Archive for Criminal Justice

Two bills on use of deadly force by police pass out of committee

By | February 5, 2016 | 0 Comments

The House Committee on Public Safety voted to advance two bills Friday concerning the use of deadly force by police officers. The bills focus on data collection and the formation of a new task force on community policing.

The committee chose not to vote on a third, more controversial bill, that would change current law to make it easier to criminally charge a police officer for improper use of deadly force. Nearly 70 people testified on that bill before the committee earlier this week.

Members voted to pass House Bill 2908 out committee unanimously. It establishes the “Community Policing Standards Task Force for a Safer Washington,” tasked with reviewing:

  • Laws, practices and training programs regarding the use of deadly force by law enforcement
  • Policies, practices and tools that are available as an alternative to deadly force (for example, tasers and other non-lethal weapons)

It must also recommend modifications to the “standards for justifiable homicide and criminal liability.” A preliminary report is due at the end of the year, with a final report in 2017.

The committee amended the bill to add more seats to the task force, including representatives from the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, the Black Alliance of Thurston County, and the Disability Rights of Washington. It removed the representative from the Attorney General’s office.

House Public Safety Committee Chair Rep. Roger Goodman (right) and Ranking Minority Member Rep. Brad Klippert on Feb. 5.

House Public Safety Committee Chair Rep. Roger Goodman (right) and Ranking Minority Member Rep. Brad Klippert on Feb. 5.

Committee Chair Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said the bill is a way to build a relationship between law enforcement and the public.

“There is not enough trust between the community — whether they are vulnerable communities, under-served communities, or the community in general — and our hard working law enforcement,” he said.

“We need to be listening more to one and other. And that means gathering around the table in a respectful and deliberate fashion.”

The second bill, House Bill 2882, would require Washington law enforcement agencies to report data on justifiable homicides and instances of deadly force to the Attorney General annually.

Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, said that the state has never collected this type of data.

“This is not to besmirch law enforcement, this is just to gather the data,” she said. “And if it turns out that most of the homicides were justifiable, that’s one thing. If it turns out that it wasn’t, then we need to do something to change the law.”

Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, voted against the bill because of the deadlines and requirements outlined for law enforcement, but said he agreed with the goal of the bill.

The bill was passed out of committee with five in favor and four opposed.

Watch TVW video of the vote here.

Lawmakers hear testimony on bill to change deadly force law for police

By | February 5, 2016 | 0 Comments

A proposal that would change the standard in Washington for which police officers could be charged with a crime for improper use of deadly force drew an overflow crowd to Olympia on Wednesday.

Under current state law, a police officer cannot be held criminally liable for using deadly force when acting “without malice and with a good faith.”

House Bill 2907 would change that, removing immunity for officers acting without malice and with good faith. It also outlines when deadly force is justifiable.

“Its time to change this immeasurable, impossible to prove, and imprecise law. Why? Because we are dealing with high value lives,” said Karen Johnson with the Black Alliance of Thurston County, who requested the legislation.

She said there is a lack of trust between communities and law enforcement.

Watch TVW video of the hearing here.

Prime sponsor of the bill Rep. Luis Moscoso, D- Bothell, said there needs to be an open and transparent discussion about police shootings.

“There’s not a person in this room that hasn’t been paying attention to a lot the shootings in this country,” he said. “We are all concerned about why that’s been happening and how we can prevent that.” We need to have a civil discussion on the issue.”

Tom McBride, the executive secretary of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, testified in opposition to the bill. He refuted the idea that police officers are not prosecuted for wrongdoing.

“There’s not a resistance to filing charges when they’re deserved, whether it’s a police officer or anyone else,” he said. “What we are interested in is a fair standard upon which to base our decisions.”

He said that fair standard has to take into account what police officers are asked to do each day, which is put themselves into “ambiguous, high-risk situations.”

Also speaking in opposition to the bill was Troy Meyers, an instructor at at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.

“One of the things that I have to tell them with every graduating class is that the state has their back if they act with good faith,” he said. “I don’t want to have to stop saying that.”

