King County Prosecuting Attorney
Meet the Candidates
The DSA’s core mission is to create a healthy, vibrant downtown for all. It is no secret that the pandemic took a heavy toll on downtowns across the country and Seattle is no exception. As we work toward recovery on all fronts, issues and concerns around public safety downtown continues to be one of the top themes we hear from members, ratepayers and stakeholders. Given that many pieces of the public safety ecosystem are held by different jurisdictions, what do you see as the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s role in increasing public safety in downtown Seattle? Additionally, how do you envision working with other local and state jurisdictions to ensure strong coordination and alignment to wholistically address public safety?
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Everything starts with accountability. The King County Prosecutor’s job is to hold offenders accountable for their actions based on fact. It is not complicated.
As the Mayor of a City of more than 100,000 residents, I have seen firsthand the impacts of the lack of prosecutions from the current Prosecutor. This has led to a growing list of criminals who are not being held accountable for their actions. I believe in second chances, but not revolving doors where the same people commit the same crimes without facing justice.
Many of my fellow Mayor’s and I have expressed frustration with the leadership team of the King County Prosecutor’s Office. We have worked together to share information on repeat offenders and coordinated to counter gang activity in South King County.
The abolitionist approach of my opponent is the wrong direction for our County. We must partner with local jurisdictions and law enforcement to ensure a coordinated response to
the significant rise in crime we have all experienced. Furthermore, as King County Prosecutor, I will be present in Olympia advocating for a common sense approach to prosecutions. I will speak up when serious changes are made legislatively that adversely impact public safety.
Making our communities safer, reducing property crime, and protecting victims requires proven experience and hands-on leadership. COVID disruptions, a reduction in important police resources, and the housing and opioid crises have threatened the vitality of our neighborhoods and business districts. Our challenges are complex, but we can and must do better.
As a career prosecutor and the only candidate who has built and implemented countywide crime prevention strategies with law enforcement partners, mental health professionals, and community service providers, I will focus on the public safety issues facing our County and communities with needed urgency to deliver criminal accountability, racial equity, and restorative justice. I will:
- Require accountability, including prosecution and jail time for violent and repeat offenders, as well as monitored treatment to address the root causes of criminal behavior.
- Build a stronger relationship with law enforcement, including regular in person meetings with leadership and rank and file officers – while maintaining my strong relationships with the Seattle Mayor and City Attorney, business leaders and community based organizations to improve coordination and collaboration and to get better outcomes for our neighbors and small businesses.
- Invest in effective and data-driven prevention and diversion strategies to reduce recidivism, keep vulnerable youth in school and on pathways to success, and address underlying mental health and addiction issues.
- Maintain the highest nonpartisan legal, ethical and equity-driven standards in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office required to best serve our diverse and growing County.
- Reduce racial disparities in our criminal legal system to improve justice for everyone.
According to a 2019 report commissioned by the DSA and other partners on prolific offenders in Seattle’s criminal justice system and more recently, the Seattle City Attorney’s office High Utilizer’s Initiative, a substantial amount of crime and associated disorderly behavior in downtown Seattle are committed by a relatively small and identifiable number of individuals with large numbers of criminal cases in Seattle and King County courts. Indeed, the City Attorney’s office has identified 118 individuals who have been responsible for over 2,400 criminal cases over the past 5 years. What is your position on the High Utilizer’s Initiative and what role does the King County Prosecutor play in that strategy and — more broadly — in addressing individuals creating a negatively disproportionate impact on public safety in our city?
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The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (PAO) formed its High Priority Repeat Offender (HIPRO) strategy in 2017 to address repeat criminal behavior, particularly in downtown Seattle. As Chief of Staff, I advocated for this group and secured additional budget resources to support this focused strategy. By having the same senior deputy prosecuting attorneys handling cases for these individuals — who frequently are involved in downtown Seattle crime — they make stronger arguments in court about patterns of behavior affecting businesses and communities.
There is significant crossover between individuals identified in the PAO’s HIPRO group and the City Attorney’s High Utilizer initiative, which has shown strong results. The PAO coordinates with the CAO to combine multiple misdemeanor thefts into felony organized retail theft cases and meets directly with businesses and business representatives to help strengthen felony cases.
Under my leadership, the PAO’s partnership with the City Attorney’s Office has never been stronger, and as Prosecutor, I would ensure that the almost daily communication between the PAO and the City Attorney’s Office continues. I believe continued collaboration and teamwork with all our King County city attorney’s offices is a key to long-term success and accountability.
The Seattle City Attorney is taking the correct approach to identifying high impact offenders. This is something my fellow Mayors and I have done across South King County as we partner with our local law enforcement agencies.
