Seattle City Attorney

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 »

Community Outcry against King County’s Potential SCORE Jail Contract

King County Jail News:

On Tuesday morning, a 58-year-old woman died in the King County Jail. She had been booked into the jail on Friday with a charge of burglary. We don’t yet know her cause of death. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the King County Council met to discuss, amongst other things, the $3.5m SCORE contract that would allow them to transfer 50 people (to start) from the King County Jail to the SCORE facility in Des Moines. While this is being sold as a “short-term” solution to run until the end of 2024, there is already discussion of expanding the number of inmates transferred to SCORE. 33 people gave public comment asking the CMs to vote no on this new contract. There have been several lawsuits brought against SCORE by family members of people who died in the jail, alleging the facility failed to provide adequate medical care. Being transferred to SCORE might also impact the quality of inmates’ defenses. You can see my live tweets of the CMs’ discussion here

At the briefing, CM McDermott stated that booking restrictions haven’t changed and asked for the reason for the growth of the King County Jail population in 2022. Analyst Leah Krekel-Zoppi said that pre-pandemic, the average daily population of the jail was 1900, which dropped to 1300 due to the pandemic. The average daily population now is 1500-1600. She refused to answer the CM’s question about why it’s higher now.

One possible explanation for this increase is, as Erica C. Barnett suggests, the Seattle City Attorney’s High Utilizer program, which skirts the current jail booking restrictions for misdemeanors: “In January and February 2022, before the high utilizer initiative went into effect,  the average daily population at the downtown jail was 910; for the same period this year, it was 1,220. The increase is the result of a complex mix of factors, but jailing 142 people for low-level misdemeanors is undoubtedly among them.” She also found that on average, each one of these “high utilizers” served 117 days in jail in 2022, so they each spent significant time in the jail.

Another possible factor is people in the jail waiting for competency services. As Ashely Nervobig reports: “A February 7 report from the King County Prosecutor’s office showed about 80 people waiting for competency restoration services, with the state failing to provide treatment to some of the people in the jail for more than a year, according to Casey McNerthney, spokesperson for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.” 

Other possible factors for the difference in the jail population between 2021 and 2022 include an increase in SPD arrest reports–there were 10,601 such reports in 2022 versus 9165 in 2021–and the possibility the police are overcharging; that is, the practice of either adding charges or using a higher initial charge when such charges may not be able to be proven. This practice would be another way of getting around the King County Jail’s current booking restrictions. 

CM Zahilay asked two questions that remained outstanding and that the CMs resolved to discuss during their (confidential) executive session: 

  1. There is ambiguity over which type of booking restrictions can be mandated by a County Executive. Some say these restrictions can only apply to misdemeanor charges, but there are also some counties in Washington that may have restrictions relating to certain felonies.
  2. Is the County legally allowed to pay people’s bail? In the past (pre-pandemic) King County gave a $400k contract to the Northwest Bail Fund, but it’s not clear if any of this money was ever directly used to pay bail. It sounds like it was used to fund wraparound services that helped people qualify for bail. Data from that program showed the number of people able to post bail increased significantly during its adoption in 2019-2020. CMs were very interested to learn how many people are housed in King County’s jails because of being unable to pay bail.

If the CMs do not approve this new contract with SCORE, it would be incumbent upon them to decrease the population of the King County Jail in other ways, hence the importance of the above questions. The Shut Down King County Jail coalition is asking for the CMs to do exactly this and reduce the jail population by ceasing imprisonment of those experiencing mental health crises and stopping imposing bail, which has the impact of holding poor people in this facility while those with more resources are allowed to go free. However, some CMs signaled more interest in putting additional definitions and limitations around the SCORE contract as opposed to searching for ways to decrease the County’s jailed population in any meaningful way. 

The vote on this legislation was delayed until the next King County Council meeting on Tuesday, March 28. In the meantime, you may write or call your King County CMs and/or plan to give public comment on the 28th.