Meyers said that while much of the debate has focused on racial injustice, the bill doesn’t do anything to address race or mental health problem.

“I expect my state to address those things head-on if that’s really our concern,” he said.

An overflow room waits to testify at the House Public Safety Committee on Wednesday. More than 65 people signed in to testify.

An overflow room at the House Public Safety Committee on Wednesday. More than 65 people signed in to testify.

Carlos Bratcher with the Seattle chapter of the National Black Police Association urged lawmakers to pass the bill, saying it will provide clarity to police officer. He said he’s shocked over what he’s seen in the last few years with police shootings

“As with any good practicing law enforcement officer, if I have a colleague or another officer that commits the use of deadly force under questionable circumstances, I want to see them being held accountable, as does any citizen in the state,” he said.

Other supporters say is too difficult to prosecute police officers in Washington. Pastor Richmond Johnson said the current law ties the hands of prosecutors — even when prosecution is needed.

“There’s a negative effect when the culture says shoot first. I’m persuaded that ‘shooting first’ is a result of a weak mind. We’ve got to turn the culture around,” said Johnson, who is the director of Partnering for Youth Achievement in Bremerton and has served on a police and community task force.

Mitch Barker represents the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, and spoke in opposition to the bill.

He said the goal should not be to prosecute more officers, but to find a way to reduce the number of police shootings.

The committee also heard House Bill 2908, which would create a joint legislative task force on community policing standards, as well as a House Bill 2882 requiring law enforcement to collect data on deadly force incidents. Many of those who testified in favor of the deadly force bill were also in favor of the other bills.

Sex trafficking survivors push for bill they say would help victims start over

By | January 27, 2016 | 0 Comments

Stephanie Harris was working as a prostitute for two years before she met the man who would become her pimp. He wouldn’t let her eat or go home until she met her quota for the day. Sometimes, she was left on Aurora Avenue in Seattle for 16 to 18 hours at a time.

“After I left my pimp, I really did attempt to clean up my act,” Harris told lawmakers at a hearing of the House Public Safety Committee on Tuesday. She turned herself in to police and faced charges that had accumulated during her time on the streets.

“But I found what was happening is I couldn’t find a job, I couldn’t get an apartment,” she said. “I had a kid that I was trying to fight and get back, but those charges just didn’t look good for me.”

Harris asked lawmakers to pass House Bill 2668, which would allow people to vacate their convictions if they can show their crimes were a result of being a victim of trafficking or being compelled into prostitution. Once a court vacates a conviction, it no longer shows up on a criminal record.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, said the proposal builds upon a bill signed into law two years ago allowing a person to vacate prostitution convictions if he or she was a victim of trafficking.

Orwall said that she’s heard from both private attorneys and those working at the city and county levels that they’ve had trouble moving forward on that 2014 law.

“We are back again today because a lot of the survivors have tried to use this new law and have ran into some problems,” Orwall said. “So we thought we would try and see what we could do to make this usable.”

Survivors of trafficking testified in favor of the bill on Tuesday.

Amber Walker and Jeri Moomaw testifying.

Amber Walker and Jeri Moomaw testifying.

Because of her criminal convictions, Amber Walker said she has encountered several barriers while trying to rebuild her life. She said traffickers used drugs to “enslave” her.

“When I was in the life, I certainly wasn’t getting drugs through charity. They were given to me in exchange for my body. I was introduced to drugs by my traffickers to keep me under control,” Walker said.

Walker said that many of the people that trafficked her for sex also trafficked her to sell drugs. “They said I looked innocent and that police will never suspect me,” she said.

Jeri Moomaw is a trafficking survivor and now works with Washington Engage, an anti-human trafficking nonprofit. She says one of the hardest things is getting reintegrated into regular life.

“It’s really sad to get a call from a fellow survivor who is doing amazing, that’s crying and crying saying, ‘I can’t get a job that pays a living wage because of my convictions,’” she said.

Moomaw said she would also like to see a change in the process required to vacate a conviction. Right now, if a survivor is trying to vacate their prostitution conviction they must fill out a form re-telling their “trauma.” She thinks that filing out an affidavit should be the only requirement.

