SPD provided little data to back crime crackdown, records show
Seattle police wanted City Attorney Pete Holmes to file criminal charges against low-level street offenders but did not provide detailed information to support the request.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle police handed City Attorney Pete Holmes only a list of names and personal information when they asked in August that criminal charges be filed against 28 people who repeatedly had failed to respond after civil infractions for drinking in public or sitting or lying on sidewalks, according to newly released documents.
But police did not include details on the specific actions of each individual and the consequences, nor did they chronicle whether each had refused social services typically offered to violators as an alternative to criminal charges.
The request for criminal charges came at a time when the Police Department and Mayor Mike McGinn were under intense public pressure to address downtown crime in the aftermath of criticism from the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) and the Aug. 12 shooting of a Metro Transit driver.
One of McGinn’s top aides, Ethan Raup, became personally involved in the effort to get Holmes to take action against the 28 people, raising the question of whether the move was politically motivated to shift attention to Holmes.
McGinn’s office said Wednesday that the request grew out of official decisions that occurred well before the DSA letter and the bus shooting.
Interim Police Chief Jim Pugel asked for the criminal charges in an Aug. 14 letter to Holmes, submitting a binder identifying people who police said had ignored three or more citations.
In an Aug. 20 reply, Holmes rejected the request. He wrote that he would consider filing failure-to-respond charges against people who chronically commit the same type of infractions, ignore citations and refuse to stop their behavior after repeated attempts by law enforcement and social-service providers to gain compliance.
But Holmes added, “To meet the high burden of turning civil offenses into criminal offenses, it is important that law enforcement document the chronic nature of the violations, the efforts to gain compliance, and the result of human services or other outreach.”
Holmes told Pugel none of the information sent to him followed the aims of McGinn’s comprehensive Center City Initiative. That program brings together law enforcement, social-service providers, city officials, business leaders, prosecutors and others to identify the root causes of the crime problem, seek solutions and steer street offenders toward social services before resorting to court actions.
The binder police provided to Holmes contained information on each individual, according to copies released by the City Attorney’s Office on Wednesday to The Seattle Times under a public-disclosure request.
Included were physical descriptions, employment status and personally identifying information. Criminal-history material was redacted from the documents provided to The Times.
In some cases, police cited additional details such as the mental state of the individuals and locations they were known to frequent — including one homeless man known to frequent Fremont bars with bongo drums.
Missing from the police information was that one person was already in a state prison, two had Seattle court arrest warrants and three had warrants from other courts, according to Holmes’ reply to Pugel.
The exchange between the two men came weeks after the DSA sent a July 31 letter to McGinn and the Seattle City Council expressing deep concern about “numerous violent incidents” that had occurred recently in the downtown core. The letter called on the elected officials to “take immediate action” to stop what the association labeled “intimidation and violence.”
On Aug. 8, Seattle police Capt. Jim Dermody, commander of the West Precinct that includes downtown, sent an email to mayoral aide Raup. Dermody told Raup he had attached a draft memo requesting criminal charges against street offenders.
At that point, the memo was addressed from Dermody to Craig Sims, the head of the criminal division in the City Attorney’s Office.
“It’s ready to go,” Dermody wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by The Times under a public-disclosure request.
McGinn and Dermody faced growing scrutiny after the Aug. 12 bus shooting, in which the driver was wounded before the gunman was fatally shot by police.
Two days later, Pugel sent the letter to Holmes seeking charges against the 28 people. Pugel put his own name to the letter.
Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess said Wednesday that the supplemental information included in Pugel’s letter reflected sloppy work.
Burgess, a former Seattle police officer who is supporting McGinn’s rival, state Sen. Ed Murray, in this year’s mayoral election, said police needed to document the case history of the individuals, including current behaviors that either are disruptive or criminal.
“The police need to do that work. And that notebook doesn’t reflect that quality of work,” Burgess said, referring to the binder.
Pugel and Dermody declined to comment Wednesday.
Raup was not available for comment, and McGinn’s office declined to discuss whether Pugel’s Aug. 14 request for charges contained sufficient information.
A McGinn spokesman, Robert Cruickshank, said Wednesday that Raup became involved in the issue as the mayor’s lead aide on the Center City Initiative.
A work group overseeing the initiative and city officials had reached a consensus — dating to spring and before the DSA letter and bus shooting — that criminally charging people for failure to respond was an appropriate tool to address downtown public-safety issues, Cruickshank said.
The DSA, a participant in the initiative, has endorsed that approach.
Cruickshank said Raup was “checking the box” to assure the directive was carried out.
The City Attorney’s Office declined to comment Wednesday on the materials released to The Times, except to refer to Holmes’ Aug. 20 letter.
Seattle police are continuing to work on a new request for charges, the City Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
It must show that an individual has a record of receiving and not responding to civil infractions, the statement said, as well as a narrative explaining what the person had done and how the behavior negatively affects others.
The request also must show the city has offered services aimed at mitigating the behavior without success, the statement said.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story. Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twittter @stevemiletich