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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
here.


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.

2394-S-SBA-HSRR-20

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?

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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?

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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….

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: 

Holmes_Khandelwal_letter

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.”

Response-McKenna

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:

Daugaard-Email-March-2019-basic_opt

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: DISMISSED


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: DISMISSED


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.   

Charge: NOT PROVEN

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.

Charge: NOT PROVEN


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: 

Pete-Holmes-Letter_redacted2

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.


Fallout

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. 

J’accuse!
(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….

Acknowledgements

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.

 

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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 Rektenwald (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. Rektenwald 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 Rektenwald’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 Rektenwald 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 Rektenwald, 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 Rektenwald. 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 Rektenwald 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.

Do you appreciate honest journalism? Then reward it.

Thank you!

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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

Aftermath

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

Glossary

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

LEAD_Program_in_Burien_Sept_Press_Conference_opt

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.

Appendix

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.

Jen_Scaman_Lisa_Daugaard_Exchange

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Preventable Tragedies

Updated September 25, 2018 ~ This is a list of recent (last 5 years) deaths and injuries that can be reasonably attributed to the inaction of the Seattle City Council on the homelessness crisis. The victims include both housed and unhoused people.

The current casualty count is 57.

If Seattle made a sincere effort to get everyone who’s living outdoors into indoor shelters and treatment programs, this list would undoubtedly be much shorter. But the government is not doing that, and so people are continuing to die. Homeless camps, whether “sanctioned” or otherwise, are not the answer. The answer is getting people into shelters, and moving them from there into permanent housing. I will be presenting this document to the City Council and other City officials as the opportunity permits. I welcome you to send it to them as well.


The document is several pages long. You can also download it here.

Preventable Tragedies

–David Preston

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Charade: Homeless camps and the abuse of public process

September 8, 2018 ~ The biggest gripe a citizen can have is that their government doesn’t listen to them, and that gripe has never been more on-point than when it comes to transients and drug addicts camping in Seattle parks and streets. Seattle residents have been urging City officials to take action on this problem for years. City Hall’s response has been sluggish at best, and when it does act, it makes things worse.

The logical response to people living in tents is to create more indoor shelter space and move people into that preparatory to finding them a permanent, indoor place to live. But Seattle’s response has been to merely “sweep” the worst camps from place to place and to set up a network of “sanctioned” (read: legal) camps that compete with the illegal ones. The sanctioned camps, dubbed “tiny house villages” by their fans, are a cash cow for the group that’s contracted to run them and a PR bonanza for the City. But they’re not getting people into permanent housing, and in the meantime, they’re hell on the neighborhoods.

Sanctioned camps were the brainchild of the non-profit organization that manages them: SHARE. After several years of sparring with the City over its “right” to set up homeless tent camps on public land, SHARE’s director Scott Morrow persuaded his friends on the City Council to stop fighting him and to start paying him instead. Morrow proposed to create a network of camps around town on public and private land. The City agreed in principle and in early 2015 they passed a law that would allow for such camps to be created, but there was still a catch. Camp neighbors and their lawyers were bound to put up a fight if the City tried to do things by the book. How could they get around existing land-use code and public process requirements to get these camps permitted?

On November 2, 2015 Mayor Ed Murray solved that problem by declaring a homeless “state of emergency.” Once homelessness was established as a permanent crisis, due process and other legal protections for citizens could be ignored. And they were.

But what will the neighbors say? In late 2015 Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared homeless “state of emergency” clearing the path for Scott Morrow to build a network of “sanctioned” homeless camps around Seattle, unhindered by land-use codes or neighborhood resistance. [Click to enlarge this image.]

The sanctioned camp program began in 2015 with a small camp in Ballard of about 25 residents. Now there are eight. Each camp houses between 20 and 50 people who were formerly on the street, and the cost to run a camp ranges from $170,000 to $700,000, depending on which City official you talk to. Unfortunately, the Seattle Human Services Department (HSD), which oversees the program, doesn’t publish cost summaries or detailed data on whether the camps are moving residents into permanent housing

At their public meetings, HSD pitches sanctioned camps as a “temporary solution” until the city can raise enough money and fund more shelter beds and indoor programs. People are told they can expect a slight, two-year disruption in the neighborhood. But three years of experience with these camps has shown that once one goes in it can be there for long time. Possibly forever. And if something goes wrong, the neighborhood is stuck with it.


How does it work?

In March of 2015, the City of Seattle passed an ordinance changing city zoning such that non-profit groups could apply to create and manage homeless camps (called transitional housing in the ordinance) on City-owned or private, church-owned land. In the sanctioned camp model, which takes the idea one step further, qualified non-profits can contract with HSD to operate these camps. Under the contract (see here and here for examples), the City pays for much of the camp’s operating expenses. The “tiny houses” in these camps don’t have to meet housing code requirements because they are smaller than the 120 square foot minimum for dwellings. These glorified tool sheds have no plumbing, and many have no insulation or fire protection. But they do have windows, and some are wired with an electrical outlet.

The City treats the camps as a Type I master use permit. Type I covers temporary uses like Christmas tree lots and seasonal carnivals. Since these activities are brief and have minimal impact on a neighborhood they don’t need a public input process or other red tape. Accordingly, once a Type I permit is approved by the Department of Construction and Inspections, the decision can’t be appealed.

Home Sweet Homeless Camp: The Nickelsville Ballard tiny house village overstayed its permit by several months. When the permit expired, the camp operator refused to leave until the City found the camp a bigger place to stay, which the City finally did.

The Type I master use permit wasn’t created with homeless camps in mind, but considering how controversial these camps are, it comes in very handy. The City doesn’t have to consult with a neighborhood before agreeing privately with operators to place a homeless camp there. And once they’ve made their decision, they can announce it as an accomplished fact. Which they do.

According to the sanctioned homeless camp contract, which is slightly more stringent than the land use code, the City agrees to notify property owners within 300 feet that a camp is being planned and hold a public meeting to take questions and comments. But even under the contract, the City isn’t required to consult with neighbors before choosing a spot. So they don’t. Once a camp is  announced, neighbors can register their opposition, but that feedback doesn’t factor into whether the camp is going on, because the City and camp operator have already decided on that.

Homeless camps are granted an expedited review process by the City of Seattle. Public comment is not taken prior to the siting of a camp and the City’s decision to permit cannot be appealed.

According to the contract, homeless camp operators must still obtain a master land use permit to set up a sanctioned encampment within the city limits. The initial permit is good for one year and can be renewed once after the first year, which means, theoretically, that homeless camps can be in one spot for a maximum of two years. Before the renewal permit is granted, the City agrees to open a comments period and host at least one public meeting to take live testimony. Citizen input is supposed to be collected and reviewed by someone before the renewal is granted. But as with the initial permit, the decision to re-permit rests entirely with the City. And there is no appeal.

Very disappointing: Testimony from a Licton Springs Village neighbor belies the operator’s claims that the city-sanctioned homeless camp is not correlated with a rise in crime. (This testimony was taken from Page 45 of the transcript below.)

Licton Springs Village

By the early spring of 2017, the City had created four sanctioned homeless encampments, all run jointly by the same two organizations: SHARE and the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI). (I have written extensively about both of these troubled organizations.) The camps were originally claimed to be drug- and alcohol-free, but as the network of camps expanded, the City and camp operators said they wanted to try a new model of camp they called “low barrier.” Low-barrier camps were supposed to help hard-to-serve  street dwellers who had “barriers” like active drug addiction or lack of ID that would prevent them from using shelters or the original sanctioned camps. The first of these camps was scheduled to be installed in the Licton Springs neighborhood in the early spring of 2017.

The Licton Springs neighborhood in north Seattle runs along what used to be the main traffic route through Seattle: Highway 99, but the motor hotels that were the glory of roadside America have aged into seedy flophouses, and stretches of the road have become havens for drug users and prostitutes. As you can imagine, when the HSD announced it was putting in a camp where people could use drugs without fear of arrest, the neighbors weren’t amused. The camp was supposed to absorb at least some of the existing vagrants. But what if it becomes a magnet for even more of them? the neighbors asked. –That’s why we’re taking your input now, the City said. And that’s why we’ll have another meeting after a year. If the camp doesn’t work out, we won’t  renew the permit, and they’ll have to go.