Seattle News:

SPD detective Cookie Bouldin has filed a $10m tort claim against SPD, claiming racial and gender discrimination and retaliation for whistleblowing. She says she has faced gender and racial discrimination for the entirety of her 40-year career, which began in 1980, when she was one of only two Black female officers in SPD. She is known for reaching out to communities of color and running a youth chess club, both of which she says have made her a target. The claim states: “​​She notes that the hostile work environment she has been subjected to has increased dramatically in recent years.”

In an analysis of Ann Davison’s first year as Seattle City Attorney, Guy Oron writes:

“​​The King County Department of Public Defense (DPD) has denounced the CAO’s approach to prosecution during Davison’s tenure, setting up a Twitter account at @CourtWatchSMC called “Seattle Municipal Court Watch” to monitor cases when the CAO has filed charges against poor residents and people experiencing mental health illnesses. Notable cases that the DPD has highlighted include prosecution of people for stealing paper towels, selling cigarettes without proper licensing, sleeping under a tarp in a business parking lot and staying in a building slated for demolition to stay warm. These selected anecdotes seem to align with the data, which shows that the vast majority of SMC defendants rely on public defense.”

Election News:

King County Executive Dow Constantine has announced he will not be running for governor in 2024. This was after the Northwest Progressive Institute released poll results showing Attorney General Bob Ferguson as the leading Democratic candidate in a potential 2024 governor’s race, assuming current Governor Inslee chooses not to run for a fourth term. Bob Ferguson polled at 21%, whereas another possible Democratic candidate, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, polled at 7%.

Recent Headlines:

Community Outcry against King County’s Potential SCORE Jail Contract Read More »

The Exodus of Inmates from the King County Jail Continues

We’ll start off this week by looking at Chloe Cockburn’s recent reporting on the current landscape of policing in the United States. Police have already killed hundreds of people in 2023 (220 to be precise, and keep in mind we’re only two and a half months into the year). That figure is up 6% since 2021. 

She also reminds us of a Gallup poll conducted at the end of April-early May of 2022, saying:

If you were just going by media commentators you would have thought that support for reforms had completely collapsed in the face of rising concerns about crime. On the contrary:  45% of Americans in 2022 supported eliminating police enforcement of nonviolent crimes, and 44% supported eliminating police unions. Moreover, 15% of Americans support eliminating police departments entirely, while Black Americans support this at the rate of 21%.”

I bring this up because I know some of you are disheartened by recent developments in the Washington state legislature. It is important to remember in spite of what the media might be saying, there is still an appetite in the United States for taking a different avenue to public safety that is more equitable and less harmful. The work being done in this space matters.

Seattle News:

This past Tuesday Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee discussed the Seattle City Attorney’s Q4 2022 report. In Q4, the City Attorney’s Office received 2,740 referrals from SPD. For pre-pandemic comparison, the SPD gave 3,529 referrals in Q4 of 2018 and 3,724 referrals in Q4 of 2019. These referrals were all misdemeanors, as the City Attorney’s Office doesn’t deal with felony charges. 

The Seattle City Attorney’s Office also announced a 50% decrease in their case backlog over the course of 2022. The office filed 1,323 cases and declined 3,336 cases in Q4. Many of those declined cases were part of the aforementioned backlog. The office also took the opportunity during their presentation to discuss the difficulties recruiting and retaining prosecuting attorneys given their relatively low salaries compared to salaries of prosecutors in other cities.

At the State of Downtown event on Tuesday, Mayor Harrell said he wants to change significant laws to improve public safety, but he declined to give any details on what those laws might be. Stay tuned!

King County News:

Erica C. Barnett reports that this past weekend 50 inmates were moved from the King County Jail to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC)  in Kent. The MRJC is also suffering from insufficient staffing. According to the Department of Adult & Juvenile Detention, most of the people who were moved are facing misdemeanor or non-violent felony charges.

