge McKenna’s public statements about agreed sentencing recommendations and about her programs. Moreover, given that she believed that her charges against the judge were likely true, she was justified in asking other people to look into them further and to file a complaint with the Commission on Judicial Conduct – should her allegations turn out to be well founded. While her explanation for why she couldn’t pursue the matter herself strikes me as flimsy, it’s still plausible. 

Did Daugaard go beyond that? Did she tell Holmes and Khandelwal to bypass the CJC? Did she help them write the letter they published in the Seattle Times? We can make inferences, but we don’t know, and in the absence of proof, we have to give Daugaard the benefit of the doubt. 

Pete Holmes and Anita Khandelwal are the real bad actors here, and their wrong lies not merely in that they skipped the CJC but the mean-spirited way in which they did it. Prejudice and partiality are the worst possible accusations they could have laid against McKenna and they knew it. Given that they were going to take their case public, shouldn’t they have built a stronger foundation for it? Note the terminology that they use: Your invitation to Ms. Coats and apparent invitation to Mr. Markovich suggests you decided the outcome in Mr. Calderon’s matter before sentencing. In the accusers’ letter, the word “suggests” is used in this sense no fewer than three times. “Appears” or “apparent” also turns up three times. On the main allegation, why did they need to guess about McKenna and Markovich, when they could have checked with any one of the players (Coats, Markovich, or McKenna himself) to find out whether there had been an actual invitation? In the three months between Markovich’s first KOMO broadcast and their letter, they could have reached out to the principals at any time, and yet they failed to do so. Why?

Holmes and Khandelwal hurt Judge McKenna’s reputation with their letter, and even after the CJC exonerated him, and even as the corroborating individuals they cite in their letter have stepped forward to vindicate McKenna, neither of them have stepped up to apologize. Meanwhile, they’re still boycotting the judges bench-bar meetings, and Khandelwal’s public defenders are still barraging McKenna with affidavits of prejudice, all to the detriment of the defendants and the citizens.

A Second Trial

Holmes and Khandelwal can and should be sanctioned for their behavior. As Judge McKenna pointed out in his rebuttal letter, the Washington courts have rules of professional conduct for lawyers, and these rules are enforced by the Washington State Bar Association. Rule 8.2(a) states:

A lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications, integrity, or record of a judge, adjudicatory officer or public legal officer, or of a candidate for election or appointment to judicial or legal office. [Emphasis added.]

Rule 8.3(b) speaks to Holmes’ and Khandelwal’s failure to report their alleged concerns about Judge McKenna’s behavior to the proper authority (that is, the CJC):

(b) A lawyer who knows that a judge has committed a violation of applicable rules of judicial conduct that raises a substantial question as to the judge’s fitness for office should inform the appropriate authority.  [Emphasis added.]

We don’t know whether Holmes and Khandelwal took their complaint to the CJC, but they can be compelled to disclose whether they did by the state bar association. If it is found that they did not file a complaint against McKenna, even while claiming that they had knowledge of him violating “applicable rules” (that is, the judicial canons), they should be sanctioned. Their ongoing boycott of the court’s monthly bench-bar meetings should be investigated by the state bar association and by the City of Seattle’s contract administrator. The boycott is a breach of both the contract and a breach of the parties’ ethical duties to protect the interests of their respective clients.

Finally, Khandelwal’s barraging of McKenna with affidavits of prejudice should be examined as a possible abuse of her discretion. Court rules should be put in place that trigger a review whenever there is a pattern of affidavits being filed on a single judge.

Clearly there’s a lot that needs looking into here. To borrow a line from Ms. Daugaard: Can someone explore these charges and, if well-founded, make a complaint?

–David Preston

Did you appreciate this article? Do you support honest journalism? Then please …



The author wishes to thank the following:

Almighty God, who created man and gave him a conscience. 

Ari Hoffman, for his courage and patience.

Lisa Daugaard, for her relentless cooperation and her belief in a better world, by hook or by crook.

Jennifer Coats, for striking the spark that lit the blaze that illuminated the city.

E.J. for legal research.


Posted in Corruption, Crime, General, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Social Justice Hypocrite

By David Preston

The louder he talked of his honor,
the faster we counted our spoons. –Emerson

Social Justice Warriors. SJWs. They’re everywhere these days, from the local PTA to the halls of Congress, blaming the rest of us for everything from poverty to planetary collapse. It’s your fault transgender people don’t feel accepted, they shriek at random strangers on the internet. Your fault that women and blacks are still downtrodden.

The SJWs aren’t downtrodden themselves, of course. Indeed, they typically come from the most privileged layer of society. Enlightened creatures that they are, they naturally feel awful about having nice things, and they know there’s only one way to clear their conscience: By making the rest of us feel awful, too.

SJWs would be harmless, amusing even, if they weren’t so vicious. And so powerful. Here in Seattle, they effectively control the mayor’s office and eight of nine city council seats, through their influence on local opinion makers, political machines, and labor unions. They’re here in force, both online and at city hall, as we can see from photo above, which was taken at one of the dozens of political demonstrations that happen at city hall each year. Continue reading

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The Stealers

Being a collection of images related to the taking of candidate Ari Hoffman’s yard signs in the 2019 District 2 Seattle City Council race.