The City didn’t mention that by the time Licton Springs Village was announced, the camp operator had already purchased the lot on which the camp was to be located, and HSD had already agreed with the operator to put the camp there. Given that, and given all the trouble the City would have to go through just to get the camp up and running, how realistic was it to expect that the City would pull the camp’s permit after only a year?

They get around: When the gates to the Licton Springs sanctioned low-barrier encampment in North Seattle are open, you can see dozens of bikes stored inside.

We told you so!

On March 26, 2018, approximately one year after the camp opened, the City of Seattle and the camp operator hosted the promised community meeting to get feedback from the neighbors. That meeting was held on the campus of North Seattle College, and I was in attendance. Some students from the University of Washington School of Public Health spoke in favor of the camp, and a staff person at a nearby shelter for prostitutes spoke in favor of repermitting, as did three residents of the camp. But the balance of public comment – most of it from the camp’s neighbors – was clearly against.

Neighbors said that after the camp went in, they noticed an immediate increase in property and nuisance crime and that this was contributing to a general degradation in the livability of the neighborhood. Accordingly, they did not want the permit renewed.

You can read the transcript below to get a mood of the meeting. Everything through page 35 is from people the City and camp operator had invited there. From page 36 to 66 are the actual public comments, and, as you can see, they’re critical:

LSV-Community-Mtg-Transcript-03-26-18


Incredible Progress: This woman manages a women’s shelter and recovery program nearby the Licton Springs Village. She said: “I have personally seen people’s health improved. People who are now clean and sober, who were not clean and sober before the village. We’ve seen incredible progress by people and people that have been traditional sprawlers along Aurora, who I’m sure many of you have now seen are now housed in Licton Springs.” She forgot to mention that the Commons had been closed due to a rash of crimes in the area just two months earlier. [Her commentary begins on page 34 of the transcript.]

A tenfold increase in crime: This woman questioned the City’s official statistics. “I’ve seen car prowls, assaults, drug activities, needles. Not only car prowls but going into people’s garages, going into people’s homes, going into their yards, and one woman [ . . . ] even assaulted with a gun as she was getting off the bus walking to her home.” [Page 44 of the transcript]

Going through my bin. This man who’d recent bought a home in the area said: “It all started when my car was prowled. Shortly after we found needles next to our garage. Then we had someone that I would assume was homeless or near that area walk into our yard, start yelling at us for beer while we ate dinner with our family. I did, however, have a nice conversation with a woman who was going through my recycle bin looking for magazines.” [His testimony starts on page 46 of the transcript.”


The report below, from the Seattle Police Department data section, corroborates what the neighbors said about crime increasing around the camp. Comparing totals from 2016-2017 (the year before the camp was there) and 2017-2018  (the year after the camp was there), the report showed there were increases in all areas, with the highest, at about 100% being for overall crime:

LictonSpringsCrimeReport

Several news outlets have covered this trend as well:

The camp residents at the meeting didn’t question what the neighbors were saying about increased crime, but they said the crimes weren’t being committed by the camp residents themselves. While that might be true, it’s beside the point. Homeless camps – especially the low-barrier ones – attract drug dealers, who supply the users in the camps. And those dealers attract other drug users, who often must resort to crime to support their habit. When word gets around that there’s a homeless camp in the neighborhood, vagrants and petty criminals of all kinds congregate there, because to them, the camp is a beacon of tolerance. Or perhaps of neglect.

For their part, Human Services staff have told people who have complained about Licton Springs Village that the north Hwy 99 corridor was always a high-crime area, but that’s cold comfort. What they hear the City saying is that they should be used to crime by now, so a little more can’t hurt them.

Surprise: The permit was renewed!

Citizens who couldn’t make the March 26 meeting could still submit comments to the City. The public comment period began a week before the meeting and ended about a week after, on April 4. According to the contract, the City was supposed to wait until April 4 and then review comments and decide whether the camp’s permit would be extended for another year. But they didn’t bother to wait. Sometime shortly after March 26 – and possibly even before – the camp’s master use permit was renewed for another year and dated to the 26th. According to the permit record, which is displayed in full in Appendix A, the application was approved and entered into the files on the same day it was submitted: March 26… which was the same day the community meeting was held and eight days before the comment period ended. Also notice that no document review fee was paid by the camp operator. And why would there be, since the City didn’t actually review anything.

A prostitute works the street across from the Licton Springs Village “low-barrier” homeless camp on North Aurora. Though prostitution has been a problem in the area for several years, neighbors report that it’s gotten worse since the camp came in. Some of the camp residents are drug addicted prostitutes.

A suspicious pattern

There are nine sanctioned homeless camps in Seattle, with more on the way. Of those, three have overstayed their maximum permitted time by several months, and one (Othello Village) is apparently intending to stay in the neighborhood indefinitely. After Othello Village’s s two-year permit lapsed, a local church volunteered to “sponsor” the camp by leasing the land from the owner, LIHI. This means the camp is eligible for a conditional use permit allowing it to stay indefinitely as a Constitutionally protected expression of the church members’ religious beliefs. But church sponsorship of homeless camps is just another ruse, as we saw with the Dearborn Nickelsville camp. Church-sponsored camps don’t have to be on church property, and sponsoring church members don’t have to spend any time with the campers. Church sponsorship may become superfluous in any case, because LIHI has said it will push the City to rewrite the contract language to let camps stay beyond the current two-year maximum. And the City will almost certainly acquiesce.

No sanctioned homeless camp has ever been denied an initial permit or a renewal, and there is a sense among Seattle residents living around the camps that everything about the camp permitting process is just a pro forma exercise, a sham of public process. With the possible exception of Camp Second Chance, Licton Springs Village has been the hardest on its host neighborhood, and yet, even though many neighbors complained about a rise in crime, and even the data supported their accounts, the City more or less automatically renewed the camps permit, making the whole public input process a charade.

In her comments at the community meeting, HSD’s Lisa Gustveson told neighbors that the City’s decision on whether to repermit Licton Springs Village would happen after the comment period closed in two weeks. But in fact, the decision had already been made. Click to enlarge this image.


Why even bother with “the process”?

It’s not hard to understand why the City would want to ignore public process on sanctioned homeless camps. Bringing a new camp online or moving an old one takes months and sucks up thousands of City staff hours. Political capital is expended as well, because wherever the City opens a new camp, it costs the councilmember for the district it’s in votes. It’s only natural, then, that City officials are loathe to cancel a permit after one year and take the camp somewhere else. Especially if they had no other place to take it. If the neighbors were unhappy enough, another option would be to turn the campers back out on the streets, but that’s the last thing the City would do, because the camp operator would almost certainly stage a protest, and even if it didn’t, closing a camp would be a reminder that that camp, and the whole camp model, was ultimately a failure. Accordingly, no camp has ever been shut down; just the opposite in fact. Like duckweed in a farm pond, the camp network is always growing, and never shrinking.

The Type 1 permit is for short-lived land uses that have low impact on neighborhoods. The City of Seattle is using them to permit homeless camps that are high impact and can stay in a neighborhood for years.

So why does the City even bother with the pretense of neighborhood involvement? If they’re going to do whatever they want, why don’t they just do it and stop wasting people’s time pretending to care? The answer is: politics. It’s just good public relations for government officials to turn up at a community meeting and let people ramble for a couple hours, even if they spend most of their time complaining. It helps tamp down resistance.

Soon… a reckoning?