If you remember the plan discussed by the King County Law & Justice committee last week to move 50 additional inmates to SCORE in Des Moines, the Public Defenders’ Union is now trying to get an amendment added to that legislation that would codify the Department of Public Defense’s visitation needs and require some reporting. This legislation is due to be voted on by the full King County Council next week. 

Meanwhile, the Bellevue City Council approved funding for teams to provide public safety on public transit including the light rail. I’ve heard this new transit unit will consist of 7 armed officers who will patrol light rail stations and transit hubs. A community forum to discuss this new, already funded unit was held this past Tuesday evening.

Washington State News:

Taija PerryCook had a very informative article on the new 988 system in Crosscut. My takeaways:

  • Crisis Connections, which answers King County’s 988 calls, has experienced a 25-30% increase in calls since 988 launched last July. 
  • Before 988, Crisis Connection answered around 40% of calls within 30 seconds. Now they are able to answer 90% or more within 30 seconds.
  • 95% of calls are resolved over the phone. Fewer than 2% of 988 calls end up involving the police or EMS. 
  • For the 5% of calls not able to be resolved over the phone, speed of that response is critical. There is currently a bill in the state legislature that would increase funding for rapid-response teams. This bill was passed in the House and is now being considered in the Senate.

Recent Headlines:

 

The Exodus of Inmates from the King County Jail Continues Read More »

Gearing Up for 2022

We have a few bits of news to wrap up before the holiday break, so let’s dive in!

Seattle News

 

Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to the last Seattle Council Briefing of the year!
CM Sawant has officially survived her recall election and will serve out the remainder of her term in office. It’s impressive to see how effective CM Sawant and her team was at getting voter turnout for an early December election. The balance of power on the Seattle City Council will still be shifting as CP González leaves and is replaced by CM Nelson, but it is not changing as much as it could have done.
On Monday the City Council passed legislation with various reporting requirements for the City Attorney’s Office. This legislation was watered down from original discussions in which it would have required diversion programs in the office. Allegations of sexism from Ann Davison not withstanding, having increased transparency from a government office doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, especially considering Seattle’s recent struggles with accountability. Additionally, in response to People Power Washington’s election questionnaire a few months ago, Ann Davison had signaled her support for transparency and quarterly reporting from the City Attorney’s Office:
People Power WA - Police Accountability
We asked Ann Davison if she supported transparency and quarterly reporting by the City Attorney office on our candidate questionnaire during the campaign (SPOILER: She said Yes):

https://t.co/4HsIdz9AXl https://t.co/STOPY5gQPe

The Seattle City Council’s schedule will be changing beginning in January. The Council Briefing will move from Monday mornings to Monday afternoons at 2pm, and the Full Council meetings will move from Monday afternoons to Tuesday afternoons. At the beginning of January, the Council will elect their new Council President, as well as appoint new committee chairs and set committee meeting schedules.
Mayor-Elect Harrell has announced a list of his top staff, which includes his niece Monisha Harrell as Senior Deputy Mayor, Tiffany Washington continuing as Deputy Mayor, and Tim Burgess as Director of Strategic Initiatives (guess we’ll find out what that means soon enough!) Ann Davison has also announced some of her staff, including Scott Lindsay as deputy city attorney and Natalie Walton-Anderson as criminal division chief. Among other things, Scott Lindsay wrote the report that led to KOMO’s “Seattle is dying” video. Meanwhile, Budget Director Ben Noble is leaving the CBO and becoming the new Director of the Office of Economic and Revenue Forecasts.

Redistricting News

The Washington Coalition for Open Government launched a lawsuit arguing that members of Washington State’s redistricting commission broke the law by crafting the new district maps in secret, violating the Open Public Meetings Act. Another lawsuit from Redistricting Justice for Washington is also expected, which would potentially argue that the new maps violate the Voting Rights Act. If either (or both) of these lawsuits succeed, the maps could potentially be struck down and have to be redrawn.
News should (hopefully) be fairly slow over the next few weeks, so you probably won’t be hearing from me until the New Year. In the meantime, I’m wishing all of you a safe and happy holiday season. And I’m looking forward to finding out what 2022 will bring!