August 6, 2019. Election eve. A self-styled comedian and Morales supporter named Brett Hamil boasts about stealing one of Hoffman’s signs and then urinating on it. Is his claim a truthful one? It’s hard to tell. But the sign in the picture was definitely removed from some place. Hamil has a history of making intimidating statements against candidates and public figures he doesn’t like. 

August 3, 2019. Three days before the election.  The woman below was photographed acting with an accomplice to remove several signs (some of them on private property) in the vicinity of South Morgan and Martin Luther King Way South in the Hillman City neighborhood of southeast Seattle. Continue reading

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The Peguero Files

August 5, 2019

The material below was sent to the Safe Seattle Facebook page over a period of several days by a reader who was unhappy about the behavior of a man named Christopher Peguero, who was running for the District 2 council seat.

Christopher Peguero publicity shot

>>Hello Safe Seattle. I just stumbled upon your FB group. I was researching a few people running for my council District 2, which brought me to your page. Anyhow… If I wanted to post something anonymously. How would I do that? I saw some social media posts by someone running for D2, and I think this information should be more public. But, with that being said, I’d like to remain anonymous, as I don’t need the backlash from friends, family or anyone that doesn’t agree with my thoughts. Continue reading

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The Academic

April 19, 2019

For a scientist devoted to social justice, where does science end and advocacy begin? Does the scientist have a right to shape her study results to support a cause she knows to be worthy? Universities take money from corporations and military all the time to fund research that fuels big business and war. Why can’t an individual, socially conscious academic do a similar good turn for her comrades fighting the war on poverty?

Dr. Amy Hagopian is an Associate Professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health. She’s also an enthusiastic participant in a number of local political causes, including military counter-recruiting, the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement, and homeless rights advocacy. Her involvement with the homeless rights issue led Hagopian, several years ago, to begin collaborating with a non-profit group called the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort or SHARE and its charismatic leader, Scott Morrow. This is the story of how her connection with that group compromised her objectivity and cast doubt upon the credibility of her department.

In this profile from the School of Public Health’s page, Dr. Hagopian describes
social justice as a “family business.”

I first met Ms. Hagopian in 2008, when I was in the peace movement and was, like her, involved in military counter-recruiting. The next time I saw her was on March 26, 2018, when she appeared at a community meeting at North Seattle. Hagopian was there defending a City of Seattle-sponsored homeless encampment known as Licton Springs Village. Hagopian had been invited by the manager of the camp, SHARE, to present an “executive summary report” of a study she and her School of Public Health students had done on the camp’s effectiveness and its impact on the neighborhood. The introduction claimed that the study was commissioned by SHARE. Continue reading

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Fallen Leaves

March 6, 2019

Last August, a Ballard woman named Bevin Armstrong, who died last year while living in a van, was memorialized in a solemn ceremony by a local homeless activist group. The group, know as Women In Black, is connected to a non-profit organization that contracts with the City of Seattle to run a network of homeless shelters and organized shanty towns it calls “tiny house village” around the city. In addition to advocating for more shelters, both these groups advocate for people to be allowed to live in cars and RVs, in tent camps, and under bridges indefinitely, rather than being “forced” into shelters or other transitional housing. That doesn’t seem to make sense, until you look closely at the group’s business model.

If you follow this blog, you’ll recognize the group I’m talking about. It’s SHARE. You’ll also know that this outfit has an astonishing level of influence at City Hall. And that it’s also corrupt. SHARE is good at convincing its friends on the City Council to dole out money for it to maintain a few hundred shelter beds at its network of shack villages and church shelters. But they’re not so good at complying with City requirements to provide audited financial statements. (If you’re not familiar with this story, you might want to read this article first.)

SHARE promotes itself to the City by holding these memorials and also by staging angry demonstrations and protest tent camps at City Hall, using homeless people whom the group claims are there by choice. SHARE also cultivates good relations with the media and makes itself available to supply a quote on homelessness or a soft-focus picture of a homeless waif whenever some busy reporter needs one. Take this story from the Wall Street Journal, for example. Or this piece from the online journal Crosscut. There are hundreds of such SHARE-friendly pieces online. Collectively, these articles make it look like SHARE is doing something to tackle a crisis that government can’t. That gives SHARE leverage at City Hall during budget season, but it also helps the group in another way. Homeless people outside Seattle read about SHARE’s wonderfully “democratically self-managed” shelter network and they come here thinking that SHARE will find a place for them, too. But for every person SHARE finds a bed or tent for, they attract several more for whom there’s no bed, and these people end up living on the street or in vehicles, like Bevin Armstrong. And thus the homeless crisis gets worse in Seattle

You might think a net gain in homeless people over time would create a PR problem for the group, but the opposite is true. SHARE simply points to the new arrivals as evidence of an expanding nationwide crisis, and they demand even more money to build even more shacks and tent camps… which will then turn draw still more homeless people to the city, perpetuating the cycle and guaranteeing that SHARE will stay in business forever. See how that works?

