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The Seattle City Attorney Has Been Busy

Personal News:

I had a novel come out this week! My Stars Shine Darkly is a YA science fiction novel and a dystopian romance. 

Book cover of My Stars Shine Darkly by Amy Sundberg, showing a teenage girl in a fancy dress and a golden Venetian mask

“In a story awash with Shakespearean intrigue and hijinks, join our intrepid heroine as she struggles against the dystopian patriarchy of her world.”

You can purchase it here or request it from your local library.

Seattle News:

Soon after I hit publish on my issue last Friday, the news dropped that the Seattle City Attorney’s Office would be filing an affidavit of prejudice on Seattle Municipal Court Judge Pooja Vaddadi on all criminal cases going forward. I dug more deeply into the issue with my story at the Urbanist. Perhaps most concerning is how this decision undermines the independence of the court from other branches of government.

Meanwhile the court is also in turmoil because of the rollout of a new case management system this week that has been bumpy at best. As The Seattle Times reports: “Court hearings have been exceedingly slow. Where it previously took a half a day to work through first appearances, when a judge sets bail, it’s now taking a full day, meaning some people are spending longer in jail than they otherwise would.

Yesterday at the State of Downtown event hosted by the Downtown Seattle Association, City Attorney Ann Davison said shesupports setting a limit on the number of times a person is allowed to overdose in public before they’re arrested and booked into jail.” While this law would supposedly only go into effect if a person refused treatment after an overdose, in practice treatment is often unavailable.

The City Attorney’s Office also announced they would be charging SPD Officer Kevin Dave, the officer who struck and killed Jaahnavi Kandula, with what amounts to a traffic ticket. Publicola reported that Dave received a hiring bonus of $15k after being hired in November of 2019: “Dave was previously an officer in Tucson, Arizona, but was fired from that previous position in 2013 after failing to meet minimum standards during his 18-month probation period.”

Daniel Auderer, the SPOG vice president who got caught in a recording laughing at Kandula’s death, was scheduled to have his disciplinary hearing with Chief Diaz this past Tuesday. Auderer has not yet had his pre-termination or “Loudermill” hearing, which would be required before he could be fired.

In other news, Publicola reported that SPD is continuing to operate under a crowd control policy that is against the law. SPD ignored the city’s new less-lethal weapons law (passed in 2021) for a few years before finally submitting a proposal in December 2023:

“Accompanying the policy: A memo from SPD denouncing their own proposal as “dangerous” and unworkable and asking the court to instead approve the department’s existing “interim” crowd control policy, which does not ban or substantially restrict the use of a single less-lethal weapon.”

The article goes on to state, “Antonio Oftelie, the court monitor overseeing the consent decree, told PubliCola that his office and the DOJ have decided to step back and see if SPD, working with the mayor and new city council, can come up with a policy in the first quarter of this year that complies with the consent decree and is something all sides can live with.

One example of SPD ignoring the new law was back in February when they dispersed a Pro-Palestine rally with pepper balls, which wouldn’t have been available for use if SPD had a policy in line with the existing legislation.

Mayor Harrell announced a new contract with the Coalition of City Unions with the following specifications:

“The proposed contracts include a 5% Annual Wage Increase (AWI) retroactively applied for 2023 and a 4.5% AWI for 2024, totaling a two-year 9.7% adjustment. The 2025 AWI will be based on a two-year average of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue-area with a 2% floor and a 4% cap. The 2026 AWI will be calculated similarly but then be increased by 1% with a 3% floor and a 5% cap.”

The contract has already been approved by union members and will now go for a final vote before City Council. It is currently unclear to me whether this increase in wages has already been calculated into the city’s looming deficit for 2025. According to Publicola, city departments are preparing plans to lay off employees (while already operating under a hiring freeze).

