overdose deaths

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.” 

Recent Headlines:

The Seattle City Attorney Has Been Busy Read More »

SPD Breaks the Law about Kids’ Rights 96% of the Time

Housekeeping:

Happy New Year! I hope you have all had a great beginning to your 2024. 

Thanks to your generosity, I’m pleased to let you know that the hosting costs for Notes from the Emerald City have now been covered. Thank you so much for your continued support!

Seattle News:

First off, the OIG completed an audit on “SPD compliance with youth access to legal counsel requirements” and released it in a particularly egregious news dump the Friday before Christmas. The audit found that SPD is in compliance with the law requiring them to provide youths with access to a lawyer before interviewing them only 4% of the time

As former CM Herbold told the Seattle Times: ““This is one of the most straightforward civil rights protections we’ve enacted — police should not be able to question children until they have talked to a lawyer,” said Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who requested the audit. “That Seattle police officers were only following this law 4% of the time is very disappointing. We know it’s possible to comply with this law — nearly every law enforcement agency in Washington state appears to have done so.””

Just another example of the exceptionalism of SPD–that they are above the law as it suits them. But given this is an issue of the civil rights of CHILDREN, you’d think there would be a greater outcry.

First in her newsletter and then during the City Council’s first meeting of 2024, CM Morales stated that in 2024, the Council would be voting on a new SPOG contract. You can read more about the background of the SPOG contract, how these negotiations work, and recent developments in my article over at The Urbanist.

All the new Seattle council members have been sworn in, Sara Nelson has been elected as Council President, and committee assignments have been discussed. CM Kettle of D7 will be heading the new Public Safety committee. As Fox 13 reported, CM Kettle “has strong feelings about Seattle Police, saying he believes that it’s the best force in the entire country.” 

Guess he didn’t get the memo about children’s civil rights being violated.

Human Services has been broken away from Public Safety, being moved to the Housing and Human Services Committee, which will be chaired by CM Moore of D5. CM Strauss is going to try filling CM Mosqueda’s shoes as Finance (and Budget) Committee Chair. 

CM Morales, the most progressive CM left on this new Council, will be chairing the Land Use committee, which is crucial as Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan is due to be updated this year. This only happens once per decade, and as The Urbanist reported, acts as an “overhaul to Seattle’s overarching strategy for growth and infrastructure needs, ultimately defining the city’s land use and zoning map and laying out a 20-year growth strategy.”

We don’t yet know which council members will be serving on the LRPC. Whoever is selected will have the opportunity to change the bargaining parameters before what could be the closing stretch in the contract negotiations with SPOG.

As CM Mosqueda is leaving to serve on the King County Council, her replacement needs to be chosen. Candidates can apply through next Tuesday, after which there will be a public forum. The Council expects to vote on the replacement on Tuesday, January 23. This person will serve until a new council member is elected in November to complete CM Mosqueda’s term. CP Nelson announced that until the replacement is chosen, there will be no regular committee meetings, which basically scratches out the first three weeks of January. Not the most auspicious start for a new Council eager to prove themselves.

The Unified Care Team, which is responsible for sweeps of the unhoused in Seattle, released their report covering sweeps between July and September of 2023, and it’s not looking good. As Publicola reports: “…almost nine in ten people the UCT contacted prior to encampment sweeps did not end up in any form of shelter—a decline from the UCT’s previous report, which showed a 15 percent shelter enrollment rate.”

In lawsuit news, demoted SPD commander Hirjak, who alleged his demotion after the Pink Umbrella incident of the 2020 protests was discriminatory, settled his lawsuit: “The settlement said Hirjak would receive back wages and damages (totaling $54,814, according to the Seattle City Attorney’s Office) and $250,000 in other compensation. It said his attorney’s firm would receive $300,000 in attorney’s fees and costs.”

Meanwhile, the trial regarding the lawsuit between 5 Black university police officers and the University of Washington in which the officers alleged years of discrimination and racist comments ended with the jury awarding the officers $16 million. UW is considering an appeal, and only one of the five officers remains with the department.