None of SHARE’s facilities have drug treatment programs attached – indeed some of them allow active drug users to live there – and such case management services as they do have are scant. The group doesn’t offer a pathway to housing; instead their camps and church shelters are essentially warehouses for chronically homeless transients and drug addicts, and the folks who pass through them often exit right back to the street or to other homeless camps. Many of SHARE’s shelter residents – or participants as the group calls them – have been homeless for years, in fact, and without some intensive mentoring and case management services, they’ll stay that way. And that’s all right with SHARE. They don’t claim to be about getting homeless people into housing. They’re about “ending oppression” of homeless people, or so they say, and that oppression includes telling people they can’t camp on public land or forcing them to get into shelters when they’d prefer to live on the street. Naturally, this makes SHARE quite popular with a certain element of the homeless population, and those are the ones most likely to show up here in response to SHARE’s PR blitz.

Home Sweet Home: This is one of several shack villages that SHARE manages around Seattle. Collectively, SHARE facilities house less than a tenth of all homeless people in Seattle, They have a poor record of getting people into permanent housing, and are actually drawing more homeless people to the city, yet they are being marketed by SHARE and its friends as a solution to homelessness.

Of course SHARE doesn’t want the City “forcing” any of the people living on the street into legitimate transitional housing or treatment programs, because then these folks would be out of sight and lost as a marketing tool. So instead, they say homeless people should be left to live on on the street or, like Bevin Armstrong, in vehicles, until there are enough SHARE shelters to house all of them. Which will be never of course.

To assure that people would be allowed to live outside unmolested, SHARE joined forces with American Civil Liberties Union and a host of social justice activists to cause a policy shift at City Hall. Police have been told not to pester homeless people, even when they are doing great harm to themselves or others. Which brings us back to the tragic case of Bevin Armstrong.

Bevin Armstrong’s former companion Richard Recktenwald at the scene of an overdose at St. Luke’s Church last summer. The church hosts a shelter and feeding program and is within a block or two of where Recktenwald parks his van.

Armstrong moved to Seattle in 2014 with a mental disability, no friends, meager resources, and a budding drug addiction. She lived in a Ballard apartment for a few months but she eventually gave that up when her funds ran out and took up with an older man named Richard Recktenwald (who called himself the President of Ballard) who had by then already been living out of a van in the vicinity of the Ballard Commons Park for years. Recktenwald is a drug user and small-time dealer who was apparently pimping Armstrong for her government benefits and abused her sexually and psychologically. As is typical in this kind of relationship, Recktenwald controlled Armstrong’s money and her movements, and witnesses I’ve talked to say he rarely let her out of his sight. Recktenwald described himself as Armstrong’s “caregiver” – but he’s not licensed to provide any kind of health care or services, and his actual treatment of Armstrong, as described by many witnesses, gives the lie to his cynical claim.

Bevin Armstrong as she looked several years ago, before coming to Seattle

Armstrong overdosed or otherwise injured herself a number of times while under Recktenwald’s “care” and had been to the hospital frequently for both ODs and seizures. The couple had been contacted, separately, at least once by the police in connection to a domestic violence complaint. In that case, Armstrong told police that Recktenwald had beaten her and locked her out of his van in the middle of winter because she wouldn’t perform oral sex on him. Although police wanted to move forward and build a case against Recktenwald, the matter was dropped because Armstrong wouldn’t follow through and testify. No domestic violence advocate was called in.

Cops in the area knew the couple well because Armstrong was a “frequent flyer” with local emergency medics. They also knew she was languishing and they wanted to help her, but they felt they couldn’t take action to get her indoors and away from the man who was abusing her, because that would have been harassing homeless people, which was against City policy, as created by SHARE. All people really need in this life is shelter and to be left alone, according to SHARE, and Armstrong had shelter because she was living in the van with Recktenwald. She told the police she didn’t want any help, so it was all good in the City’s eyes.

An autopsy was performed after Armstrong’s death, and although we don’t have the autopsy report in our hands, it’s a good bet that the immediate cause of death was either overdose or organ failure. By the time Recktenwald was through with her, Armstrong was a wreck. Sadly, she looked nothing like the photos I’ve included here, and that’s a good thing, because even though I never knew her, this is how I want to “remember” her: a beautiful young woman full of life and hope. And not in Seattle.

Without Shelter People Die: SHARE/WHEEL’s “Women in Black” stand vigil to memorialize the dead. But what do they do for the living?

SHARE supporters have placed hundreds of these bronze memorial leaves at high-visibility spots around town. The one for Bevin Armstrong is alongside several others at the Ballard Commons, not too far from where she actually passed. Although the leaves should be sacred, SHARE uses them in the same way it used the homeless individuals they represent. As just another a hustle.

–David Preston

For Bevin and Lois.

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Boss Man

November 14, 2018 ~ These documents were sent to me by an inside source at the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE). SHARE runs a network of more than a dozen homeless shelter facilities around Seattle and King County. These facilities fall into four categories: roving tent camps (known as tent cities), indoor shelters at churches, SHARE-owned shelter properties, and sanctioned (government-funded) shanty towns called “tiny house villages.”  SHARE claims to be sheltering up to 350 homeless individuals daily among all of its shelter programs, excluding the shanty towns, but these numbers are impossible to verify. The comic and supporting documents were created by an unknown author and distributed surreptitiously around the SHARE shelter network in late September of 2016. It went into two revisions and “printings” and was well-received both by SHARE’s homeless residents and by ex-residents, many of whom had been summarily evicted from the camps.

