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Following crime: Spending a day in a Seattle courtroom

(AP)

Jennifer Coats has lived in the Licton Springs neighborhood for nine and a half years. She’s the neighborhood block watch captain. She says she’s taking a stand against crime in the city by becoming involved in efforts to tackle it.

“A couple years ago when I really saw a spike in crime, it was somebody trespassing on my property, there were needles around, a lot of drug use, and it has escalated to where there are home break-ins, there are robberies, there are violent assaults,” Coats said. There are shootings. There was one (shooting) two blocks away from my child’s school. There was a shooting two blocks away from my home a month ago, there was a shooting two blocks away from my home in the other direction a few months prior.”

“The crimes are escalating, the crimes are getting worse,” she said. “Something has to be done. If I need to get educated, involved and bring awareness to people, I think it is my responsibility to do that.”

Seattle Judge Ed McKenna

Coats was inspired to take a closer look at Seattle’s crime and its justice system after running into Seattle Judge Ed McKenna.

“I met Judge McKenna at a North Precinct advisory a council meeting in November, he was a guest speaker,” Coats said. “It made me feel like there was somebody in the judicial system who was fighting the good fight and just trying to keep our streets safe.”

Judge McKenna invited her to come to court to see for herself what a “day-in-the-life” of a judge is like. She accepted.

One defendant stood out — Francisco Calderon, who lives in Coats’ neighborhood. He’s repeat offender with a rap sheet spanning more than 40 years. In this case, he pleaded guilty to assaulting a stranger in Seattle. This is on top of his previous convictions, many of which are assaults. He had been on probation in the past and has failed to appear in court.

“Probation didn’t sound like reasonable sentencing either since there is no accountability for Calderon,” Coats said. “He has offended many times while on probation.”

The case drew Coats’ interest. She has concerns with how the city treats repeat, violent offenders.

“The hearings that I witnessed, they were all pretty much the same,” she said. “They were dismissing charges and letting people free to go, possibly on probation, but not wanting to put them in jail. With a matter of violent crimes, I think public safety needs to be of concern; not allowing somebody to go back out onto the streets to re-offend, which this person has done 72 times.”

Even so, the prosecuting attorney recommended probation again. Judge McKenna ultimately sentenced Calderon to a year in jail.

“(He has) a pretty significant history of assaults, felony assaults, assaults with weapons, harassments, in other words making threats and that’s after having been convicted of other threats,” Judge McKenna said in the courtroom. “At some point, I think the public needs to be protected. You’ve indicated that since 2010, your client hasn’t had a significant history. But it looks to me that’s probably because he was in prison for much of that time.”

City attorney perspective

McKenna said that the public should be protected and was concerned that Calderon is likely to offend again. Coats says the city needs more judges and prosecutors like Judge McKenna.

“I think he made the right decision,” Coats said. “The day of these sentencing, it took two marshals an hour and a half to get Calderon to the courtroom. So he’s resisting again. He doesn’t want to comply. A month prior to the hearing he yelled out of the cell that ‘I don’t give a crap.'”

In regard to Calderon, the Seattle City Attorney’s office gave this statement:

The Court’s own probation department, our office, and defense counsel all felt the defendant should undergo mental health treatment – something he’s never received before. Our goal was to get at the root of his problems to minimize the risk of his reoffending after he’s released. Based on this defendant’s extensive record, it’s pretty clear that simple incarceration isn’t fixing his behavior, which is why we felt those 50 days in jail plus mental health and chemical dependency treatment was the best course of action. Our recommendation also included 2 years of probation oversight, and, if he ultimately didn’t participate in treatment, he’d still have those remaining 10 months of jail hanging over his head. We stand by that recommendation.

By contrast, when the Court rejected our jail+treatment recommendation and imposed the maximum jail sentence alone, this defendant will likely be released late Spring 2019 (with good behavior), still untreated, with no probation oversight. That hardly sounds like the best public safety outcome.

 

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