In a follow-up to a February report that described 100 prolific criminal offenders and the impact of their repeated criminal activity on Seattle businesses and neighborhoods, a second report released by the same group of business associations on Monday highlights the “failures” of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office (CAO) for the way it handles the filing of misdemeanor criminal cases against defendants when they are not booked into jail.
Commissioned by leaders from Pioneer Square, Chinatown/International District, SODO, the Downtown Seattle Association, Ballard and Seattle’s tourism industry, the report released Monday focuses on “declines, delays and dismissals” of non-traffic-related misdemeanor criminal charges for out-of-custody defendants.
It found that the CAO filed only 54% of non-traffic misdemeanors referred by Seattle police in 2017 — declining to file 46% of cases compared to 17% that were declined a decade earlier. The report also found it takes an average of six months to file charges against out-of-custody defendants and that four in 10 non-traffic, criminal misdemeanor cases filed in Seattle Municipal Court in 2017 hadn’t been resolved nearly two years later.
In response, City Attorney Pete Holmes argued that his office would need substantially more funding to address the issues cited by the business groups.
Both reports note the challenges of dealing with a population of repeat offenders, many of whom struggle with drug and mental health issues, cycle in and out of jail, or are contacted by police for petty crimes and misdemeanors.
“We have a problem and it’s time to own up to it. What we’re doing now is really expensive, really ineffective and it’s having a big, negative impact on neighborhoods across the city,” said Jon Scholes, president of Downtown Seattle Association.
Among other examples, the report describes a Capitol Hill assault with sexual motivation case, involving a woman who reported an acquaintance choked her. The report says it took the CAO 222 days to file a criminal complaint against the suspect, who moved out of state and now has a bench warrant out for his arrest. In other cases described in the report, the author writes that the suspects went on to commit more crimes while their original cases were delayed.
The report calls on Holmes to “develop and share a detailed plan on how to achieve better outcomes through improved coordination and effective use of criminal justice resources.”
The new report was released just two weeks after Mayor Jenny Durkan and Holmes, along with county Executive Dow Constantine and County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, announced — in response to the group’s February report — four programs focused on providing more places for repeat offenders to get treatment. The recommendations include a 60-bed treatment center in the West Wing of the King County Jail and a new probation program in Seattle Municipal Court focused on interventions such as shortening sentences for an offender who’s willing to get into treatment. The recommendations would cost the city almost $3 million, while the county would kick in $2.4 million.
The report released Monday, titled “System Failure, Part 2: Declines, Delays and Dismissals,” was authored by Scott Lindsay, an attorney who served as former Mayor Ed Murray’s public-safety adviser and who unsuccessfully challenged Holmes in the 2017 election. Lindsay also authored the February report on prolific offenders.
“Nothing has changed since these issues were flagged in the business associations’ first report: it would take at least an additional $2 million per year for enough prosecutors and staff to consider all cases for filing within 48 hours of receipt, and seeing the cases through to disposition,” Holmes said Monday in an emailed statement about the new report. “I’d welcome the input of anyone wanting to develop a strategy for how to best increase funding for my office — hopefully this funding would be coupled with sufficient resources for Courts to fashion remedies that best minimize recidivism, substance abuse, and mental health issues.”
Dan Nolte, a CAO spokesman, said 31 deputy city attorneys are assigned to the criminal division and are responsible for handling more than 14,000 referrals for charges from Seattle police each year. That number is less than half the 69 assistant city attorneys in the civil division, who provide legal guidance to city departments and elected officials and defend lawsuits brought against the city.
Nolte acknowledged that under Holmes, who was first elected in 2010, there has been a substantial reduction in the number of cases filed compared to his predecessor, Tom Carr. But he said that’s largely because paralegals now reach out to victims and witnesses to see if they’re still willing to participate in a criminal case before a case is filed, whereas during Carr’s tenure, cases were filed and then later dismissed if a victim or witness declined to participate. Also, during his first year in office, Holmes stopped prosecuting cases involving marijuana possession and driving with a suspended license — both crimes that represented “massive numbers” of cases, Nolte said.
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this story.
Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to assistant city attorneys assigned to the CAO’s civil division as deputy city attorneys.