Seattle neighborhoods push back against city attorney’s harsh letter
The last time Erin Goodman chatted with Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes was in his office, the Friday before the February release of a report on the city’s “prolific offenders” — people who cycle in and out of the justice system with ease and little deterrence.
“But that wasn’t the first time we discussed this,” Goodman told the Candy, Mike, and Todd Show on KIRO Radio. “…This all started last October. We held a public safety forum in SoDo in conjunction with other neighborhood organizations – Chinatown, Pioneer Square, Ballard. It was an opportunity for businesses to talk about crime and behaviors happening in their neighborhoods. As this conversation progressed, we realized that some of the same people were causing problems in our neighborhoods. Through these conversations we developed a list of eight or 10 folks that we all knew because of the issues and crime they were committing in our neighborhood.”
Goodman, along with representatives from the other Seattle neighborhoods, went to speak with Holmes in November 2018. They showed him the list, and they explained the assaults, thefts, and trespassing that they frequently encounter. She says that crime is a daily problem in SoDo, where some businesses are victimized up to six times a week.
“And at that point we asked for help,” Goodman said. “We said, ‘if we can figure out a solution to address the behaviors of this small population, it will make a big impact in our neighborhoods.’”
“And we didn’t hear anything back,” she said.
The silence from city hall is partially what led to a report/study, known as “System Failure,” largely written by Scott Lindsay, a former mayoral staffer under Ed Murray. The neighborhoods helped commission the report. It is not a definitive list. The study was a point-in-time sample — people who were arrested in that time, who also had four or more prior arrests. They got to 100 people in less than a month. Goodman says that since the report was published, 66 people on that list of 100 have reoffended yet again.
The neighborhood organizations hoped that the information would urge city leaders to take a major step in tackling the problem — acknowledging it exists. Goodman argues that the issue is a failure of the criminal justice system, of which Holmes owns one part.
“We met with the city attorney the Friday before we released the report to the media, as a courtesy, as an opportunity to say ‘This is what we are going forward with, we need your help,'” she said. “And to date, we still have not had any substantive response.”
“The solutions that come up need to create a situation where they are not left in place, where they continue to do harm while we are providing services,” she said.
Goodman says that her group in SoDo, and other neighborhoods, have also spoken with Mayor Jenny Durkan and city council members about this issue.
Fighting the system
Amid this action from the Seattle neighborhood groups, Municipal Court Judge Ed McKenna has been vocal about his end of the criminal justice system. He has been critical of sentencing recommendations from prosecutors. He also has said there is no place for him to send people who offend, time and time again — there is no inpatient, in-custody treatment facility. His voice is an echo of the System Failure study.
McKenna has invited members of the public to witness court proceedings. And he has spoken at forums about the issue. This public activity has drawn the ire of City Attorney Holmes and King County Department of Public Defenders Director Anita Khandelwal. This week, the two wrote a joint letter asking McKenna to step down as presiding judge, arguing he has crossed ethical lines.
RELATED: Did Judge McKenna step out of line?
“I was shocked, I was quite surprised,” Goodman said of the joint letter from Holmes and Khandewal. “…It felt like our city attorney is spending more time trying to silence folks who are speaking up about this issue, than addressing the issues. We as neighborhoods are suffering. We are reaching out to city officials, legal officials, county officials for help. And Judge McKenna is within the system we are trying to reform. We very much need his voice … it’s almost like a whistle blower situation, where McKenna is saying ‘there are problems here.’ And instead of trying to fix them, that system is trying to silence him.”
Mike Stewart with the Ballard Alliance agrees with that assessment.
“Our hope, really, is that Pete Holmes would spend his time trying to find solutions to solve the epic failures in our criminal justice system,” Stewart told the Candy, Mike, and Todd Show. “And less time playing politics and trying to silence one individual who has stepped up and is actually conducting a critical examination of what is going on.”
“It is a very challenging environment to own and operate a business right now, we didn’t see this three or four years ago,” he said. “Business owners don’t just have to worry about marketing and making payroll and all those kinds of things, they have to worry about safety for themselves, and safety for their customers and employees …. sure, there’s property crime, garbage, human waste, those kinds of things. Those are not great issues. But where it really crosses the line is when you are starting to be concerned about the safety of your customers and employees.”
Hear Stewart’s full conversation with Candy, Mike, and Todd below.