“I found out that the form that has you line out all of your trauma is public record,” she said. “So potentially somebody could attain that public record and that could end up on Google.”

Heidi Sargent, assistant city prosecuting attorney with the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, said the office in recent years has shifted the emphasis on prosecuting those who are buying sex.

But still, she says the office recognizes there is a lot of prostitution-related crime besides prostitution itself.

“We haven’t gotten to the point yet of addressing that and that would be a difficult thing to do,” she said. “We find that [the bill] is very good step forward and would remove some very serious barriers and would help break the cycle.”

As for Harris — she hopes that the bill will help people like her older sister leave prostitution.

“If you talked to my sister right now she would say,’what’s the point? I’ve been in over half my life, look at this list of charges.’ She’s been under the control of pimps since she was 14. So why get out now,” Harris said though tears.

All of those who testified Tuesday were in support of the bill.

Categories: Courts, Criminal Justice

Senate committee seeks answers on mistaken early release of prisoners

By | January 12, 2016 | 0 Comments

The Senate Law and Justice Committee on Monday convened a work session to discuss the mistaken early release of 3,200 prisoners by the Department of Corrections since 2002.

The error was a result of a coding miscalculation in the DOC electronic records system. Errors were discovered by DOC management in 2012, but 16 software updates were delayed and the issue was never fixed.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, started the work session by recognizing the two people who died as a result of individuals who should have been incarcerated. He said that the error was “disturbing” and wanted to know why something wasn’t done in 2012.

Secretary of Department of Corrections Dan Pacholke

Secretary of Department of Corrections Dan Pacholke

Secretary of the Department of Corrections Dan Pacholke opened his testimony by apologizing, saying it was a “breech of public trust.”

“It’s probably the largest single error I’ve ever heard of agency history in the sense of its impacts to public safety,” he said.

Pacholke took over the agency in October and said he learned of the error in December. Since then, employees have been calculating release dates by manually. He said a computer software fix has undergone testing for the last two weeks and is expected to be implemented today, Jan 12.

An independent investigation is being conducted by the governor’s office. Pacholke said he’s confident that it will result in answers.

Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, asked Pacholke if the DOC “deprioritized” the fix to save taxpayer money, to which Pacholke said no.

Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, asked if there is “any problem with the culture or environment at DOC that would permit this sort of thing.”

Pacholke replied, “ I don’t believe you can cast it as a wide brush against the entire agency.”

Nick Brown, the governor’s legal counsel, is in charge of the external investigation, which is running independently of the DOC. The governor hired two retired federal prosecutors to conduct the investigation to determine the facts regarding the incident. The governor set a 60-day limit on the investigation.

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, questioned how many people were aware of the problem. “People know when people get out of jail,” she said. “If people have a client list, you know when your money is coming out of jail. Therefore, I think there were a lot of attorneys who knew their people getting out early.”

As a result of the error, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a directive, on Monday, Jan. 11 to all executive branch agency directors to increase accountability of state IT systems.

“Every agency director and every person responsible for the critical functions of our state has a responsibility to ensure they are administered correctly,” Inslee said in a statement.

“What happened at the Department of Corrections must not happen again,” he wrote.

Categories: Criminal Justice

Alleged Driver in Fatal Crash Mistakenly Released From Prison Early

By | December 28, 2015 | 0 Comments

There’s more fallout from the error that allowed Washington state prisoners to be mistakenly released early. After reviewing records, the Washington Department of Corrections says two offenders allegedly committed new crimes when they should have been incarcerated, including one who reportedly killed a woman in a car crash.

A computer calculation error allowed Robert Jackson to be released from prison on August 10, instead of his original sentence release date of December 6, 2015. While out of custody, investigators say Jackson lost control of a car and crashed, killing his girlfriend Lindsay Hill. The 35-year-old mother of two was thrown from the vehicle in front of her Bellevue apartment. Hill’s 13-year-old son heard the crash and later found his mother, after police say Jackson fled.

“Nothing I can say will bring back Ms. Hill. I deeply regret that this happened,” DOC Secretary Dan Pacholke said in a written statement. “On behalf of the Department of Corrections, I apologize.”