King County News:

In 2023, fentanyl overdose deaths topped 1,050, which is a new record and much higher than 2022. There were close to 1,300 fatal overdoses total during the year. 

Meanwhile, the jury acquitted the three Tacoma police officers of Manual Ellis’ death on December 21. You can read the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability’s statement on the verdict here, which says in part: “This verdict shows the stark contrast of our state’s statutory duty to protect and preserve all human life with the reality of systemic, wrongful use of force by police.” 

The officers in question still face a civil suit from Ellis’ family that may be heading to trial, as well as an internal affairs investigation to determine whether they can retain their jobs at the Tacoma Police Department.

WA State Legislative Session:

This year’s state legislative session begins next week! This will be the short session that happens every other year, which is generally more concerned with policy than with projects requiring new spending. 

This year’s Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) bill in the House, HB 1045, has a hearing in the Appropriations Committee (where it stalled out last session) on Thursday, January 11 at 4pm. You can sign in PRO for the bill here and the short link to share with your networks is: https://bit.ly/PROGBI

It is expected that there will be a companion bill for GBI in the Senate this session as well, which is encouraging progress. Because it is a short session, it is unlikely these bills will make it all the way to a floor vote this year, but they are still well worth supporting as part of building momentum to an eventual vote.

Recent Headlines:

SPD Breaks the Law about Kids’ Rights 96% of the Time Read More »

“Stealth Jail Expansion”: The Fight Over the SCORE Jail Contract Continues

Let’s take a moment to celebrate that the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the capital gains tax!

Seattle News

On Tuesday the City of Seattle and the Department of Justice filed a request to replace the 2012 Consent Decree with a new “Agreement on Sustained Compliance” that would focus on SPD’s use of force particularly related to crowd control and accountability. Among other measures, SPD would need to adopt a revised crowd management policy, and the City would need to hire a consultant to make recommendations about the accountability system. In addition, Mike Carter reports the city also acknowledges that it must address racial disparities that have shown up in reviews of both police use of force and investigative stops.” 

Mayor Harrell’s office has calculated the consent decree, lasting 11 years thus far, has cost the city $200m. The motion asks Judge Robart to find the SPD has reached “substantial compliance” with most of the original consent decree requirements. As Erica C. Barnett reports, ongoing labor negotiations with SPOG, including whether important accountability advances agreed upon in the recent SPMA contract are included in the next SPOG contract, play an important role as to whether the city will be able to be found in compliance with the accountability piece of either the original consent decree or any new agreement.

This new “agreement on sustained compliance” would be anticipated to be completed in about a year, and unlike the original consent decree, it wouldn’t require a two-year sustainment period before exit, which would give Mayor Harrell his coveted exit before the end of his term. The next step in this process is for Judge Robart to schedule a hearing.

Advocates in Seatle have often had mixed feelings about the consent decree in recent years. In the last three years in particular, it has often been seen as a barrier to more systemic change and a way to potentially apply a veneer of respectability to the SPD while maintaining the status quo. The SPD’s budget has grown substantially from when Seattle entered into the consent decree, from $252.2m in 2012 to its present size of $374.3m. 

Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting on Tuesday had a surprise addition to the agenda: a project update on SPD’s recruitment and retention. While the council members received a memo on March 14 detailing current progress with the hiring incentives passed last year, none of this information was presented at the meeting, with Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell saying “it’s too early to draw a definitive conclusion.” 

In 2021 SPD hired one officer for every 12 applicants; these figures aren’t yet available for 2022. In spite of all its new hiring, recruiting, and retention efforts, the department is still struggling to maintain its size: as of 3/16, SPD’s hiring numbers are at -6, a number that was amusingly omitted from the presentation. SPD has hired 19 officers and experienced 25 separations since the beginning of the year. 

No mention was made at the meeting of the difficulties of retention given the recent suit filed by Cookie Bouldin alleging racial and gender discrimination or last year’s lawsuit in which an SPD officer was awarded $1.325m in damages due to getting carbon monoxide poisoning on the job.