Back Story

SHARE spokespeople tell the public officials and private donors who fund it that the organization is democratically run and that each facility is self-managed and has its own rules separate from those of the others. In some respects, this is true. Tent camps, shelters, and tiny house shanty towns all have different requirements, so they’re organized and managed differently. Tent camp residents, for example, are required to do security shifts guarding the entrance to the camp, a task that is either not required at indoor shelters or is not as time-consuming. Security duty at a tent camp involves one or two camp residents manning a shack at the camp entrance, running warrant checks on new arrivals, and screening everyone who enters the camp. The shifts typically run two hours and can be scheduled for any time of the day or night, because the camp needs 24-hour coverage. The number of “securities” required per person per week is determined by the number of people in the camp.

Security duty is widely considered the hardest chore residents of the tent camps have to do. Former SHARE residents have told me that this was a constant drain on them and kept homeless people who wanted to find work from being able to get it, either because they were too tired after working so many securities or because the shifts they were assigned to conflicted with appointments. Camp managers take the security duty requirement seriously. No excuses are allowed, and being late for a security shift can get a resident “barred” or evicted from the camp for three days or more. There are other infractions besides missing a security shift and, depending on the nature of the offense,  a resident can get barred permanently… and not just barred from one shelter or camp but from any facility in the SHARE network.

The Boss Man comic below is based on a true story that has played out frequently at SHARE homeless camps. A resident is penalized for violating a rule and is then given an arbitrary or unfair punishment by a corrupt camp boss or higher-level SHARE staffer. Appeals of the punishment are summarily dismissed and grievances against management are ignored. Camps often go into a state of rebellion and are either shut down permanently or starved into submission and reorganized, depending on how deep it went. Honest camp managers who take the “democratic self-management” idea seriously or who try to defend their charges from harsh punishments are systematically removed and replaced by ones more subservient to the will of SHARE’s governing board, a clique of eight or nine individuals who are loyal to SHARE boss Scott Morrow. In some cases, a camp will be stripped of support and then allowed to descend into chaos before it is finally closed.

Many of the characters in the comic are composites, but the eponymous anti-hero is based on a real person named Marvin Futrell. When Boss Man was published, Futrell was a paid SHARE staffer whose official job title was “organizer,” but his real job was to be the enforcer of SHARE boss Scott Morrow’s will. If SHARE was a plantation, Futrell would be the overseer, the guy out in the fields cracking his whip over the backs of the slaves, while Morrow would be the planter, rocking gently back and forth on the front porch of the big house, sipping  juleps.

This particular story is set in Tent City 3 (TC3), which at that time in 2016, was located at the former St. George’s Episcopal Church in north Seattle. But TC3’s experience was hardly  unique. Anyone who’s spent time in SHARE pipeline will relate to Boss Man, because they’ve lived some aspect of it. For everyone else – all my non-homeless readers – I’ve included an explanatory section at the end:

The Boss Man comic

Boss Man Comic Part 1

Supporting documents

This file contains “bar letters” that were presented by TC3 staff to the SHARE board banning Futrell from entering. Also included are letters and miscellaneous materials referred to in the text:

Boss Man Comic Part 2

Download the complete Boss Man comic and documents here.

Understanding Boss Man

A frequent bone of contention for SHARE’s shelter and camp residents is SHARE’s claim that its shelters are self-managed and democratic. However, the residents I’ve met – even the ones who are well-disposed to SHARE – tell a much different story. They say that the self-management is just for show and that the SHARE board, dominated by Scott Morrow, regularly overrules camp-level decisions Morrow finds inconvenient or threatening to his position. Some policy decisions are made at the group’s so-called Power Lunch mass meetings, but these confabs can be scheduled on short notice and switched at the last minute so that only Morrow’s people are there.

According to SHARE’s published book of rules and guidelines (The SHARE Book), there are two levels of rules within the SHARE organization: shelter level and SHARE level. SHARE-level rules apply across all SHARE facilities and are theoretically approved by a vote of the whole organization or the board, while shelter-level rules are created and enforced by the residents of a given facility. The Boss Man comic describes how these rules are redefined, reinterpreted, and otherwise manipulated so that Morrow and his underlings can justify any disciplinary action. Grievances against SHARE staff and board-level appeals of staff decisions are allowed, but they are handled behind closed doors, and generally go against the appellant. It’s common for camp-level disciplinary decision to be overruled by the SHARE board.

Cast Away

Being “barred” evicted from a camp or shelter is the most common disciplinary action taken by SHARE staff against a homeless person. And it is certainly the most harsh. A bar can be 1 day, 3 days, 7 days, 30 days, or permanent. A person can be barred from a single SHARE shelter or all of them.  When someone gets barred, they have a short time to gather their belongings and leave. Depending on the shelter and length of the bar, the formerly homeless person – now homeless again thanks to the bar – might be allowed to store any belongings they can’t carry inside the shelter or camp for the duration, but if they are barred permanently, then they have a limited amount of time (usually a week) to get their things. If the deadline elapses, their possessions are destroyed. SHARE staff are supposed to avoid barring someone at night and they are supposed to accompany the barred person to the nearest bus stop and see them safely aboard, but these courtesies are often bypassed. There have been documented instances of SHARE camp residents, including women and children, being barred at all hours and in all weather conditions, and turned out on the street. People who have been punished this way may appeal, but the process is designed to discourage people from appealing.* And in the meantime, while they’re waiting to hear, they’re on the street.

