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Originally published Tuesday, November 5, 2013 at 5:55 PM

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SPD refused to act on public pot smoking, man claims

City Attorney Pete Holmes cited the lack of action as evidence that some Seattle police officers are refusing to carry out their duties in response to federally mandated reforms regarding use of force.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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As he left the Seahawks game on Sunday, Trevor Smith says he saw a man walking down the street smoking marijuana.

Smoke was “getting in everyone’s face” and kids were around, Smith wrote in an email he later fired off to a Seattle radio station and public officials.

“Interestingly enough there were two Seattle PD right there too,” he added, referring to the police. “I went over to them and asked them to enforce the new marijuana law that bans smoking pot in public. They told me that they were strictly forbidden by City Attorney Pete Holmes from enforcing the law. They couldn’t even go up to the guy and ask him to put it away.”

On Monday, the City Attorney’s Office and Seattle police told Smith in a polite exchange of emails that officers are under no such ban.

Holmes brought up the incident during an interview with The Seattle Times editorial board on Monday. He cited the lack of action as evidence that some officers are engaging in so-called “de-policing” in response to federally mandated reforms aimed at curbing unlawful use of force by Seattle police officers.

“The monitor is aware of it,” Holmes said, referring to larger concerns about de-policing that have come to the attention of the federal monitor, Merrick Bobb, who is overseeing the reforms.

The incident also reflects the strained relationship between Holmes and some police officers, who remain angry that Holmes has charged officers with criminal assault stemming from use of force while refusing, in their view, to prosecute people for low-level street offenses.

Smith, in an email to the City Attorney’s Office, said both officers blamed Holmes “almost simultaneously without even looking at each other.”

“So to me we’re either not getting the truth from your office or someone at SPD has instructed their officers to pass the blame to you guys,” Smith wrote to City Attorney spokeswoman Kimberly Mills.

Mills wrote to Smith that Holmes fully supports the ban on smoking marijuana in public included in Initiative 502, the new law approved by state voters last year that legalized adult recreational marijuana use.

Holmes has proposed a city ordinance that mirrors the state prohibition, including its $103 fine, that is expected to be passed by the Seattle City Council next month.

Notably, the civil infraction would be filed directly with the Seattle Municipal Court and handled by a magistrate, not Holmes’ office. With a local law, Seattle would keep about half the fine.

While awaiting the ordinance, Interim Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel has directed officers to issue a warning to people smoking marijuana in public under a policy of emphasizing education, the department’s spokesman, Sean Whitcomb, said in an interview Tuesday.

Whitcomb said he had not done any research on whether de-policing is occurring. But he said officers were being thoughtful in how they do their jobs, and that based on their reports and self-initiated work he had not seen evidence of de-policing.

Even when a city ordinance is in place, police will seek voluntary compliance with I-502 before issuing an infraction, Whitcomb wrote in an email to Smith on Monday.

Smith replied that he appreciated the information.

In an interview Tuesday, Smith said he supported I-502 in principle but voted against it because he feared the state and Seattle wouldn’t do a good job of enforcing it.

Smith, a 32-year-old real-estate broker who lives in Carnation and works in Seattle, said he first asked the officers if they were refusing to do anything because of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.

But they pointed to Holmes and gave the impression they wanted to take action.

“They looked so earnest and honest to me,” said Smith, who did not get the names and badge numbers of the two bike officers.

Smith wrote in his initial email that he thought of the “Doritos shenanigan” at Seattle’s Hempfest in August, where officers handed out bags of the nacho-cheese chips with stickers on the do’s and don’ts of I-502.

“Turns out, ‘just kidding, we’re not going to even enforce that rule either,’ ’’ he wrote of the ban on smoking pot in public.

Smith, who attended Sunday’s game with his wife, wrote that the episode made him rethink his plan to take his 8-year-old son to a game in December if he gets good grades.

In an email to Whitcomb, Smith said there might be a need for clarification within the Police Department about public marijuana smoking.

Whitcomb told Smith he would forward his emails to West Precinct Capt. Jim Dermody, whose territory includes CenturyLink Field, and the operations lieutenant, Mike Magee.

Officers need to make contact when they see people smoking marijuana in public, Whitcomb said in the interview.

“That’s elementary,” he said.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com On Twitter @stevemiletich



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