The DOC says Jackson is in custody and charged with vehicular homicide. He had been serving time for a 2010 robbery.

“Today’s news from DOC is absolutely gut-wrenching and heart-breaking,” said Governor Inslee in an emailed statement. “I spoke with Lindsay Hill’s family today and let them know that Washingtonians’ hearts are with them during these very difficult days.”

The Governor announced last week, since 2002 a programming error allowed 3,200 prisoners to mistakenly be released early for good behavior. The offenders all had enhanced sentences, which made them ineligible for early release.

Certain unnamed people within the DOC were aware of the problem in 2012 after a victim’s family voiced concerns, but the software fix was never implemented.

Governor Inslee learned of the problem last week and launched an immediate, independent investigation. He also ordered a halt to all releases that could be impacted until a hand calculation is done. The software update should be ready by early next month.

“There is nothing that can right this horrible wrong. We must make sure nothing like this happens again,” said Inslee.

In addition to Jackson, the DOC believes one other offender allegedly committed a crime while out of prison when they should not have been. That person is missing. The agency says it is continuing to review records to make sure there are no more.

As for other prisoners who need to be returned to state custody, five are back behind bars. The DOC identified an additional two dozen who need to return to complete their sentences, but the majority will not due to a court ruling that provides day-for-day credit while out in the community, as long as the offender hasn’t committed another crime.

Washington Prisoners Mistakenly Released Early

By | December 22, 2015 | 0 Comments

Some Washington felons may be headed back to prison after a computer error mistakenly allowed them to be released early.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that 3,200 Washington prisoners were let go before their sentences were complete. For the last 13 years, a Department of Corrections computer software program incorrectly calculated credit for “good time” served.  The error affects about three-percent of all state inmates during that time period.

The governor says he’s ordered immediate action to correct the long-standing problem, and ordered an external review to determine how this happened and why it took so long to address, even though the problem was discovered in 2012.

“These were serious errors with serious implications,” Gov. Inslee said. “When I learned of this I ordered DOC to fix this, fix it fast, and fix it right.” The Governor’s office says it was alerted to the mistake last week.

Department of Corrections new Secretary, Dan Pacholke, called the situation an “unforgivable error.”

During a press conference in the governor’s office he said, “I’ve apologized to the governor personally on behalf of the Department of Corrections. I want to offer the same apology to the public.”

State officials say the problem dates back to a July 2002 ruling by the Washington Supreme Court. It requires DOC apply “good time” credit earned in county jails. Offenders with sentencing enhancements are supposed to be exempt from that, but the DOC computer applied it anyway. 

The amount of days prisoners did not serve ranges from “a couple of days” to 600, but the governor’s chief legal counsel, Nick Brown, says the median number is 49.

The state is working with local law enforcement to identify those inmates who need to go back and complete their sentences, either in prison or work release. So far, that’s seven people.  Five are already in custody. Brown expects that number to increase, but says most of the offenders impacted will not be re-incarcerated because of a previous Supreme Court ruling. Their time back home in the community will count day for day.

DOC learned of the problem in 2012 when a crime victim’s family did their own calculations on their offender’s release. The state says the sequencing fix was launched at that time, but for reasons that will be investigated, it was repeatedly delayed. Only when DOC’s new chief information officer discovered the problem, was leadership notified.

Secretary Pacholke says he just learned of the error last week, and does not know if the previous administration had any knowledge of it.  “How that did not rise up in the agency to the highest levels is not clear to me,” Pacholke said.

“That this problem was allowed to continue for 13 years is deeply disappointing to me, totally unacceptable and, frankly, maddening,” Inslee said.

The software is expected to be updated and fixed by early January. Until then, Gov. Inslee halted all further releases of inmates with sentencing enhancements until a hand calculation is done, the numbers are verified, and the release is personally approved.

Two retired federal prosecutors, Robert Westinghouse and Carl Blackstone from the firm of Yarmuth Wilsdon PLLC, were hired to conduct an independent review.