Panel 18 shows people who have been permanently barred from SHARE shelters now living in the notorious Jungle camp under I-5 in south Seattle. This isn’t merely a comic fantasy; for hundreds of former SHARE residents, it’s a reality. The artist knew what they were was doing by depicting a bar as a painful lump on the head.

The story opens with the Tent City 3 (TC3) camp manager barring a resident for three days for a missed security duty. The manager’s decision is overruled by Boss Man Marvin Futrell, Scott Morrow’s enforcer. Futrell justifies his decision by issuing a series of memos from the SHARE central committee, some of which are contradictory… but all of which support his actions.

The TC3 campers then file an official grievance against Boss Man with the SHARE board. The grievance is denied and Boss Man is exonerated, and another SHARE staff memo is  disseminated to all campers stating that the 7-day bar rule is in fact not a SHARE-level rule but applies only to tent cities 3  and 4. In a subsequent memo, that decision is further justified by a bureaucratic sleight-of-hand in which the grievants’ claims that they are a “shelter” (and thus entitled to make their own rules) are used against them. Because they claimed to be autonomous shelters, the tent city residents are told, they will now have to submit to the even more stringent rules that apply to SHARE’s indoor shelters.

Stickin’ it to the Man

In panel 13, the artist fantasizes about using Boss Man’s self-serving logic of “tent camps = shelters” against him. In the fall of 2016, SHARE closed its indoor homeless shelters and forced the ex-residents to encamp at two new tent cities (TC6 and TC7) it had created on the steps of the King County Administration Building. These were protests aimed at pressuring the County’s Community Human and  Services department to restore $70,000 in funding it had just cut from SHARE for non-performance. The SHARE board rewarded the protesters with free Metro bus tickets (bought by SHARE from the County at a deep discount) while the rebellious TC3 and TC5 camps, which did not support the protest, had their bus tickets withheld. A County auditor later determined that SHARE violated their agreement with Metro by distributing the tickets to protesters, since the protest camps did not qualify as shelter in their view. The County sent SHARE a stern letter, but took no further action.

The second half of the Boss Man story revolves around tent city residents making direct appeals to the membership at SHARE’s “Power Lunch” mass meetings and filing more grievances against Boss Man Marvin Futrell. The Power Lunch appeals go nowhere, though, because they don’t sway Scott Morrow or the SHARE board, who stand behind Boss Man, and the grievances are all rejected on the grounds that whatever rules Boss Man might have violated, he did so “without malice.” Even when the SHARE board nominally agrees with the grievants that the TC3 campers were mistreated, all that comes of it is a slip of paper in Boss Man’s personnel file. Camp residents ultimately vote to bar Boss Man Futrell from the camp, and bar papers are drawn up and delivered to Futrell in person.

Protest camp at the King Count Administration Building, 2016


The saga ends with Boss Man Futrell being barred from entering the camp, an event that really happened. After Futrell was barred, SHARE boss Scott Morrow determined that the camp was in full rebellion and needed to be taught a lesson, so he cut off the part of their food supplies he controlled, changed their official e-mail addresses, and diverted donors away from the camp and back to the SHARE central office. Within a few months, the rebellious camp leaders cried uncle and left. They were replaced by others who were more compliant and the camp was moved to the University of Washington campus, where it stayed for a year.

Ironically, Futrell was fired at a Power Lunch gathering (for barring a disabled camp resident without cause). The SHARE board didn’t immediately countermand that but Futrell has since been reinstated and now works at one of the city-sanctioned shack villages.

Taken together the incidents described in Boss Man evoke a troubled organization that is part charity, part crime ring, and part personality cult. But whatever else you can say about the SHARE organization, you can’t call it democratic. SHARE is still getting hundreds of thousands of taxpayer money annually to run its shelter and shanty town operations in King County and Seattle. Over the years, I have brought my concerns about SHARE’s arbitrary, illegal, and downright cruel treatment of homeless people to the attention of City and County officials many times, using documentation such as that included in the Boss Man comic packet. Like the pleas of the characters in the story, my words have fallen on deaf ears. So I can relate.

–David Preston

Easter Eggs

SHARE boss Scott Morrow makes a cameo appearance (in panels 9 and 10) as a brownie-munching, sleep-deprived buffoon, but he is otherwise conspicuously absent, as are most other SHARE potentates, including Morrow’s girlfriend Peggy Morrow (who runs SHARE’s PR machine), Michele Marchand (leader of SHARE’s women’s branch (WHEEL)), and long-time Morrow loyalist Anitra Freeman, who serves as SHARE’s public face while Morrow operates in the shadows. Marchand and her “Women in Black” group appear as mice in panel 17. Like the Women in Black who stand vigil for homeless people who’ve died on the streets, the Mice in Black stand vigil for a dead cat. Their signs read, “Without shelter, critters die,” – a play on Marchand’s “Without shelter, people die,” slogan.

The chicken in panel 3 refers to a case of canned chicken that was allegedly pilfered from TC 3’s kitchen by SHARE staffer Sheri Rowe. The camp advisor tried to have Rowe fired for this but was unsuccessful.