Recent Headlines

After fatal shooting in protest zone, Seattle mayor’s email called situation ‘foreseeable and avoidable’ | The Seattle Times

Gearing Up for 2022 Read More »

The City Attorney and the Consent Decree

Seattle News

Last week, the news broke that several SPD officers, including SPOG president Mike Solan, registered to vote using the addresses of different SPD precincts instead of their home addresses. Registering to vote at an address where you don’t live is a Class C felony, but while the OPA gave out disciplinary actions, “it appears that the SPD didn’t even bother to conduct a criminal investigation into the apparent felony matter.”
Converge Media unveiled a great website resource tracking the $100m allocated for investment in BIPOC communities in the 2021 Seattle budget.
An SPD officer has been using facial recognition software Clearview.AI in some of his investigations, which has revealed some loopholes in the City’s laws. “To deal with the gray area surrounding facial recognition technology, Myerberg recommended that Diaz either create a new surveillance policy that explicitly forbids the use of facial recognition software; he also suggested that Diaz could ask the city council to modify the 2018 surveillance ordinance to clear up any confusion about whether it applies to facial recognition software.”
And if you’re looking for an overview of the possible loss of momentum within Seattle’s City Council to continue “reimagining” the city’s policing, look no further!

Election News

Seattle Weekly published an overview of King County’s upcoming elections, which include various city council members, mayors, and school board positions. And the South Seattle Emerald published an interview with abolitionist Seattle City Attorney candidate Nicole Thomas Kennedy.
If you’re in the mood for more in-depth Seattle election coverage, last Friday’s Hacks & Wonks podcast features a conversation between Crystal Fincher and Mike McGinn. They speculate it might be a year for outsiders, comparing how many Democracy Vouchers have been collected by Colleen Echohawk and Andrew Grant Houston versus their more established opponents in the mayoral race, and also note that Jessyn Farrell’s support of the Compassion Seattle initiative could be another signal of her interest in running in the “right lane” of the Seattle political divide. However, her lack of success thus far could be a sign of the business-labor hybrid coalition of the past few elections falling apart.
Perhaps of even more interest, Mike McGinn talks at length about his experiences with current City Attorney Pete Holmes. He reveals that the mediator chose to keep Pete Holmes out of the mediation over the Consent Decree between him (when he was mayor) and the Office of Civil Rights. Mike McGinn also said the following:
“Well, we’ve been told – we were being told for years by the Monitor and mayors – that reform was on track and Pete was joining that chorus. And what we saw with the protests, and the police behavior, and tear-gassing the public – leading to a federal court order against it. What we see is that reform failed.
And Pete says he was at the helm of that, but now he has to be there to help fix it. And I think that from the progressive side, they see that he’s not really solving the problems that he says he’s for.”
“So what started as an attempt to engage the community in a dialogue with the City and the police department about what reform looks like – with the belief that it should be homegrown because it’s more likely – let’s listen to community – has now turned into this very, very top-down thing, being run by a judge, in which so much of the local control has disappeared….
And so since there was never any pushback on the judge – now the ability of the community as a whole to influence police reform has been taken away and resides in the judge. And there’s really only one place that – there’s only one person under the City Charter who had the authority to go in on behalf of the City and say, “Do something different.” And that was Pete Holmes. And he never was willing to challenge the Monitor, never willing to challenge the judge, never willing to stand up for the community in that way. So Pete, you’ve been at this – I go back to – been in there 12 years, said he’s necessary to police reform. He has to take some accountability for how he’s not gotten it done overall.“
These quotes give a good idea of the importance of the City Attorney in overseeing how the consent decree has played out, as well as some issues that might come to play in the current election race between Pete Holmes and his challenger Nicole Thomas Kennedy.

Recent Headlines

Why police reform tactics fail over and over again - Washington Post

Washington prisons chief Stephen Sinclair was forced out of his job by Gov. Inslee, records show | The Seattle Times

The City Attorney and the Consent Decree Read More »