The situation with Seattle’s sanctioned homeless camps seems untenable: Other than PR value, they don’t deliver much for the money, and they generate a lot of bad will in the neighborhoods. And yet the City keeps adding camps and lavishing more money on the operators every year. How can they do that? To understand it, you have to understand the political landscape. There are 700,000 people in Seattle, but only ten thousand or so of them live close enough to a homeless camp such that they might make a connection between the camp and increased crime in the neighborhood. Of those living near to a camp, many will be young social justice-minded renters who buy the City’s argument that the camps are doing something about homelessness and any bother they cause is small price for those who are “privileged” to live indoors to bear in order to help out the less fortunate. People who accept that claim likely won’t accept counterclaims that the camps aren’t working and that they might, in fact, be counterproductive. Or at least, they won’t accept it easily. Of the sanctioned camp neighbors who get that there’s a basic problem with them, many will simply leave the area rather than fighting, and that leaves those who stick it out feeling increasingly isolated and powerless. Citizens who speak out consistently against the sanctioned camp system are marginalized and scorned as NIMBYs by Seattle’s left-wing political establishment.

Despite the strongly left-leaning political complexion of Seattle media, the are a handful of relatively non-biased local sources – led by the Seattle Times – that could be doing a better job of exploring this issue. Unfortunately, making “tiny house villages” look bad isn’t a growth industry in a town like Seattle, so they generally leave it alone. Such sanctioned camp stories as the media do produce tend to be either superficial or positively flattering to the camps, like this one by the Wall Street Journal, for example. Once in a while, a thoughtful critique will appear, and when it does, it gets some attention. But the excitement fades in a day or two, and no one follows it up. Meanwhile, no one other than the Blog Quixotic is continually investigating the camp operators or their relationship to local politicians. And no on  is asking the tough questions about whether these sanctioned homeless camps are solving homelessness… or making it worse.

There will probably never be enough popular anger at the camp system to shut it down, but in the broader political sense, there’s still much cause for optimism, because with each passing week the City’s failure of leadership on the homeless issue generally is costing it more. Vagrancy has been on a steady upward trend since the first camp opened, with some lurid new case of squalor or crime making the news almost daily. After 10 years of rising taxes and deteriorating conditions on the street, the voters are getting disgusted. In May, a relatively modest City Council scheme to raise $50 million for homeless spending through a head tax on City employers was overturned by voter initiative within month of its passage, and there is now talk of a new crop of outsiders – neighborhood activists – rising to challenge the incumbents in the 2019 City Council elections. I’ve interviewed several of these prospective challengers, and they’re all running on an anti-vagrancy, pro-accountability platform. That’s going to be a problem for the incumbents, because they are all associated in the voters’ minds with both homeless camps and the rise in vagrancy.

So there might yet be hope that the voices of Licton Springs Village neighbors will be heard.

–By David Preston

All pictures are by the author, City of Seattle, or anonymous.

I thank the following people for their support, both moral and editorial, in the creation of this and other articles about the Homeless Industrial Complex:

Elisabeth James
Jennifer Aspelund
Aden Nardone
Amber Matthai
Chad Smith
Avril Barlow

Do you like this investigative journalism? Then reward me.


 ~ Postscript ~

Community Advisory Councils: Another brick in the wall

Josh Castle selects members of the Community Advisory Councils and is camp operator LIHI’s man on the scene at community meetings. Here he is at the Licton Springs Repermitting meeting in March.

Another reason why sanctioned camp neighbors don’t trust the input process is because of their experience with the Community Advisory Councils (CAC). As part of the sanctioned encampments contract, each camp is required to establish a CAC of some half a dozen “community members” who will hold monthly meetings, take public input, and advise the City and the neighbors on the operations of the camp. The CAC is marketed to camp neighbors as being their own little camp monitor, but in fact the CACs are as fake as any other part of the facade.

CAC members aren’t chosen by the neighborhood; they’re selected by the camp operator. Accordingly, people who are in any way critical of the sanctioned camp model or the operator are never appointed to be on these things. Only those who can be counted on to cheer for the camp – or at least stay out of the way – are chosen. A typical CAC might include a local pastor whose parishioners bring meals to the camp; a manager at a non-profit that, like the camp operator, depends on the funding from the city; an ex-resident of the camp, a sympathetic local housewife; and one or two social justice activists. CAC members are not required to live near the camp they oversee.

The CACs don’t act as advocates for the communities surrounding the camps, and  neighbors who have tried getting satisfaction through them are always frustrated. The response people living around the camps get when they complain about trash or increased crime is the same one they got at the March 26 meeting: “It’s not the people at the camp who are doing these crimes, so it’s not our responsibility.”


And yet another thing…

Apparently, Licton Springs Village was never granted a master use permit for the first year it was in operation, because there is no record of such a permit on file with the City. If you do a Permit and Property Records Search and search on the address 8620 Aurora Ave N, you will see a list of permit-related documents for the camp. The search returns 23 documents, including the 2018 master use permit renewal for that camp, but there is no permit for the property for the time it was being operated between the spring of 2017 and March 26, 2018. There are construction and electrical permits for the camp’s first year, but no land-use permit.

That could be because the paperwork wasn’t scanned and uploaded into the database, but given how important the master use permit is relative to the other documents, that is unlikely.


Appendix A
The Licton Springs Camp Master Use Renewal Permit

licton_springs_camp_2018_permit


Appendix B
Licton Springs Village Visitor Packet

This document was prepared by camp operator SHARE to give to Licton Springs Village visitors and the media. It was also handed out at the March 26th community meeting. The camp receives several hundred thousand dollars a year in subsidies, but note that SHARE is asking visitors for basic items like food and blankets:

Licton_Springs_Visitor_Packet


Appendix C
Testimony and documentation from students at the University of Washington School of Public Health

At the March 26th community meeting, these college students and their adviser  praised the Licton Springs camp and presented a report that they claimed showed crime hadn’t increased at the encampment in the first year of its operation. Here’s a transcript of their testimony, along with the report they submitted.

UW_Students_Licton_Springs


Bibliography

In reverse chronological order

Seattle to improve security near tiny house village after complaints. (KING5 News, July 31, 2018)

No link between homeless villages and crime rates, Guardian review suggests (The Guardian, May 23, 2018)

Crime reports spike as tiny house village seeks permit renewal. (KOMO News, April 26, 2018)

This tiny house village allows drugs. (Seattle Times, April 23, 2018) Note that the Times uses the camp operator’s “tiny house village” terminology to describe the camp.

Licton Springs Homeless Village: This is Seattle’s first low-barrier shelter. Residents can stay while here while drunk or high on drugs. (KSLTV Enterprise Team, May 26, 2017. YouTube video.)

Tiny Homes: Seattle’s Latest Solution to Housing Homeless  (Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2017)

 


END

Posted in Crime, General, Homelessness, Nickelsville, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Letter from the ‘hood: No more homeless camps here, please!

August 11, 2018 ~ Camp Second Chance is a sprawling cluster of tents and shacks located on Myers Way South, in the Highland Park neighborhood of southwest Seattle, just inside the Seattle city line. The camp popped up in the summer of 2016 when a handful of people from SHARE’s Tent City 3 homeless camp in north Seattle broke a lock and illegally occupied a patch of vacant land that had been set aside for a park just months earlier. The founding campers told me they were dissatisfied with SHARE’s management of Tent City 3 and wanted to create a new kind of camp modeled on sobriety and genuine self-management.

Image: Google Maps (Click to enlarge)

Image: Google Maps. (Click to enlarge)

The City of Seattle decided not to evict the campers, and, after being there for a few months, the camp leaders decided they would apply for city funding to pay for services like trash removal, port-a-potty service, and electricity. In other words, they wanted to be a “sanctioned” camp and have a contract with Seattle to run homeless camps, like the ones SHARE had around the city. All sanctioned homeless camps require a sponsor, which can either be a church or a 501(c)3. In early 2017, a Buddhist group called Patacara, whose director, Polly Trout, had participated in the initial occupation of the land, received a contract from Seattle’s Human Services Department (HSD) to run Camp Second Chance; however, Patacara’s sponsorship of the camp ended a few months later, when camp leader Eric Davis accused Trout of financial mismanagement. The contract to run the camp was then transferred to SHARE* and its partner, the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI). At the point SHARE/LIHI became, once again, the City’s sole contractor for running sanctioned homeless camps. Continue reading

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Banned on Facebook: Sex in the Cemetery

June 9, 2018 ~ The note and photos below document criminal activity. They were sent to us by Ari Hoffman, a Jewish man who has been fighting a years-long battle against the desecration of the Bikur Cholim cemetery in Seattle, where members of his family are buried. You can read more about Ari’s saga here.