The trope of comic book characters meeting on the street (starting in panel 5) is based on the real-life scenario of camp residents and staff being forced to wait outside in the alley outside SHARE’s office at the Josephinum building in downtown Seattle, while the SHARE board meets behind locked doors to decide their fate.

Little Big Men: The real Marvin Futrell and Scott Morrow


Captain Advisor = A play the “Camp Advisor.” The Camp Advisor role was created for Tent City 3 after the camp went into internal “receivership” following a series of corruption scandals in 2016.** At a Power Lunch meeting in early 2016, three receivers were designated to monitor and advocate for the camp, and to help run it independently of direct SHARE control. These were the seeds of rebellion, but given the influence Scott Morrow continued to exercise over the organization as a whole, it was bound to fail. After a few short months in “receivership” the camp was brought back under Morrow’s control. It was then moved to another location.

EC = Executive Committee. Every SHARE tent camp has a managing committee of five residents who are empowered to enforce shelter-level and SHARE-level rules and policies at that particular camp. In Boss Man, the TC3 Executive Committee is represented by a single person, and indeed, when there are no other EC members present at a camp at a given time, a single EC can make act with the authority of the whole Committee. EC positions are elected and run for a term of one month. Being an EC carries some prestige and ECs are relieved from the necessity of doing other camp chores, but this is more than made up for by the EC job duties, which can be onerous.

MSP = Moved, seconded, passed. This is a reference to the Roberts Rules of Order process for democratically enacting a rule or policy. Part of SHARE culture is to reference properly enacted rules by attaching an “MSP” to them.

Power Lunch = Power Lunches are weekly mass-meetings of SHARE staff and clients held at various locations that SHARE controls, such as church shelters, tent cities, storage lockers. Delegates from the various SHARE facilities are there, and the meetings are usually 25 to 30 people. New SHARE-level rules and policies can be enacted at the meetings, but any actions can later be undone by the SHARE board, behind closed doors, or by manipulation of voting at subsequent Power Lunches.

*One ex-SHARE resident told us how it works: “At a camp you can appeal a bar at the next camp meeting, but all the camp can do is find whether there was “cause” for the bar. To get it reversed, you have to take it to “bar committee,” which means you have to go to the SHARE office and put your name in a list that’s taped to the locked door between 1-3 PM every other Tuesday. Then the committee meets every other Wednesday at 7 pm. Each shelter and tent city sends a person, they review your bar and either drop it or uphold it. After that you can take it to Power Lunch. This can take weeks, and in the end, there’s no guarantee. It’s designed so it’s too difficult for people to follow through.”

** According to a former TC3 resident, “People were barred during a move. A couple of the Executive Committee members were systematically getting rid of anyone they didn’t like and making it almost impossible for any outsiders to get into the camp. And the bookkeeper at the time, [name redacted], had created a system he called “done by,” where you could pay someone to do your security shift or go to a required meetings. The going rate was 10 bucks. He was also marking people off as having completed security and then pocketing the cash. That’s how Camp Second Chance [a SHARE offshoot camp in southwest Seattle] started. They split off because of all of Marvin Futrell’s bullshit. TC3 went into receivership on July of 2016 and SHARE was cut out of the picture for a while. The new camp managers ended all the corruption; in three months the camp logged in several thousand dollars in donations. Before the camp went into receivership, they had logged in nothing for several months. It was corrupt.”

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The LEAD Program in Burien… and beyond.

September 17, 2018 ~ Last week government officials announced they’d be bringing Seattle’s controversial LEAD drug abatement program to Burien, Washington. LEAD stands for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, and its stated purpose is to lower recidivism (habitual lawbreaking) by using police to “divert” drug offenders away from the courts and into stable housing, drug treatment programs, mental health counseling… and jobs. Whenever a cop arrests a drug user whom they think could be better served by a social worker than by a trip to jail, police can give them a choice: go to jail or get into LEAD. Once an offender is in the program, cops will go easier on them, as long as they’re meeting with their social worker regularly and not ratcheting up their criminal activity. The theory is that the person’s behavior will get better over time, even if they don’t get off drugs and become model citizens.

Started in Seattle in 2011, LEAD has generated gobs of positive media attention and around 40 copycat programs around the country.  But for all the hoopla, LEAD hasn’t demonstrated better long-term drug addiction recovery rates than drug court or existing intervention programs. In fact, it hasn’t demonstrated much of anything. This article explains why.

Sloppy Science

Lisa Daugaard runs a non-profit organization (the Public Defenders Association) that gets money to run the LEAD program for King County. She’s also been involved in Seattle’s “police reform” process  and is a critic of drug laws. These factors combine to create a conflict of interest issue that should have ruled her out of any involvement in the LEAD program.

Of all the claims made for it, the only actual result LEAD can demonstrate is a reduction in recidivism. But even that claim is  questionable because of the way the pilot project and study were set up. The study purporting to show a decline in recidivism was not scientifically rigorous. It was not vetted by a human subjects review board, for example, and did not have tight controls over how the subjects interacted with each other or the researchers.