I have had hundreds of jury trials and prosecuted thousands of cases, while my opponent has never tried a single criminal case. That fact should concern everyone. Not having the trial experience necessary is a serious deficit when trying to lead an agency the size of the King County Prosecutor’s Office. Former Prosecutor Norm Maleng implemented a similar program which was a complete success. I will too.
What is your specific approach to balancing offender diversion and rehabilitation with interests of public safety, accountability for engaging in criminal activity and justice and resolution for victims?
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Diversions are a critically important component to the criminal justice system. For a diversion program to be balanced and successful, there must be an element of accountability along with a transparent treatment plan.
Pre-filing diversions without a case number, judicial oversight, or transparent criteria and treatment plan are not effective. They do not provide justice for victims of crime or actual rehabilitation for offenders. Serious felony cases should not be eligible for this type of program.
An important component of public safety is addressing both crime and root causes. Individuals often continue to commit crimes, even after being caught and prosecuted, because the root causes of their behavior are not addressed. A thoughtful – and effective – criminal justice system can charge felony crimes, support victims, and help people stop cycles of criminal behavior. This is a narrative we risk losing as our political discourse becomes more polarized and divided.
For example, last Spring, under my leadership, the PAO charged a man for committing 28 thefts of alcohol from a downtown Seattle store over the course of several weeks. To break the cycle of arrest and release for the nonviolent misdemeanor crimes of shoplifting typically handled by the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, the PAO combined the total loss amount of all 28 thefts and charged this as a felony case in Drug Court, a minimum 10-month program that provides support to break the cycle of addiction that often leads to criminal behavior. Drug Court offers dedicated treatment, case management, and housing. If he completes the program, the felony case is resolved; if not, he faces traditional prosecution.
In this case, the most important thing from a public safety perspective was to remove this individual from a cycle of harm – to the store owner and employees, downtown residents and visitors, and himself.
Under my leadership, the PAO will continue to review each case individually, taking into careful consideration the evidence, the individual’s history, and the variety of accountability options, whether that’s traditional prosecution, therapeutic courts, or the responsible diversion of nonviolent offenses.
Workers, customers, and King County residents expect accountability. Accountability that addresses crime and root causes is achievable in this type of thoughtful and effective approach to public safety.
While not all criminal offenders suffer from substance use disorder, illegal drugs are a major driver in the entire cycle of downtown criminal activity and street disorder. Recently, King County declared Fentanyl a public health crisis. This drug and other illegal substances are prevalent in downtown. Open air drug sales and usage is skyrocketing in the core of the city, and every day we see individuals suffering with severe unaddressed behavioral health issues. We also know these individuals are often being victimized by people for their own nefarious purposes. What do you see as the Prosecuting Attorney’s role and what is your plan to address the proliferation of drug sales, usage and associated activity happening on our streets? What solutions do you see for those cases where voluntary treatment is continuously refused?
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Those who deal fentanyl and other dangerous drugs won’t get a pass on my watch – those individuals will be held accountable. Dealing drugs is illegal and will not be condoned. So far this year, the PAO has filed more than 180 charges for drug dealing – primarily fentanyl. Drug dealing is illegal and must remain a serious felony offense.
For those who are suffering from addiction and behavioral health challenges, we absolutely must offer treatment and other services to address root causes. A failure to do so is ineffective, costly, and unacceptable. Investment in treatment and getting vulnerable individuals access to care will yield long term solutions and results.
We have to be honest about the size of the needs facing our community and increase access and capacity to Drug Court, Mental Health Court, Veterans Court. We must also increase access to community based treatment and offer treatment on demand. Individuals shouldn’t have to encounter our criminal justice system just to get help. I am honored to have the support of elected leaders at every level and will work in collaboration with them to get real results.
The Legislature could have remedied the Blake decision by adding one word to the possession statute; “Knowingly.”
Their actions have served as a de facto legalization of serious narcotics. As Prosecutor, I will lobby the Legislature to fix this bad law in order to save lives!
Those who break the law and prey on people suffering from drug addiction and mental health challenges will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
I will work with the King County Executive and County Council to ensure we have the funding necessary to help those in need of treatment. I will do the same with the Legislature and our Congressional Delegation.
We must be compassionate, but firm. Those who commit crimes must be held accountable.
As Mayor, I have worked with Catholic Community Services, and many other agencies to provide treatment and referral services to those in need. As your question states, many refuse treatment. That doesn’t mean we give up though. We must make these substances harder to obtain and break up the organized drug trade in our county.
Overturning the Legislature’s mistake is the first step to regaining the tools we need to end the devastation drugs are doing to our community.