This material was originally published on the Safe Seattle Facebook page in late May 2018. Because the crimes were alleged rather than proven, faces in the top photo were blurred, but the second photo was left unblurred because the individuals’ faces were not clearly visible. Two weeks after it was published, the second photograph was flagged by someone “brigading” the page and trying to take it down. Facebook removed the photo on the grounds that it violated the company’s mysterious “community standards” and without further explanation or appeal banned the poster from using Facebook for three days, with a warning that they could be booted from the social network permanently if further violations occurred. –David Preston

* * *

WARNING!
Some of the material below violates Facebook’s community standards.

* * *

This couple was caught having sex in Seattle’s Bikur Cholim [Jewish] cemetery. No arrest was made, but we filed a report anyway. Saw them wandering the neighborhood later in the day. –Ari Hoffman

Click on photos to enlarge

 

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We the Living

June 9, 2018 ~ (Originally published on the Safe Seattle Facebook page)

We’ve been talking with SODO business owner Ari Hoffman about his efforts to get the city to keep the area around the Bikur Cholim Jewish cemetery clean of squatters and trash. It’s been a difficult process. Even with the local media and Jewish communities solidly behind him, Ari is having trouble keeping this sacred place sacred.

At our request, Ari provided us with a timeline of events . . .


Related image

Ari Hoffman

Two years ago, the Mayor’s office and City Council squared off when a plan was released showing that the Council was planning on letting green spaces be used as homeless encampments. The Jewish Community was very concerned because we are not allowed to drive on the sabbath or holidays, so we walk everywhere. (Little known Jewish fact: [observant] Jews are required by Jewish law to give 10% of their earnings to charity.) Our synagogues all have at their root the term Bikur Cholim which translates to helping the sick, because that’s what we do: We help people. And we want to KEEP helping people, but the criminal element is not being addressed here, and that’s a problem.

In response to me organizing the Jewish community to speak out to stop this proposal, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle organized a meeting with CM O’Brien prior to election day of 2016. Nothing came of that meeting, however. The highlight was O’Brien saying “Knock on wood, when the right person is elected, we’ll have more resources to deal with homelessness.”

Exactly one month later we had a meeting with CM Tim Burgess. That meeting was slightly more productive; he at least gave me names of contact people who were working on the homeless problem, and I submitted a rough plan to them to take derelict properties and turn them into homeless shelters. They told me they could not implement these plans because they couldn’t change the zoning of these properties.

Things over the next two years continued to get worse for the cemeteries up north and also around my office in SODO. RVs have moved in, and lately we have been finding needles, feces, garbage, meth and other things at both locations. Truckers in SODO are taking advantage of this as well, by parking wherever they want and doing oil changes right in the street. At night, they fight over “their” parking spots, and bullets have come through my office windows. I have found homeless, mentally disturbed people stripping on my loading dock.

At the cemetery, it goes beyond just homeless people living there. Prostitutes and drug dealers have started working the nearby woods. The synagogues that fund the cemetery have had to spend $110,000 installing lights and cameras and clearing an area not due for development for 30 years to address the problem. RVs are parked out front and mourners are ticketed for illegal parking but not the RVs. Groundskeepers are assaulted. Vagrants use [redacted] to break into our chapel rest rooms and set up camp in them. They hack our power. They tap into the cemetery’s water. We have a ritual where we wash our hands after being in a cemetery, which we now cannot do because we have had to lock all the spigots. Every morning we find more and more things on the tombstones. Police almost never respond. If they do it takes 3-5 hours, even when our groundskeepers were being assaulted!

By late April, I’d finally had enough. I started calling the media and the story got picked up. I even caught a man on camera with Q13 letting his dog do its business in the cemetery. Still nothing was done. The RV dwellers got tired of the media attention and moved on, but they didn’t go far. They parked at other cemeteries in the area. Last Thursday, after multiple calls I made, Councilmember Juarez’s office set up a site visit for this Tuesday. On Monday the staff called me to tried to reschedule. I said no.

By that time most of the campers had left because of the bad PR. And then (!) the navigation team finally shows up to deal with the one remaining tent. That’s the guy who was interviewed in King 5 news.

Juarez didn’t show up Tuesday to the cemetery and sent her staff instead. Thirty some community members did show up, though, including all denominations of Judaism, employees of nearby hospitals, cemeteries and neighbors who are all dealing with the same thing. That was covered pretty well on Q13. A new tent appeared that morning and the police came promptly to deal with it in advance of the visit of the staff.

I have sent emails to every councilmember and the Mayor. The Mayor responded saying navigation team was dealing with the problem, even though they had not been. O’Brien’s office finally got back to me this week and said the head tax will fix everything. The back and forth on that was fun.

Despite the fact that the cemeteries are in her district, Juarez’s office has stopped returning my emails. I have been calling Harrell for two weeks and his office finally said to me today he would prefer to work on it with DPD and that he wont take a meeting with us. [Note: Harrell has since agreed to meet with Mr. Hoffman. That’s scheduled for this Thursday.]

I went to the “town hall” meeting sponsored by the SODO BIA, and after the meeting, I confronted Councilmembers Herbold and Gonzalez about the Council issuing a stand-down order to SPD. They claim no such order was given, even though police officers have told me it has been. Additionally, I told the members about Juarez not showing up and Juarez’ comments to the Jewish constituent comparing his comments about vagrants in Seattle to the way Nazi Germany treated the Jews. (That exchange was documented in the Seattle Times.)

Every year our synagogue runs an event before Memorial Day to put flags on the graves of veterans in our cemeteries. I have informed the Council that armed congregants will be protecting the kids who do this and will deal with anyone who should not be on the property. Some of the security I have found for this event are former [Israel Defense Force] soldiers.

The cemeteries are filling out damage forms with the City and may have to litigate if the $110,000 claim is denied. The synagogues have sent formal letters to the city to deal with the issue and no responses have been received. The synagogue has been getting phone calls from all over the world because the story has been picked up nationally and internationally and many people who live elsewhere have people buried in the cemetery.

Thank you for reading this.

–Ari Hoffman

 

More on this story here (on Facebook):

July 23, 2018: Respect: One man’s fight to save what’s good about Seattle

July 8, 2018: Bikur Cholim Cemetery Association considering legal action

May 31, 2018: They used to help the homeless…

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

The Seattle Head Tax: What we’ve been missing

June 3, 2018 ~ Everyone’s talking about the Head Tax, about how much money it would raise, about how the money will be spent (or misspent), about how it might affect business… Almost no one’s talking about who it was that designed this tax in the first place.

The committee that developed the tax ordinance was called the “Progressive Revenue Task Force.” It was constituted by the City Council and co-chaired by Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Lorena Gonzalez, with an assist from  substitute CM Kirsten Harris-Talley. –All “progressives” in good standing. Since the idea behind the Task Force was to raise money from big business to create more affordable housing, one would expect it be packed with business people and experts on affordable housing. That wasn’t what happened, though. Truer to its name than to its mission, the Task Force was dominated by ideologues (“progressives”) who wanted to get their hands on some revenue.

Who ARE these guys?

So who was on there to grab that cash with both hands and make a stash? Let’s take a look…

The SHARE organization was on the Task Force, in the person of homeless advocate Courtney O’Toole (pictured far right in the photo above, taken by the author). SHARE isn’t a housing provider; they’re a political pressure group that gets city money to keep people in “sanctioned” homeless camps. I have covered this group extensively on this blog. Two years ago, for example, I busted them for using a fake accountant to review their books. That man was fined, and SHARE was ultimately defunded by Seattle’s Human Services Department as a result. Unfortunately, SHARE’s funding was later restored at the insistence of Councilmember Kshama Sawant and Morrow’s other allies on the Council. SHARE stands to get a chunk of Head Tax money through its subsidiary LIHI (see the item on Tom Mathews below); it is therefore an interested party and shouldn’t have had anyone on the Task Force.