Social Desirability Bias

There’s a well-documented tendency of human study subjects to produce results they feel will be pleasing to the researchers. This is known as “social desirability bias.” In the case of LEAD, the most socially desirable result subjects could have produced would be a decrease in recidivism, because that’s the chief result the program was trying to produce. And that’s exactly the result the subjects did produce. A desired result is not necessarily an unscientific one; it depends on whether bias is controlled for (or limited) in the study design. In the case of LEAD, it wasn’t.

To ensure that any observed decline in recidivism was real and not the result of bias, the study authors would have needed to set it up so that once an arresting police officer referred a subject to LEAD, that officer would never again be in a position to decide to either arrest or not arrest that LEAD participant, or to influence any other officer in that regard. The participating officers would have had to be walled off from the non-participating officers somehow, and the non-participating officers would have to have been somehow “blinded” from knowing which drug users they saw on the streets were in the program and which weren’t, so they couldn’t give the LEAD participants preferential treatment when making arrests. (And the same goes, to a lesser extent, for prosecutors and judges, because they too might have had an biased impact on recidivism rates, albeit indirectly.*) If you’re a researcher, and you can’t wall the participants of a study off from each other so they don’t influence each other, and you can’t keep them from knowing and deliberately producing the result you’re looking for, then you haven’t got a rigorous, scientific study.

Brave New World: September 11, 2018. King County Executive Dow Constantine introduces the LEAD program to a group of press and citizens outside the police office in Burien., Washington. Image: King County

Were controls implemented to ensure that officers patrolling the streets of Seattle during the LEAD pilot project were unaware of which drug users they met on the streets were in the program, to prevent them from giving those drug users special treatment? No. And even if there had been such controls, it would have been impossible to keep the study’s other subjects, the drug users, from sharing that information with the police or with each other. What could researchers possibly have done to keep a street drug user from saying to an arresting officer, “Hey I’m in the LEAD program, so leave me alone or you’ll mess everything up.” What could they have done to keep the study subject officers from sharing that info with each other?

Officers participating in the LEAD pilot program gave drug users whom they knew were in the program a break and didn’t arrest them for minor crimes; that’s what they were supposed to do. That was part of the drug users’ reward for participating in the program. But non-participating officers almost certainly heard about the program as well. They might have found out which drug users were in the program, and they may have given them a break to help their buddies in the program, or to help the Police Department if they had the sense that that’s what was “desired.” Once word of the program got out, all cops might have given all drug users a break during the study period, deliberately not arresting them in order to lower recidivism and help the program succeed. Why would so many cops have wanted the program to succeed? I’ll discuss that below.

Other Confounding Factors

Some LEAD participants were apparently removed to other jurisdictions out of Seattle or King County. That means any arrests they picked up after being moved would no longer be trackable, at least if the tracking was limited to King County.

There are other ways in which the subjects could have been manipulated to provide the desired results. For example, drug users could have been given cash payments or other benefits they could then exchange for drugs, relieving them of the necessity to steal in order to support their habit. Just giving a drug user a monthly EBT card (food stamps) will usually result in a decline in criminal behavior, because now, instead of shoplifting or thieving to support his habit, the drug user can take his EBT card to the nearest crooked mini-mart, pawn it for fifty cents on the dollar, and get his fix for the next week or two. The only way to control for this as a factor would be to correlate decreased recidivism with an actual decline in drug use. Was that done for the study? –No. So how do we know users weren’t just getting paid to keep them from stealing to support their habit? –We don’t.

No waiting on Aisle 7: The LEAD Program in Burien comes with the assurance that anyone who wants drug treatment can now get it. Or so says King County Executive Dow Constantine. (See Press Conference document below.)

We also don’t know how much of the decline in recidivism was due to drug users being put indoors and out of sight. An important part of the LEAD program is to get drug users into housing. When you take an addict, put him indoors somewhere, and supply him with drugs, he is less likely to recidivate or attract the attention of police. But is he really any better off? Unfortunately, the LEAD program doesn’t address that question.

Conflict of Interest

The likelihood of patrol officers delivering a socially desirable drop in recidivism was increased substantially by the fact that police reformer (read: anti-cop activist) Lisa Daugaard was in charge of this project. Daugaard manages the Public Defender Association (PDA), which at one time contracted with the King County Prosecutor’s Office to provide free legal defense for indigent clients. Daugaard’s attitude to the justice system is complex, but the overall trend in her thinking is that the law is unfair to people of color and the poor. These days, her PDA is more of a lobbying group than anything, and it has supported such things as heroin injection sites and full-on legalization of narcotics. Daugaard was party to a lawsuit against the City of Seattle in which the plaintiffs, led by the ACLU, sought to enjoin the police from removing homeless camps on public land, unless it could guarantee all the camper a nice place to live. Going from her resume, it would be fair to call Daugaard a social justice warrior, if not an outright socialist.

Shortly before the LEAD program was created, Daugaard was a key player in a high-profile investigation of SPD by the Obama Justice Department. One spin-off  of that was the Community Policing Commission (CPC), a brainchild of Daugaard’s. In the CPC, Daugaard envisioned a City-sponsored all-civilian group that would not only keep a watchful eye on police but would have right of review over decisions rendered by the City’s police disciplinary body, the Office of Professional Accountability, which Daugaard and others felt was tilted in the cops’ favor.

By the time LEAD was born, Daugaard was widely known among Seattle police as someone who had the power to hurt their careers if they displeased her, or to embarrass the SPD as organization.