“I have a lot of questions about how and why this happened, and I understand that members of the public will have those same questions,” Gov. Inslee said. “I expect the external investigation will bring the transparency and accountability we need to make sure this issue is resolved.”

Offenders with questions can call 360-725-8213.

Resources available on the DOC website:

Barry Massey set to be released in 2016

By | June 4, 2015 | 0 Comments

Barry Massey, who was 13 at the time he and a co-defendant murdered a Steilacoom shop owner, will be set free in early 2016. Massey’s release comes on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled it was unconstitutional for juveniles to be automatically sentenced to life without parole.

Massey, who was the youngest person in the U.S. to receive a sentence of life without parole, will be released in February after serving almost 30 years in prison, according to a decision released Thursday by the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board.

The board made the unanimous decision after seeing “noticeable and dramatic change” in Massey’s behavior, according to board chair Lynne DeLano. She spoke on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” with host Austin Jenkins. The interview airs Thursday, June 4 at 7 & 10 p.m.

“In his hearing, you could see this is not the 13-year-old who killed that man. It was a brutal murder, but this is not the same 13-year-old. This is a man who has changed his life around,” DeLano said.

TVW taped the board’s March hearing to consider Massey’s release.

In 1987, Massey and Michael Harris shot and stabbed Steilacoom Marina owner Paul Wang during a robbery of the store. Harris was 15 at the time of the crime.

The board is also releasing two other offenders who were juveniles when they were convicted. David Cobabe was convicted of attempted murder, burglary and assault charges. Niguel Jones was convicted of murder and assault.

Gun notification bill known as ‘Sheena Henderson Act’ signed into law by Gov. Inslee

By | April 28, 2015 | 0 Comments

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the Sheena Henderson Act into law Tuesday, setting up a notification system for families when police return a confiscated gun back to its owner.

Sheena Henderson’s father, Gary Kennison, said Tuesday the bill was not about taking away gun rights. “It’s giving family members the ability to protect their loved ones,” he said.

Sheena Henderson’s friends say the slain woman might have been able to protect herself if she had been notified by police that her estranged husband, Chris Henderson, had gone to the Spokane Police Department to retrieve his gun. Police had previously confiscated the weapon following a suicide attempt.

The day that Sheena Henderson was shot, “she was going to call and check on the gun on the way to work,” said Kristen Otoupalik, Sheena’s friend who lobbied the Legislature to pass the bill.

But Sheena never called, and Chris Henderson used the gun to kill Sheena and himself at her workplace, Deaconess Hospital in Spokane.

If the law had been in place, “we would have been able to keep her safe longer,” Otoupalik said Tuesday following the bill signing.

Inslee signs the Sheena Henderson bill into law.

Gov. Inslee signs the Sheena Henderson bill into law.

Senate Bill 5381 allows family or household members to request to be notified when police return a firearm to its owner. The notification can be done by telephone, email, text or personal service.

Both of Sheena’s children attended the bill signing on Tuesday, along with several friends and family members.

TVW taped the bill signing ceremony, watch it online here.

Kennison and Otoupalik say they intend to return to Olympia to continue to push for House Bill 1448, which creates a process for law enforcement officers to request mental health evaluations of people who attempt suicide.

The bill passed the House and out of a Senate committee, but was not brought up for a floor vote in the Senate before the end of regular session on April 24.

State Auditor Troy Kelley pleads not guilty to 10 counts in federal court

By | April 17, 2015 | 0 Comments
State Auditor Troy Kelley surrounded by media as he leaves the U.S. District Court after pleading not guilty to 10 counts. (Photo by Venice Buhain.)

State Auditor Troy Kelley surrounded by media as he leaves the U.S. District Court after pleading not guilty to 10 counts. (Photo by Venice Buhain.)

State Auditor Troy Kelley entered a not guilty plea to 10 counts connected to tax evasion and obstruction in U.S. District Court in Tacoma on Thursday.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Richard Creatura set the trial date at June 8, and released Kelley on his own recognizance. Creatura allowed Kelley to travel to South Korea for scheduled Washington National Guard duty and throughout Washington for his children’s sports events.