Through a Glass Darkly: Peggy Hotes and Scott Morrow, co-directors of the SHARE organization, keep a watchful eye on protege Courtney O’Toole as she represents SHARE’s interests on the Progressive Revenue Task Force. SHARE will be one of the prime beneficiaries of Head Tax proceeds, even though the homeless camps they run aren’t about getting people into “affordable housing.” Photo: David Preston

The Transit Riders Union was there, represented by Katie Wilson. Like SHARE, the Transit Riders Union is a pressure group that has nothing to do with housing. Or with transit riding either. Indeed, the group’s sole function seems to be demonstrating at City Hall in favor of more money for groups like SHARE and against removal of homeless camps. I don’t know how the Transit Riders Union gets funded, but if you follow the Head Tax money to its final destination, you’ll likely find some of it lining TRU’s pockets.

Katie Wilson of the Seattle Transit Riders Union defended the Head Tax at a raucous Ballard Town Hall in May. Wilson’s organization is politically allied with SHARE and other groups that stand to gain from the tax. Photo: David Preston

Lisa Daugaard was on the Task Force. Like the others, Daugaard has nothing to do with affordable housing. She works for the private Public Defender Association and runs a “social justice” project called L.E.A.D., which gets taxpayer money and which will get even more if the Head Tax is imposed on Seattle businesses. L.E.A.D. (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) is a politically sexy but non-evidence-based program that shields chronic drug users from arrest if they agree to engage with social workers and “accept” benefits. Daugaard is also one of the loudest voices behind heroin injection sites. You can see a video I made about the L.E.A.D. program’s impact in the Belltown neighborhood where it was piloted here.

Ian Eisenberg, owner of Uncle Ike’s Pot Shops, was there. I know Eisenberg and had hoped he’d be a voice for reason and for business on the Task Force. And he was a voice for business: His. Pot shops were exempted from the Head Tax under the proposal that Eisenberg helped craft. That’s a coincidence, I’m sure.

Ian “Uncle Ike” Eisenberg seemed bored at the January meeting of the Task Force. He got an exemption for pot shops out of his participation, though, so perhaps it was worth the sacrifice. Photo: David Preston

Tom Mathews, board member and former president of Walsh Construction was there. Mathews is the only member who could qualify as an expert on affordable housing.* But there’s a catch. Mathews is also on the board of the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), which I’ve also written about extensively on this blog. As this article shows, LIHI and Walsh Construction are cozy, which is understandable, since Walsh gets a good chunk of its business from LIHI projects. And here SHARE’s Scott Morrow comes into the picture again. Morrow co-founded LIHI in 1991 and LIHI and SHARE still cooperate,  jointly running an archipelago of city-funded homeless encampments around town.

Although Tom Mathews represents a company that provides affordable housing, and therefore technically counts as a housing expert, his indirect connection with SHARE’s Scott Morrow makes his presence on the Task Force questionable. Morrow already had one representative on the Task Force (Courtney O’Toole), and since Mathews is also on the board of LIHI, which is effectively controlled by Morrow, it’s fair to say that SHARE was double-represented . . . or triple represented if you count SHARE’s other ally, Katie Wilson, of the Transit Riders Union. And let’s not forget that CMs Lisa Herbold and Kristen Harris-Tally, are long-time SHARE associates as well. All together, Morrow had at least five people on the Task Force representing his interests!

Tom Mathews of Walsh Construction poses with Sharon Lee of LIHI. Photo: Daily Journal of Commerce

And so it goes. There were 16 members on the Progressive Revenue Task Force, and if you look into it, you will probably find that every one of them had some stake in being there. They all had something to gain. They were all either activists, like Katie Wilson, or outright dependents, like Courtney O’Toole and Tom Mathews, or carpetbaggers, like Ian Eisenberg. There was only one housing provider (the double-agent Mathews) and there were no authentic representatives from any of the businesses that would have had to pay the tax. The few companies, like Bartell’s, who took the Council’s invitation seriously and applied to be on the Task Force were rejected. (See this Stranger article for more info on the also-rans.) Nor was business represented in the audience. The meeting I went to in January was packed with “social justice” advocates from SHARE the Transit Riders Union. Many of the people supporting the tax were familiar faces at Council meetings. There were no voices, besides my own, speaking against it.

Double Duty: Social justice advocate Sally Kinney testifies in favor of the Task Force’s original $150 million package at a meeting in January 2018. Kinney, who regularly speaks for SHARE’s interests at Council meetings, also serves on the City’s Community Involvement Commission. Photo: David Preston

Where was the Balance?

Why didn’t the Council try to bring balance to the Task Force? Maybe they didn’t see the lack of balance as a problem. Indeed, they might have seen a business-free Task Force as a selling point, since the premise of the tax seems to have been that big business is evil and has been shirking its duty to help out with the housing crisis. Given that premise, why would the Council listen to what business says on this?

Maybe the Council was in such a rush to push the Head Tax through that they didn’t want to risk bogging it down with dissonant voices. Or maybe they just needed to pay back some political favors they owed to SHARE and the others, and they thought no one would bother to look closely at the Task Force’s composition anyway, or ask where the members’ real interests lay. But if that’s what they thought, they were wrong.

Oink! Councilmembers Lorena Gonzalez and Lisa Herbold co-chaired the Progressive Revenue Task Force. Herbold has long-standing ties to SHARE and LIHI, both of whom were represented on the Task Force and both of whom stand to gain from tax if it’s ultimately implemented. Photo: David Preston

In early May, the Task Force submitted to the Council its proposed ordinance calling for a $500/employee annual tax on businesses grossing over $10 million. The plan was estimated to generate $150 million in revenue. Initial support for that package was not strong, though, and after hundreds of businesses big and small came out publicly against it, and Amazon, a prime target of the tax, stopped construction on two large building projects downtown in protest, Mayor Jenny Durkan suggested that she might veto the bill.

On May 14, the Council voted 9 to 0 for a pared-down package, proposed by Durkan, that is estimated to generate $50 million with a tax of about $275 on businesses grossing over $20 million. It will affect nearly 600 employers in Seattle. That is, if it survives. The Head Tax, even in its diminished form, has generated a surprising amount of controversy. And opposition. A referendum petition is being circulated by a group called “No Tax on Jobs” (FB: NoTaxOnJobs) and it appears to be well on the way to getting the required 18,000 to force a public vote on the tax in November.**

By David Preston with assistance from Chad Smith

Do you appreciate what this blog does? There’s an easy way to say Thanks…


*Affordable housing is something a misnomer in the Seattle context. If, by affordable, we mean a rent-stabilized apartment pegged to a certain amount of Area Median Income (say 20%) then a city can guarantee to create a certain amount of affordable housing construction, subject only to the amount it can raise in taxes or bonding. But if, by affordable, we mean an apartment that can be built at market rate or significantly below, then Seattle is on a fool’s errand. The price-per-square-foot cost of government-built housing is known to run well above market rates.

**The author has participated in this effort as a volunteer signature gatherer.

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There Was a Crooked Trail

May 18, 2018 ~ The closer you look at the way bike lanes and trails are being put in around Seattle, the more disturbing the picture looks. I know what you’re thinking: Bike lanes? Disturbing? Come on, Quixotic. Lighten up.–No really. Hear me out.

Take the Missing Link bike trail project in Ballard, for example. That’s a proposed 1.5 mile path that will connect the main part of the Burke-Gilman Trail, which runs along the west side of Lake Washington, to a stub running along Shilshole Bay on the west edge of Ballard.

