public defenders

2024 Has Not Been Kind to Seattle Protesters Thus Far

Lots to cover from the last two weeks! Let’s get right into it. 

Seattle News:

First off, King County prosecutors declined to prosecute SPD Officer Kevin Dave, who ran over pedestrian Jaahnavi Kandula going 74 mph in a 25 mph zone last year, killing her. The case was referred by SPD as a felony traffic case last summer, and now the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has said they would be unable to prove felony charges beyond a reasonable doubt. The Stranger reported thatDave joined the department in 2019 and received a hiring bonus. He previously had his Arizona driver’s license suspended in 2018 for unpaid traffic fines and failure to appear in court, according to reporting from DivestSPD.” The OPA will now re-start their own investigation of Dave: “the formal complaint against Dave accuses him of behaving unprofessionally and violating the emergency driving policy, among other potential violations.”

This week, six protesters were arrested at the full City Council meeting on Tuesday. Council President Sara Nelson limited public comment to 20 minutes, in spite of there being many present to ask for help funding housing for asylum seekers currently camping outside a Tukwila church. CP Nelson called for security to clear the room, and then when protestors continued to bang on windows from outside, CM Cathy Moore asked for a police presence to arrest the individuals. You can read more about her remarks here.

As a result, six protesters were arrested and booked into the King County Jail, where they were each required to post $1000 for bail. Given the current booking restrictions at the jail, this is particularly noteworthy. This follows the case pursued by the Seattle City Attorney brought to trial about the Stop the Sweeps protester who tried to prevent an RV from being towed for a few minutes while its owner obtained a spare tire. 

Also taking place this week was the “final” hearing on the three new surveillance technologies being proposed for SPD: AGLS, CCTV, and RRTC software. Seattle Solidarity Budget submitted a letter opposed to these technologies signed by over 70 community organizations and 1,200 individuals. At the end of this hearing, it was announced the public comment period for these technologies was being extended until March 22. You can fill out feedback forms about these technologies here, and you can find talking points to help you here. You can also read more about the final public hearing here.

In accountability news, the two SPD officers who waited 20 minutes to respond to a shooting call, first reported on by DivestSPD, were given a day off without pay as a consequence. The SPD communications office has been experiencing turmoil lately; since its head, Lt. John O’Neil was appointed in August 2022, the division has experienced turnover of “more than 100 percent,” per Publicola, and an office that previously had 3 men and 3 women is now all men, with one of the women leaving SPD and the other two accepting demotions of rank and now working in patrol.

SPD Officer Mark Rawlins is being investigated by the OPA after throwing a handcuffed 58-year-old Black man onto the ground, an action that was reported by King County Jail supervisors. Rawlins has been investigated by the OPA in 8 different cases since he joined SPD in 2017.

Washington State News:

A bill might be passing the legislature this session that would allow DACA recipients to work as police officers and firefighters. Many supporters of this legislation say it would help hire more police officers.

This week the legislature is also looking into significantly reducing the rules around police pursuits, even though studies show these sorts of chases have been killing 2 people per day in the US the last few years. The new initiative would allow police to start a car chase if they had any reason to believe the person violated any law, which could include traffic infractions and other low-level, non-violent offenses (or no offense at all). This represents a significant rollback of reform initiated in previous sessions.

The Seattle Times ran an in-depth piece examining the current crisis of public defenders in Washington State. There aren’t enough public defenders, which causes a vicious cycle of absurd case loads, burnout, and long wait times to receive free legal advice. 

Recent Headlines:

Scandal Rocks SPD as City Council is Posed to Vote to Give Them More Power

Seattle News:

The new war on drugs legislation was voted out of the Public Safety and Human Services committee last week 4-1, with CM Mosqueda as the lone vote against. CM Herbold and CP Juarez agreed to expedite the legislation, which means it will receive its final Full Council vote tomorrow, Tuesday, September 19 at 2pm. There will be a chance to give public comment, and you can find scripts here and here.

I wrote more about a few of the amendments considered last week and the dangers of relying on SPD officer discretion while passing legislation that will criminalize substance abuse disorder and poverty in an op-ed at The Urbanist, and I hope you will go give it a read. 

Last week the news broke about SPD officer and SPOG vice president Daniel Auderer minimizing and laughing at the death of student Jaahvani Kandula, who was killed by SPD Officer Kevin Dave when he hit her driving 74mph in a 25mph zone without consistent use of his flashing lights and siren. Erica C. Barnett describes the body cam footage here:

“I don’t think she was thrown 40 feet either,” Auderer told Solan. “I think she went up on the hood, hit the windshield, then when he hit the brakes, she flew off the car. But she is dead.” Then Auderer laughed loudly at something Solan said. “No, it’s a regular person. Yeah.”

We have asked SPOG via email what Solan asked that made Auderer clarify that Kandula was a “regular” person, as opposed to another type of person Dave might have hit.

“Yeah, just write a check,” Auderer continued. Then he laughed again for several seconds. “Yeah, $11,000. She was 26 anyway, she had limited value.” At this point, Auderer turned off his body camera and the recording stops.

Auderer has been investigated for dozens of allegations by OPA during his twelve years at SPD.

Many local electeds have responded to the incident, and it made international news. As Naomi Ishikawa wrote in the Seattle Times: “It was bitterly ironic the recording emerged less than a week after a U.S. district judge ruled the Seattle Police Department had achieved “full, sustained and lasting compliance” with most of the requirements of a federal consent decree intended to improve biased policing and police accountability.”

Over at the Urbanist, Doug Trumm wrote a piece linking this shocking body cam footage to the many failures of public safety in Seattle, including failures of accountability.

Danny Westneat wrote about the problem posed by SPOG’s contempt for those they serve and the lack of trust of SPD. Unfortunately, he doesn’t make clear (or perhaps is unaware of) the differences between regular unions and police guilds, including the historic use of police forces for union busting. You can read more about problems with police guilds and their historic opposition to labor here, here, and here

Gennette Cordova wrote an excellent piece in the South Seattle Emerald busting the myth of police defunding here in Seattle. I suggest going to read the entire piece; here’s a teaser: “To shield police against valid criticism, their proponents often say that police have an impossible job. And, in a sense, they’re right. Data shows that police don’t solve most serious crimes, including murder, rape, burglary, and robbery — and they never have. Furthermore, they certainly aren’t addressing the root causes of crime, so how could a reliance on them ever deliver us a safe society?”

Last week the King County Prosecutor’s Office announced they would not be pursuing criminal charges against former Mayor Durkan, former SPD Chief Best, and other officials who deleted their text messages in 2020, finally closing that embarrassing chapter in Seattle history. None of these officials will be held accountable for their missing text messages.

King and Pierce Counties:

Jury selection was scheduled to begin today for the trial of the Tacoma police officers who have been charged with the murder of Manuel Ellis.

Anita Khandelwal, the director of the King County Department of Public Defense, and King County CM Girmay Zahilay wrote a piece for the Seattle Times about the impossible caseloads and severe understaffing of King County public defenders:

“Public defenders are the latest justice system employees to test their breaking points. Newly published research spotlights the unsustainable caseloads King County public defenders have been working to manage. These caseloads grow even worse daily as experienced defenders qualified to handle the most serious cases quit, leaving a smaller and smaller number of attorneys to handle those most serious cases.     

As this system teeters on the edge of collapse, there is only one path to public safety rooted in reality: focusing King County’s limited legal system capacity on the gravest allegations of illegal behavior. The current volume of prosecutions (over 40% of which are not these most serious offenses) cannot continue without a massive influx of defense attorneys who simply don’t exist in today’s labor market.”  

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