King County News:

This week Executive Constantine announced a five-prong strategy for addressing the fentanyl crisis and preventing overdoses. The five prongs are as follows:

  1. Treatment: launching a 24/7 buprenorphine prescribing line; increasing staffing for both the youth and adult mobile crisis programs; hiring 6 new community navigators to connect people with treatment
  2. Behavioral health beds: partnering with Pioneer Health Services to open 16-bed residential treatment program for people with both mental health and substance abuse disorders; re-opening a 24/7 SUD sobering center; opening post-overdose recovery center
  3. Overdose reversal meds and fentanyl testing: distributing more naloxone kits and test strips; testing drug samples; increasing number of fire depts providing leave-behind naloxone
  4. Behavioral health workforce: adding 100 apprenticeships statewide with half in King County
  5. Reduce disproportionality in overdose: investing $2 million in disproportionately impacted populations

KUOW reported that no new money is being allocated for this project, and when exactly any of this will happen is unknown. Neither Executive Constantine nor anyone else at the press conference would specify a timeline. Clint Jordan of Pioneer Human Services, however, did comment on when a 16-bed residential treatment program could open.

“We’re targeting a six month open,” Jordan said. “I think that puts us in October, November, somewhere in there.””

WA State Legislature News:

Initiative 2113, which changes the state-wide policy on vehicular pursuits, was passed in the state legislature on Monday. Unlike the reform on pursuits passed in 2021 and then weakened in 2023, this initiative doesn’t restrict pursuit based on type of violation in any way. Opponents say this change will almost certainly cause collateral damage, likely leading to more deaths and injuries. As Publicola reported, “Going back to 2015, Morris found that of 379 people killed by police in Washington state, 26 percent involved vehicular pursuits. Of the 32 deaths in Washington caused by collisions during pursuits, more than half were bystanders, passengers, or officers.”

Crosscut reported on two new gun control laws that are likely to make it through this year’s legislative session: one on reporting stolen guns and another on gun dealer security measures. 

Speaking of, this year’s legislative session is officially over. The WA State Standard reported that “Republicans had a pretty good year” and “big progressive priorities flared out.” 

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Shake-Up at the Mayor’s Office

Seattle News:

In some of the biggest local political news of the week, Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell is stepping down from her position in the Mayor’s Office. As the Seattle Times reports: “Sources close to the situation, who requested anonymity because of their relationships to the city, said the decision was reached after Monisha Harrell and others in senior leadership had several differing viewpoints on public safety issues in the city.”

Monisha Harrell was generally considered to be a more progressive voice in the Mayor’s office, and some hoped she would exercise a moderating influence to counter others in the Office, such as Director of Strategic Initiatives Tim Burgess. Erica C. Barnett reported thatwe’ve also been told there’s a general “boy’s club” element within the mayor’s office that has shaped its internal dynamics.” 

Harrell’s portfolio included public safety, and there is concern her departure could result in a shift further into “law and order” rhetoric, more emphasis on being “tough on crime” and less attention to public safety alternatives. Harrell reported to the City Council more than once about the progress of an alternative emergency response, including the term sheet that specified a timeline for the project. The first deliverable for the project was supposed to be a white paper due by the end of 2022 that is now six months late and counting.

I wrote a piece in the Urbanist last week on how gun violence is affecting Seattle-area high school students that also covers King County’s regional approach to gun violence prevention, which is highly innovative but also deeply underfunded. Seattle actually had a youth gun violence prevention program begun in 2009, but after several years that program was stalled and eventually disappeared, in part due to lack of support from then-CMs Bruce Harrell and Tim Burgess. This is particularly unfortunate given that otherwise we might have a more mature and scaled-up program today.

In the wake of the shooting and murder of Eina Kwon in Belltown, SPD has announced a new task force, including federal resources, focused on quelling gun violence in four areas of Seattle: downtown, Aurora Ave, south Seattle, and the Central District. Chief Diaz has said the task force will consist of around 50 officers. Unfortunately, the police are more likely to respond after gun violence takes place as opposed to preventing it, which is why investing in gun violence prevention programs, mental health treatment, safe consumption sites, housing, and even physical improvements such as adding green spaces and lighting is so important.

Erica C. Barnett reported that SPD Officer Kevin Dave was driving 75mph in a 25mph zone when he struck pedestrian Jaahnavi Kandula. He hit the brakes less than a second before impact and was only chirping his siren at intersections. As Barnett wrote: “Seattle law allows an officer responding to an emergency to “exceed the maximum speed limits so long as he or she does not endanger life or property, but says that exemption doesn’t “relieve the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway nor from the duty to exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian.””

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