The link is missing, and it does need to be put somewhere. But the path the City is proposing for it would take it through an industrial and maritime corridor, and that will disrupt – and possibly destroy – several large businesses in the neighborhood, as well as a spur railroad line that was built in the late 1990s to serve them. Continue reading

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No Excuses: How Seattle’s activist judges endanger our citizens

May 13, 2018 ~ In a landmark court case last March, King County superior court judge Catherine Shaffer cited an obscure provision of Washington’s Homestead Act to rule that cities can’t impound vehicles or “excessively fine” their owners when those owners are living on board. If upheld, that ruling will block police from confronting the growing number of criminals running drug operations and doing other sleazy stuff out of their RVs. Packs of RVs have already turned several areas of downtown into “no go” zones, and one of the places impacted, ironically enough, is the King County Courthouse, where Judge Shaffer holds court. Last summer, the Courthouse made headlines when several jurors were assaulted and King County Sheriff John Urquhart was attacked by a psychotic man with a pair of scissors.

After reading the story about Judge Shaffer, one of my readers on the Safe Seattle Facebook page told me she’d been assigned jury duty downtown last fall and had asked to be reassigned to the suburban Kent Regional Justice Center instead because she feared for her safety. Shaffer turned the woman down, telling her that if she felt unsafe, she could use the back entrance to the building. This graphic shows her letter asking to be excused and Judge Shaffer’s response:

Below is some commentary the unexcused juror sent to me, describing the incident:

In my request to be excused, I cited the attack on Sheriff Urquhart that happened a few days prior. The Sheriff was able to defend himself because he has a weapon. I am unable to bring a weapon to court and did not feel safe standing on the street waiting for the bus at the end of the day or walking from the bus to the courthouse. I didn’t ask to be excused all together; I just asked to be assigned to the courthouse in Kent, so I could drive there. Judge Shaffer didn’t address my concern and instead told me to go in the County Administration Building on Fourth Avenue and then walk through the underground tunnel to the Court. That was not helpful to me.

.

I had to take a bus to downtown Seattle in the middle of winter when it’s dark for much of the day. Luckily, the bus let me off on the safe side of the street, and it was in the 20s that morning, so the street dwellers were tucked away keeping warm. In the end it was a total waste of my time. They had more people then they needed, and 60 of us were sent home after watching the video. Luckily I was one of the them, but still, it was such a waste. There was $600 plus mileage spent just on the first group they sent home. There were close to 200 of us waiting and most were sent home by lunch.

It would appear that Judge Shaffer cares more about the rights of criminals living in RVs than she cares about the safety of the good citizens she compels to appear for jury duty. In this case, there was no reason for Shaffer to compel the juror to come downtown, since the Court had overbooked by about 60 people anyway. Shaffer’s actions make no sense, unless you see them in the context of “progressive” Seattle, where those who obey the law are vilified while those who disobey it are exalted.

–David Preston

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The Swindle Cycle

February 4, 2018 ~ I have a friend, “Joe,” whose mind zips along at a hundred miles an hour. He’s always analyzing city politics and connecting the dots. On a typical day, he’ll send me a dozen e-mails with various insights and links to news stories he thinks I’ll like.

Today Joe sent me this diagram he made explaining how the Homeless Industrial Complex thrives off the homelessness that is manufactured, in a sense, by its own actions. I like this diagram very much, and I have dubbed it The Swindle Cycle™ in accordance with my theory that Seattle’s homeless “crisis” is in fact nothing more than that: one giant swindle.

Of course Joe’s diagram is an oversimplification; there are many other factors that affect the cycle – things like corrupt politicians, pressure groups, lazy news media, a distracted citizenry – but this diagram captures the process in its essentials.


One caveat I’d add is bear in mind that the Seattle-ites who get priced out of their homes due to tax increases and rent hikes* (center left position on the cycle) are not the same people we see living on the streets. In fact, they are not a significant part of the homeless population at all. A person doesn’t go from living in a pricey studio on Capitol Hill one month to being sprawled out under the viaduct with a needle in his arm the next, just because of a rent hike. But that doesn’t change the equation, because, as with any con game, it’s illusion that drives it and not reality. Yes, people ARE being priced out of Seattle; that’s a given. And yes we ARE seeing more homeless people on the streets than ever. The Homeless Industrial Complex wants us to conflate those two groups, and in the absence of any data proving that they are not the same – and there IS no such data, thanks to the efforts of Homeless, Inc. – people will assume that they ARE the same. Once that illusion has been implanted, Homeless, Inc. and their allies on the City Council can go to the good people of Seattle and say: “You’re doing so well here… but look, others are suffering! It’s your fault these people are on the street, so it’s your moral obligation to give us some of your money, so we can help them.” –Thus begins another round of tax hikes, rent increases, and price outs, and a new, even larger wave of vagrants hits the streets.

And so the swindle continues…

–David Preston and Joe

Also see my article “Anatomy of a Swindle” for more background on this.

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Taking Care of (Homeless) Business

Campaign finance laws and the Homeless Industrial Complex

 January 12, 2017 

Seattle perceives itself as a national leader in the effort to get money out of politics. Initiative 122, approved by voters in 2015, tried to attack the problem in two ways. First, it created a “democracy voucher” program that would give every adult citizen four $25 vouchers to give to the candidate(s) of their choice. Second, it lowered the contribution limit for all candidates. Third, it forbade any companies doing over $250K in business with the city (or their owners) in the two years previous to the election from contributing anything. All these rules and regulations are enforce by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (or SEEC) of whom I have written before.

I’m going to take a look at how that last part of I-122 has been working out, particularly as it regards homeless services contractors. But first, some background on why campaign donations from contractors are a problem.

Continue reading

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Back to the Middle: Post-election Analysis of the Seattle 2017 Races

November 10, 2017 

The following factors had the most influence on the Seattle races, in descending order of importance…

● Low voter turnout
● Low-info voting
● The media
● Labor unions
● National politics
● Local politics
● Money
● The candidates

With the exception of Mitzi Johanknecht’s upset win in the King County Sheriff race, there were no surprises, and in fact, the only reason Johanknecht won was because the Seattle Times ran a couple exposes in the weeks before the election. (This is one of the few things the Times has done right lately.)

For races that were not contested by an incumbent (mayor, council Position 8, city attorney) the slightly-less-radical candidates who had machine backing and/or big money behind them won.

The Big One: 2017 Seattle Mayoral finalists Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon. Image: KOMO

The candidates who lost will be tempted to blame it on money, but that’s actually near the bottom of the list. Cary Moon didn’t lose because she didn’t have the war chest Jenny Durkan had; she lost because she was too radical for voters. Moon squandered what political capital she had with the middle by leaving the issues behind and trying to court Nikkita Oliver in the last weeks of the campaign. Oliver was clearly bitter about Moon edging her out in the primary and she was never going to requite Moon’s affections. But even if she had, it wouldn’t have closed the gap between Durkan and Moon. I always said Moon shouldn’t have been in the race….


Council Position 8

Like Jenny Durkan, Teresa Mosqueda also benefited from voters turning away from the radical left. Mosqueda presents as a social justice warrior, but her opponent Jon Grant is a sullen, anti-establishment radical of the Kshama Sawant type. And a White male to boot! Labor and Democratic Party bosses needed to keep this character out of City Hall, and Mosqueda was their secret weapon: a sexy, bouncy young Latina who just happened (what luck!) to be an experienced labor organizer and political operative with tons of “progressive” credibility. It just doesn’t get any better than that for the Machine, folks. Between her charisma, the help she got from unions and the Dems, and the public’s disenchantment with radicals like Grant on the other, Mosqueda could have won the election without spending a dime.

City Council Position 8 (citywide) finalists Teresa Mosqueda and Jon Grant


Council Position 9

Ironically, the same forces that kept an bad candidate out of one seat kept a bad candidate in another one. Lorena Gonzalez was the incumbent, and like any smart incumbent who’s not dealing with a scandal, she sat the election out. Gonzalez made just a handful of public appearances and did not distinguish herself at any of them. She relied on the Stranger, the unions, the Democratic Party machine, and lazy, apathetic voters to do the work for her. As I demonstrated in a series of blog pieces, Gonzalez cheated on the Democracy Voucher Program and in that way she was able to score some extra cash, but she probably would have trounced challenger Pat Murakami anyway. In the end, it didn’t matter that Murakami – a grassroots activist and business owner who had a broad base of support in the neighborhoods – ran a smart and principled campaign, but wasn’t enough to overcome the incumbent’s edge. Especially in a down-ballot race where that incumbent had help from Labor and the Democratic Party bosses.