Amid calls for his resignation from Democrats, Republicans and Gov. Jay Inslee, Kelley maintained his innocence and announced he would be taking a leave of absence from his position starting May 1.

“I take this action to allow my office to the important work without distractions and to allow me to participate fully in my defense,” he read from a statement in front of reporters at a press conference. “I fully expect to resume my duties when these old legal matters are finally put to rest.”

Kelley read from the prepared statement before leaving through a back door, on advice from his lawyers.

State Auditor Troy Kelley, behind the podium, addresses reporters as his attorneys (l-r) Rob McCallum and Mark Bartlett, look on. (Photo by Venice Buhain)

State Auditor Troy Kelley, behind the podium, addresses reporters as his attorneys (l-r) Rob McCallum and Mark Bartlett, look on. (Photo by Venice Buhain)

“I’m very confident — very confident — that I will be able to prove my innocence. I look forward to doing that in an open court of law,” he read.

He maintained that he will clear his name and his activities at the company are in line with current real estate practices.

“It’s not our intent to settle the case, unless there’s a dismissal of the indictment,” one of his attorneys Rob McCallum told reporters.

Kelley has been under public scrutiny since March, when federal investigators raided his Tacoma home, and requested information from the State Auditor’s Office.

It emerged that the federal investigators were looking into financial activities related to The Post Closing Department, Kelley’s former real estate transaction business in California. They also had requested information related to Jason JeRue, who worked with Kelley at the California company, and then took a part time remote job at the Auditor’s office in 2013.

The charges filed this week are related to alleged activities Kelley conducted at Post Closing Department. According to the indictment filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Thursday, Kelley withheld more than $2 million that he was supposed to return to clients and that he moved the money between accounts and between states. The indictment also alleges that when the companies filed a lawsuit to get the money back, Kelley lied under oath. The indictment also alleges that Kelley filed false income tax returns, and then lied to Internal Revenue Service agents who questioned him about it in April 2013.

U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Emily Langlie declined to comment on whether charges were forthcoming against JeRue.

Each count is punishable between 3 and 10 years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorneys Office.

Kelley, a Democrat, was a state legislator elected to the State Auditor’s Office after Auditor Brian Sonntag decided not to run.

The State Auditor’s Office is consulting with the State Attorney General’s Office to find out whether Kelley will be paid during his leave of absence, according to spokesman Thomas Shapley.

McCallum and Kelley’s other attorney, Mark Bartlett, told reporters that it was unusual for a criminal case to be filed in connection to a settled civil case.

“I have never ever seen a criminal case brought related to civil deposition or civil filings,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett said that Kelley believed that the case was behind him before he ran for the state auditor’s office.

“That tells you more about what was in Troy Kelley’s mind than anything else. He clearly didn’t think he’d done anything wrong,” Barlett said.

“If he had thought he did anything wrong,the last thing he would have done is run for office.”

New deadline for mental-health evaluations

By | March 12, 2015 | 0 Comments

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Washington jails and hospitals now will have a deadline of two weeks to complete mental health evaluations under a bill Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law Thursday.

“Defendants do have the right to understand the proceedings against them and to participate in their own defense,” he said. “We all know we now need to turn to the important task of making sure this bill and these provisions are funded adequately.”

In a class-action lawsuit filed against the state, people charged with crimes say they were forced to wait an unconstitutional amount of time before receiving mental health evaluations for competency to stand trial, sometimes weeks or months.

Hospitals, under Senate Bill 5889, will have 14 days to offer admission to a defendant for inpatient competency evaluations. Jails must also complete evaluations within that time frame, with an option to extend another seven days for clinical reasons.

The new time limit will be phased in throughout a period of one year beginning July 1. If a jail or hospital exceeds a time limit, it will have to submit a report to the Legislature and governor’s office, and the defendant could use the missed deadline as a defense in court.

A shortage of psychiatric beds and staff contributed to the long wait times, mental health officials say. Lawmakers last month passed a supplemental budget with more than $20 million toward the state’s mental health system, including adding 45 beds to the Western State Hospital mental health wards.

Categories: Criminal Justice
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