With the Seattle Police Department in her pocket and the backing of other “progressives” at City Hall Daugaard was now in a position to build a project that could prove one of her pet theories, namely that enforcing drug laws was wrong and that we didn’t need to arrest drug users to get them to stop their problematic behavior. And the LEAD program was that project. The only problem with it was that it was so easy to game. Daugaard’s power over the police study subjects and her personal interest in the study outcome should have been a warning to the City and Daugaard’s academic collaborators at the University of Washington not to touch it. But this being Seattle – a town that lives and breaths social justice – no one batted an eye.

OK, but does it work?

Notwithstanding Daugaard’s role, does the LEAD program work? At all? In a word, no. Most Seattleites don’t care about concepts like lowering recidivism rates; they just want their neighborhoods to be free of drug crime and squalor. When they hear public officials singing LEAD’s praises they think, “Oh good. They’re finally doing something about all junkies on the street.” –But getting junkies off the street is not what LEAD does, and perhaps the most troubling thing about the program is that, for all the fanfare, it has not made a visible difference in drug-related crime even in the Belltown neighborhood where it was piloted and has been operating the longest, with the most money spent. As this video shows:

Look Out, Burien

Despite the fact that LEAD wasn’t successful in Seattle, the program is now being expanded around King County, with the intent of making it look like a success. Last week program director Daugaard stood with King County Executive Dow Constantine, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, and other local officials and announced that the LEAD program would be comging to Burien and two other cities to be announced later, with $3.1 million in program funding to be divided among them. (Meanwhile, the program is being discontinued in the Skyway area of King County, though no reason was given for that.)

According to a talking points document sent by the County to Burien officials (see Press Conference, page 5) there is no longer a wait list to get into drug treatment or detox, either inpatient or outpatient. Frankly, this seems too good to be true. The document doesn’t make clear whether that applies just to LEAD participants or to everyone who wants treatment, but this language might have been inserted by lawyers who were worried that the County could be sued for discrimination if they gave preference to LEAD participants in providing County services.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg says his office won’t be prosecuting drug possession under 1 gram from now on. Knowing they can’t be arrested or “diverted” from court by police, what motivation do drug users have to get into the LEAD program?

The program is evolving as it expands, and in some telling ways. At the press conference, Prosecutor Satterberg explained that his office will no longer be charging people who are arrested with less than a gram of narcotics on them, regardless of whether they’re in the LEAD program. Meanwhile, Burien City Manager Brian Wilson has said that police won’t even have to wait until they arrest someone to get them into the program now. And referrals will no longer be strictly related to drug use, because now police can refer someone based only on their suspicion that the person has committed a drug- or poverty-related crime. Or that they might commit such a crime at some point.

Wilson’s comments notwithstanding, there is some confusion within the LEAD program staff on whether an arrest must be used as a basis for referral (see Appendix).

As we see, eligibility for the program has expanded. In literature that was sent to Burien officials from the King County Executive,  it was noted, at the bottom of page 2, that referrals no longer need come from just law enforcement but can also come from “community leaders” or even just “concerned individuals” – whatever that means.  Practically speaking, anyone will now be able to refer a Burien resident to the LEAD program based solely on their judgment that the person appears to be homeless, mentally ill, or drug addicted. Or that they have committed (or might commit) crimes related to poverty. Is this Constitutional? Is it wise? –Inviting police, and even private citizens, to refer other citizens for a crime abatement program based on pure supposition? It sounds like a civil rights violation, like something the ACLU might challenge. But then, it’s not likely ACLU will be taking this one up, because they support Daugaard.

Burien LEAD Press Conference and Talking Points


Is LEAD still LEAD?

The new Burien version of LEAD is so different from the original as to not even be the same program. If anyone can refer a person to the LEAD program, that means the law enforcement basis of the program – the L and E of LEAD – is no longer there. Moreover, if Prosecutor Satterberg isn’t going to press charges for narcotics possession under a gram** then the D for Diversion is gone as well. Without the threat of arrest, there is now no motivation for someone who is referred to the program to accept it, since nothing will happen to them if they refuse.

Without the key components of law enforcement and diversion, we’re left wondering how the program can still even be called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. Why isn’t it just another  government assistance program? It’s great that Burien’s getting some County money to help get needy people off the street and into treatment. But why does it need to come with all the bureaucratic strings attached? Burien already has a social services staff. Why not just give the 500,000 clams to the City of Burien and let them augment their existing assistance programs?

Can any of the officials at the podium answer me that? Or do they think we need another study?

 –David Preston


* Supposedly the study considered only repeat arrests as recidivism, as opposed to repeat prosecutions or convictions.

**A gram is more than typical street drug user would have on them for personal use, based on an average total daily dose of 500 mg of a product untainted with Fentanyl. In practical terms, the one-gram threshold has been in place for a long time in King County. In fact it’s unusual for the Prosecutor’s office to file charges for anything less then three grams, and that usually happens only for repeat offenders who are arrested in connection with violent felonies. Recently, Satterberg has pushed to raise the threshold for charging to 10 grams or narcotics, which is an amount above what even most dealers on the street would possess.


This e-mail exchange suggests that even LEAD program director Lisa Daugaard might be confused as to whether you have to commit a crime in order to be referred to the program.


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