City Council Position 9 (citywide) finalists Lorena Gonzalez and Pat Murakami

City Attorney

The city attorney race was much like Position 9. On one side you had an incumbent, Pete Holmes, who wasn’t a complete screw-up and who had the backing of the Democratic Party machine, unions, and the hard-left media. Against him was Murray aide Scott Lindsay, who, though he had the advantage of youth and a political pedigree, was cast as not experienced enough AND not left enough. A death sentence in Seattle. This was another down-ballot race that didn’t attract much interest from voters. Despite the blow to his ego, Lindsay’s probably not going to fade away.

City Attorney finalists Scott Lindsay and Pete Holmes


A word about the media…

Increasingly, the press exerts a corrupting influence on American politics, that’s a given, but it had an especially pernicious influence in the Seattle elections this year. You might think that the media’s influence extends no further than the occasional expose or the editors’ picks in voters guides. That’s not the half of it.

The media shape voters’ choices from the earliest stages of the race by helping some candidates while holding back others.

After accused pedophile Ed Murray dropped out of the Seattle mayor race, the field became choked with 21 candidates, many of whom were vanity candidates or outright kooks. Of that number, there were at least 10 viable candidates, some of whom represented a moderate-to-right point of view. Unfortunately, the two main Seattle newspapers, the Seattle Times and the Stranger, immediately sidelined the moderate candidates and selected six left-wing candidates that they considered viable. Other organizations followed their lead, and from that point on, these six “leading” candidates would be the ones who got the interviews and invitations to forums, while the other 15 had to wait in the lobby. The media’s hasty filtering of candidates dumbed down the primary gave us a dumber general election. It never occurred to the voters frustrated with their lack of meaningful choices in November that that had happened back in May, when the Stranger and Times had colluded to keep moderate-to-right candidates off the field.

When you take that kind of media shaping and apply it to an electorate that’s already disengaged and apathetic, it’s a recipe for low voter turnout. And that’s a recipe for a failed city. Which is exactly what Seattle will become, unless we keep heading back. Back to the middle.

–David Preston

Disclosure: I was a candidate in the Position 9 city council race. I also managed mayoral candidate Harley Lever. –Editor

 

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Recalling Mike O’Brien: The Basics

November 14, 2017 

The right to recall an elected official is a constitutional right of the people set forth in our constitution. The procedure is governed by statute. A “typewritten charge” needs to be submitted and it has to allege malfeasance, misfeasance or violation of the oath of office.* That charge has to be specific as to date, location and nature of the act or acts complained of. The charge has to be submitted by a person in the position to know and signed under oath. The prosecutor then writes a ballot synopsis. Then there is a hearing in superior court. The hearing can involve lawyers and testimony.

The court decides whether the factual allegations are sufficient (the court’s role is not to decide whether they are truthful) to move forward and also whether to make changes to the ballot synopsis. The official to be recalled can appeal a sufficiency finding to the supreme court. A sufficient charge can move forward with a petition and there are timelines for gathering signatures, timeline for the above-mentioned hearing, signature requirements (35% of total number of votes cast for the position), form requirements, an opportunity for response, a recall election – majority rules. If the recall is successful, the seat is vacant. What happens next? I believe the City Council can then fill the position until the next election but I would need to read more.

The standard for proving the legal and factual sufficiency of a petition in the superior court is high and there is a well-developed body of cases rejecting petitions based on, essentially, policy or judgment disagreements, among other similar things. There was a recall effort against Kshama Sawant’s predecessor Richard Conlin, but the Recall Conlin petition did not clear this high bar. 


*
(1) “Misfeasance” or “malfeasance” in office means any wrongful conduct that affects, interrupts, or interferes with the performance of official duty;

(a) Additionally, “misfeasance” in office means the performance of a duty in an improper manner; and

(b) Additionally, “malfeasance” in office means the commission of an unlawful act;

(2) “Violation of the oath of office” means the neglect or knowing failure by an elective public officer to perform faithfully a duty imposed by law.

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The Ins and Outs of Recall Elections

November 12, 2017

This article is the first in a series of posts related to removing Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien from office.

A recall election is one option we have for ridding ourselves of bad politicians. Recall elections are difficult to organize and win, and that’s by design. You don’t want them to be too easy to win or you risk intimidating the good guys and undermining the democratic system. But you can’t make them too hard to win, either, or you risk allowing garden-variety oafs and miscreants to morph into downright tyrants.

Recall elections can succeed (or fail) in several ways. If a recall vote succeeds and you remove the offending politician, that is an apparent success. However, a moral defeat can still be snatched from victory’s jaws, because when the bad pol is removed, a successor must then be appointed (not elected) to serve out the rest of the bad guy’s term. If the successor is even worse than the pol who was removed, you can chalk that up as a moral defeat.

Victory can be snatched from defeat’s jaws too. Even if the recall fails, depending on how far it gets and how it’s conducted, it might just weaken the target sufficiently so that he falls in the next election. Or it might discourage him from even running again. Some of you will recall citizen Elizabeth Campbell’s recall complaint against Councilmember Richard Conlin in 2011. Though that complaint didn’t get past the first hurdle (a judge found it “insufficient” to proceed to the petition stage) the resulting bad publicity for Conlin tarnished his image and likely contributed to his loss in the next election.*

And there is yet another risk to be considered here, because the flip side of a tarnished image for the pol is a burnished one for him. Should he survive the recall with a handy margin, he will be stronger than before, and if that happens, then the would-be recallers might actually be lengthening the bad guy’s “hour upon the stage,” rather than shortening it. Something to think about.

Lately I’ve been looking into the matter of recalls, with an eye toward removing CM Mike O’Brien from his perch before his term’s up in 2019. In my next post, I’ll be sharing what I hear from the lawyers.

Thanks for reading and don’t touch that dial. –David Preston

*Conlin lost to Kshama Sawant, which was actually a moral defeat, since Sawant has been, if anything, even worse than Conlin was.

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Ethics Evasion Commission

November 7, 2017 

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission enforces the Seattle Code of Ethics, which was designed to keep Seattle government honest by applying fines and other penalties to elected officials, candidates, and city employees who violated the rules of the Code. Unfortunately, the Commission has few tools at its disposal, and the ones it does have, it uses timidly. Its members are appointed by some of the same officials it is tasked with policing, and in some cases, which I’ll discuss below, it is staffed by these officials as well. The Commission is necessarily a political creature, and it is only as honest as the political culture in which it operates. When that culture is honest and peer pressure works to enforce normative behavior, the Commission appears to be working to keep everyone honest. As the culture degrades and becomes increasingly dishonest, the Commission lowers its standards accordingly. Where it blessed and sanctified an honest culture before, it now does the same for a corrupt one. And what else can it do? By itself it is powerless to change the course of events.

I’ve followed the doings of the Commission for the past two years and have noticed that when it comes to complaints against City employees and candidates, penalties are light, even when the complaint is proven. A complaint I made against City Council candidate Lorena Gonzalez was affirmed at a hearing in early September. The Commission acknowledged that Gonzalez – who was trying to be certified for Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program – had wrongly claimed that she’d attended three public forums during the primary. But they declined to impose any penalty on her, reasoning that since the program was new, and since it was complex in some of its aspects, Gonzalez should be not be held to the letter of the law. A week later, the Commission qualified Gonzalez to participate in the Democracy Voucher Program, thereby entitling her to receive some $140,000 worth of vouchers she’d collected in the taxpayer-funded campaign financing program. Continue reading

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Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 4: Where was Lorena?

