The Ongoing Crisis at the King County Jail
King County News
News broke a few weeks ago about Michael Rowland, a Black homeless man experiencing a mental health crisis who died in the King County Jail on April 19th of last year after being put into the prone position twice, once by SPD officers when they arrested him and again by corrections officers at the jail. There is research showing that using the prone position can be dangerous, for example by increasing the chances of cardiac arrest. As Sydney Brownstone and Greg Kim write:
Rowland’s death probably should have been classified as a homicide, according to Maastricht University professor of forensic medicine Dr. Michael Freeman, who reviewed the autopsy report at the request of The Seattle Times.
Also exposed in this article is the fact that two days after Rowland’s death, Tim Burgess, the director of strategic initiatives for the Mayor’s Office, complained that the jail was refusing to book people whose medical issues could be handled in the jail:
“I’m fearful,” Burgess wrote, “that I will hear next that an arrestee has a hangnail and is declined.”
The King County Jail has been dodged by problems in recent months. The jail has experienced an extremely high rate of suicide since 2020, along with severe understaffing. Nor was it following a 2021 state law requiring it to publicly post analyses of unexpected jail deaths within 120 days until a Seattle Times article revealed this failure. It was also without potable water for a month last fall.
In the summer of 2020, Executive Dow Constantine said the following in his State of the County address:
Completed in 1986, the King County Correctional Center is decrepit and expensive to operate, and its physical layout does not lend itself to behavioral health and other care…We must reimagine King County’s downtown Seattle campus in light of the realities today. And the old jail must at some point come down. As we prepare the budget later this year, I intend to propose a phased closing of the King County Correctional Center after the pandemic.
WA State News
The 2023 state legislative session begins next week! Possibly on the docket include bills that would ban solitary confinement, reduce stops for low-level traffic violations, establish an independent prosecutor for the state, allow the Attorney General to investigate and sue police departments illustrating patterns of misconduct, remove qualified immunity, and eliminate the jaywalking law. We will also see legislators continue to grapple with addressing the Blake decision; at least two bills will be introduced for this purpose, one of which will focus on decriminalizing drug possession as well as providing treatment.
A few upcoming dates: Friday, February 17 is the policy committee cutoff; a bill must be passed from its policy committee by this date. Friday, February 24 is the fiscal committee cutoff, when a bill must be passed through any necessary financial committee. And Wednesday, March 8 is the deadline for bills passing out of their house of origin. Legislative sessions in Washington alternate between long and short sessions, and this year we have a long one, so that means there will be continuing action in Olympia until April 24.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson released his office’s legal opinions of questions relating to 2021’s bills 1310 and 1054, both of which have generated controversy in spite of being fairly mild. 1054 banned police use of chokeholds and neck restraints, while 1310 required de-escalation if possible and limited officer use of force in some situations. 1310 was partially rolled back last year after pushback from police departments and police unions. Ferguson prefaces his remarks on the legal interpretation of the laws by stating:
As we noted in our previous Opinion addressing the first three questions, the answers to your questions are extremely difficult because reasonable minds disagree about the correct legal conclusions. We provide legal answers for them here, but must acknowledge that these answers are debatable and uncertain.
Tina Podlodowski is stepping down as Chair of the WA State Democrats, and Shasti Conrad, a two-term Chair of the King County Democrats, has announced her candidacy.
This week has been a relatively slow news week for Seattle, but there are a few items of note. First, the City Council finally confirmed Adrian Diaz as SPD’s Chief. He has been serving as Interim Chief since Carmen Best resigned in 2020.
And second, CM Pedersen has announced he will not be running for a second term, making him the third councilmember with intentions of leaving at the end of the year, along with CM Herbold and CP Juarez. The remaining four councilmembers whose terms end this year have not yet announced their plans.
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- Rep. Schrier secures $2 million for King County Sheriff’s Office
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- Harrell Promised 2,000 Units of Housing or Shelter by the End of His First Year. He Didn’t Deliver.