The team presenting to the CMs announced their goal of 30% of officers being female by 2030 with no mention of the Bouldin lawsuit. CM Nelson also stated the importance of “having a positive place to work at” without addressing the implications of these suits.

When considering SPD’s attrition rate, it’s important to remember some people leave the department because they’re under investigation for less than savory reasons. For example, the OPA released a report last week about the case of Officer Cleades Robinson. As DivestSPD reported: “OPA found there was more than enough evidence to show that Robinson committed at least two gross misdemeanors: patronizing a prostitute and communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.” Robinson resigned before final discipline was handed down in January. Another SPD Captain was arrested in November 2019 for trying to buy sex and retired before the investigation was completed. 

Once Mayor Harrell took the helm of the city at the beginning of 2022, sweeps of homeless people substantially increased, Guy Oron reports. The City of Seattle performed 943 sweeps in 2022, which means sweeps were happening on average twice or more every day. Of these sweeps, 771 sweeps–almost 82%–were obstruction sweeps, meaning the City wasn’t required to give notice to those being swept. To get an idea of how much sweeps have increased, there were 158 sweeps in 2022 where notice was given, whereas in 2021 there were 53 sweeps done with notice, meaning the rate of sweeps with notice has TRIPLED. Many locations were swept multiple times, including 66 sweeps in Occidental Park, 53 sweeps near the Ballard Library, and 18 sweeps at the Ballard Commons.

By comparison, there were 1,192 sweeps in 2019, meaning we’re seeing the return of an old status quo that was interrupted by the pandemic and a temporary acknowledgement due to the George Floyd protests that just maybe we should treat people more humanely.

Matthew Mitnick, currently running for Seattle CM for District 4, has been accused by former supporters of breaking child labor laws, wage theft, and creating a toxic work environment

King County News

The King County Council postponed their vote on the SCORE jail contract for the second time this Tuesday. They are working on a variety of amendments (discussed last week) that would limit the size and scope of the transfers from the King County Jail and require various reporting and Council approvals. Unfortunately, none of these amendments would stop the SCORE contract outright; this contract would cause what opponents are calling a stealth expansion of King County’s system of incarceration. 

The sense of urgency around this SCORE contract is interesting given it’s been almost three years since Executive Constantine said he wanted to eventually shut down the “decrepit” King County Jail. In the intervening time, the death and suicide rates in the jail have gone up and the staffing numbers have been in continuous decline, not to mention it was without potable water for a month last fall. However, it’s only since the ACLU of Washington filed a suit against the County due to the appalling conditions within the jail that the County’s message has shifted to sudden action without the necessary time to build a good plan that would not expand incarceration in the County.

To weigh in on the SCORE contract, you can email or call your King County CMs and/or give public comment at the next King County Council meeting on Tuesday, April 4 at 1:30pm. Talking points will be updated at tinyurl.com/TellKCC.

In addition, sources say the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) is planning to move 50 additional people from the King County Jail to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC) in Kent this weekend (April 1-2). The DAJD already moved 50 people from the KJC the weekend of March 11-12, a move that has resulted in consequences: those 50 inmates are being double-bunked in cells in which the toilets can only be flushed twice an hour, resulting in unsanitary conditions. And Erica C. Barnett reports on another problem as well:

“Folk says the jail guards’ union has filed a demand to bargain over the decision to move 50 people to the RJC, noting that the 1:104 ratio of guards to inmates is far below the usual “direct supervision” standard of one guard for every residents. Haglund told PubliCola previously that although 1:104 isn’t ideal, the unit will be safe with just one guard because no more than 64 people will be out in the unit’s common area at one time. Folk disagrees, telling PubliCola, “The staffing ratio for this is just not safe.””

Meanwhile, King County reported that as of last week there have been 296 King County residents who have died due to drug or alcohol poisoning since the beginning of the year, a number that exceeds the total number of overdose deaths in 2012. 

Recent Headlines

“Stealth Jail Expansion”: The Fight Over the SCORE Jail Contract Continues Read More »