October 1, 2017 ~ News of my complaint to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission on Lorena Gonzalez made the Seattle Weekly. Good on them. One correction to their story: Weekly writer Dan Person noted correctly that I was a candidate for Seattle City Council Position 9; however, since I’m not a Democrat, he assumed I’m a Republican. Actually, I ran as an independent. Otherwise, Person got the story right:

[Click on the image below to read the Weekly story.]

Continue reading

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The New Witch Hunters

September 28, 2017 

In the 1950s, Senator Joe McCarthy’s “House Un-American Activities Committee” hung like a noose around the liberal establishment’s neck, ready to draw tight at a witness’s refusal to name his associates in the Communist Party. Initially McCarthy went after bona fide party members, but as the Red Scare deepened, HUAC expanded its reach and began going after anyone suspected of being a little too left for comfort. Artists, peace activists, labor organizers, or just anyone who questioned McCarthy’s methods: they were all suspect. Suddenly, there was a communist hiding under every bed.

Ultimately, McCarthy was disgraced and banished from politics, and the word “McCarthyism” entered the lexicon as a word meaning a culture of denunciation and fear, a method of silencing one’s political opponents through public interrogation and guilt-by-association. Perhaps we thought we’d left the witch hunts of those days behind with the Cold War and hula hoops. If so, we were wrong.

Trump’s America

November 2016: In the first days after Donald Trumps election, he began receiving unwelcome gestures of support from far-right political figures. They included white supremacist Richard Spencer, who concluded, from some of Trump’s campaign rhetoric on immigration, that a President Trump would be favorable to Spencer’s white identity politics. Trump was perceived as being slow to denounce Spencer and has made a series of political missteps on race since then, culminating with his equivocal remarks following a mass demonstration by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12. Continue reading

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Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 3: What’s left of the Dream?

September 8, 2017 ~ Remember when the Democracy Voucher Program was proposed? It was supposed to get big money out of politics and get grassroots candidates in. We’re now six months into our first election with the vouchers and where are we on that whole get-money-out-politics thing? Well… let’s see.

¶ In June, someone sued the City over the program, claiming it was compelling taxpayers to pay for someone else’s free speech. That suit is in process and inside sources tell me it’s got legs. Continue reading

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Activating a space to discourage camping

September 4, 2017

In a recent public meeting on a homeless encampment in the Ballard, Seattle’s Director of Homelessness George Scarola told neighbors of the camp that they could “activate” public spaces to keep homeless people from camping there. According to a man who was at the meeting and gave me a report, Scarola told the crowd that, “Activation consists of making use of the space the homeless are camping in to make it harder for them to use it. Things like establishing gardens, planters, sticker bushes, a P-patch, and so on.”

I took this before-and-after picture in my White Center neighborhood to illustrate how the activation process works.

In July, a homeless man began camping and hoarding in a planting triangle along Ambaum Boulevard that had been reclaimed from unused pavement just a few years earlier. Although the area is highly visible to sidewalk and street traffic, the trees, the high grass, and the flat ground were all inducements to camping.

After tolerating the man’s presence for a month or more, neighboring businesses worked with police to have him removed from the spot. The area was then plowed up and replanted with plants that will colonize the space and make it inhospitable for camping. Or so it is hoped.

–David Preston

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Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 2: A complaint is filed

August 17, 2017 ~ Seattle’s new Democracy Voucher Program has a long way yet to go to fix Seattle politics. One could argue that, rather than discouraging corruption, the program is actually rewarding it. The program gives qualifying candidates access to great quantities of taxpayer-funded campaign cash, but to qualify, candidates must attend three or more public debates or forums during the primary and campaign seasons, in addition to gathering signatures and raising a hefty chunk of cash on their own. The requirements are not impossible to meet, but they are steep, as I have discussed in other posts. So steep, in fact, that they are likely discouraging outsiders and self-funded candidates and encouraging everyone who’s left to cheat in order to get their hands on that extra cash.

Below is a complaint I filed today with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC). The complaint is against Lorena Gonzalez, who is the incumbent in City Council Position 9, one of two citywide Council positions up for grabs in this year’s election. The gist of the complaint is that Gonzalez misrepresented herself on a self-report form. To qualify for the voucher program, Gonzalez was required to attend three “public forums” during the City Council primary season. Two of the three events Gonzalez claims to have attended were not public forums according by the SEEC’s definition, and Gonzalez apparently wasn’t even at one of the events she was trying to use in order to qualify.

The document below is four pages, including attachments.

Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission Complaint Against Lorena Gonzalez 8.17.17 redacted

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–by David Preston

Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 1: “Honest” elections
Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 3: What’s left of the dream?
Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 4: Where was Lorena?
Democracy Vouchers: A Candidate’s View
Ethics Evasion Commission

Editor’s disclosure: I was also a candidate in this race. I came in third in a field of seven candidates.

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Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 1: “Honest” Elections

July 4, 2017 ~ I-122, the “Honest Elections” initiative (aka the Democracy Voucher Program) was supposed to get money and corporate influence out of Seattle politics. It looked great on paper.

The PROBLEM: “Wealthy special interests have too much power in Seattle. When these interests spend huge amounts of money on elections, that’s not free speech; that’s buying our candidates.” —Voter’s guide “pro” statement excerpt

The SOLUTION: Give qualifying candidates taxpayer money to campaign and then cap the amount they can raise and spend on the election.

New PROBLEM: Limits on spending amounts don’t apply to PAC ads or other “independent expenditures” done by non-candidate groups. Nor do they apply to any candidate not participating in the voucher program.

New SOLUTION: Raise the contribution and spending limit to allow the Democracy Voucher participants spend as much as they want. As long as they can show that their opponent (or his PAC buddies) are spending more than them.

–Wait… wut? Now we’re back where we were before the Democracy Voucher program, where candidates can raise and spend as much as they want. The only difference is that now some candidates are getting money from taxpayers… including from taxpayers who don’t support them.

Here’s the operative lingo from a memo sent out by Seattle Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Wayne Barnett last week:

If a qualified candidate demonstrates to SEEC that he or she has an opponent (whether or not participating in the Program) whose campaign spending has exceeded the Campaign Spending Limit for the position sought as indicated above, where SEEC deems the excess material it shall allow such candidate to choose to be released from the Campaign Spending Limit and campaign contribution limits for the Program, in which case SEEC shall allow such candidate to redeem his or her Democracy Vouchers received theretofore or thereafter up to the amount of the Campaign Spending Limit only, then allow such candidate to engage in campaign fundraising without regard to any Program requirements.

Don’t kid yourselves Social Justice Warriors. Money is just as much a factor as ever in Seattle politics. And so is influence. Whether it flows from the spigot of a giant oil corporation or from the mouths of a hundred casting-call protesters at City Hall. It’s there, alright. All your lofty ideals haven’t changed a thing. Maybe they’ve even made it worse.

–David Preston

Other articles in this series:

Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 2: A complaint is filed
Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 3: What’s left of the dream?
Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 4: Where was Lorena
Democracy Vouchers: A Candidate’s View
Ethics Evasion Commission

The City of Seattle was recently sued over the program by a man who claims it’s un-Constitutional. You can read more about that here.

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Ghostwriter

June 5, 2017

What would you think if you discovered automobile executives had written a bill on auto safety and handed it to your senator to sponsor? And what if you learned those same executives had penned pro-industry letters to the editor for your senator to send to the local newspaper under his signature? No self-respecting American would tolerate something like that. But substitute ACLU for “automobile executive” in this scenario, and substitute “a bill on homeless encampments” for “a bill on auto safety” and you’ll have an approximation of what happened at the Seattle City Council last fall.


A serious problem

Homeless encampments on public land have been a troublesome issue in Seattle for several years. Some citizens think the camps need to go, some don’t mind if they stay. However, as the number of camps has grown and expanded across the city, the balance seems to be shifting in the “need to go” direction. After a multiple homicide at one camp in late January 2016, Mayor Ed Murray declared the camps to be a nuisance and said the City would begin “sweeping” them shortly. Continue reading

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