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Rantz: King County does major damage control, but Sheriff backs original report

(KIRO7 image)

This week, I detailed a policy King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s Office follows that says they will not file charges against a suspect who injures an officer, if the assault occurs when the suspect resists arrest.

The prosecutor’s office apparently didn’t like the story and now they’re engaged in damage control via a deeply misleading press statement that flatly contradicts their own, earlier claims.

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Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht doesn’t have such a concern. She backs the original KTTH report as accurate.

(Note: I normally grant their request to quote their statements to a generic title of “spokesperson” but given their office has provided conflicting statements to me, and they directly try to smear me, I will use the names associated with their content for the purposes of this piece.)

Whitney Keyes, Communications Director for Satterberg, writes in the statement sent to select media outlets (though, weirdly, not to me):

Today’s 770/KTTH KIRO headline, “Rantz: King county won’t charge criminals assaulting cops while resisting arrest” is inaccurate and misleading to the public: Our office takes very seriously our obligation to hold offenders accountable who assault law enforcement officers. Despite the suggestion otherwise, our office has had no change in our filing and disposition standards related to these crimes.

My story does not report they changed a policy in their filing and disposition standards.

Indeed, I cite the Felony Filing and Disposition Standards (FADS) from which it comes, and say officers are aware of the policy — but don’t support it. The policy is certainly news to me and the general public, as Sheriff Johanknecht originally pointed out saying “I think the general public would be surprised by how the filing standards describe that from the prosecutor’s office.” But it was not reported as “new” or “changed.” Keyes continues:

In just the past 18 months, our office has filed 367 felony cases against offenders who assaulted law enforcement officers in the line of duty.

My story is about assaults committed “while resisting arrest.” It’s literally in the title. It’s unclear if this stat, which Satterberg also tweeted, is about assaults (sans the act of resisting arrest) or about the subject of my story. Messages to Satterberg and Keyes went unanswered.

So they’re either arguing a point I’m not addressing, or they’re directly contradicting an earlier statement to me, from their office, that said: “For Assault in the Third Degree, we have the standard that we will not file ‘when an assault can best be described as resisting’ to ensure that we are charging those assaults that are the result of an intentional and targeted strike by a suspect on a law enforcement officer, and not merely a resistance to arrest where a suspect may lack the mental state to intentionally strike another.”

When they provide more context, I’ll happily update the story. Keye continues:

As we do in each case that is referred into our office, we review the facts and evidence to select the appropriate criminal charge. We work very closely with law enforcement officers and are committed to holding offenders accountable who assault them in the execution of their important duties. We’ve reached out to all law enforcement agencies in King County to reassure them that our policies have not changed.

The implication here suggests I didn’t indicate they reviewed evidence to select the appropriate criminal charge. My story fully states they reviewed the evidence: “Certainly, the suspect’s mental state did not diminish the pain the officer involved experienced as a result of her actions, but it does affect our ability to prove an intentional assault,” the spokesperson explained in the piece.

The statement then includes a some facts about the case I mentioned in my story:

The specific case the talk-show host Rantz mentioned in his blog post was a potential suicide call involving a 20-year old woman who was intoxicated.  When the AMR ambulance drivers showed up to take her to Harborview, they put her into restraints on a gurney in the ambulance, which she did not like. She was flailing and her foot kicked the officer.  There was no evidence that she attacked the officer, only that she resisted being strapped to the 4-point restraints on the gurney.  She was charged with resisting arrest, not an intentional assault 3. (emphasis mine.)

Most of these details are in the story and interview with the Sheriff, which is embedded in the story, except the bolded portion. This claim is new.

In fact, it’s in direct conflict to a statement this office sent me, via Dan Katzer, on April 18, 2019:

Our Felony Filing and Disposition Standards state that we will file assault in the third degree if the assault can best be described as an intentional attack on the officer and the officer has an injury or experiences significant pain as a result of the assault (there are other factors where we will file, but those are not present in this case).  We will not file when the assault can be best described as resisting. Here, we did see sufficient evidence that the suspect’s actions were best described as an intentional assault due to the kick occurring as she was resisting an involuntary commitment by law enforcement. Certainly, the suspect’s mental state did not diminish the pain the officer involved experienced as a result of her actions, but it does affect our ability to prove an intentional assault. The officer also did not report that he was injured in any way, but did say that he felt pain. (emphasis mine.)

The intentionality of the assault is also what Johanknecht reported.

After the statement (and new claims) were made by Satterberg’s office, I reached out to Johanknecht. She hasn’t changed her position.

“I believe the report we discussed and the deputy’s statement made it clear that he spent an extended time trying to de-escalate the situation, showing compassion and concern for the female,” Johanknecht tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “When the female learned she was going to be sent to the hospital for a mental health review, she intentionally kicked the deputy causing him extreme pain. Her kicks were neither random nor accidental.”

The sheriff continues, by noting these instances can certainly be complex to handle. She told me:

I understand and appreciate the difficulty in charging cases where mental health issues may make prosecution difficult. I appreciate the need for filing guidelines and the complex issues law enforcement and prosecution deal with. We need to have conversation on how we protect deputies and officers when they are doing all that is expected of them and more.

Our conversation has started that discussion. I appreciate the cases filed by the King County Prosecutor over the last 18 months. We need to look at other options like filing a case like this into mental health court. And maybe we revisit filing standards.

When you [Rantz] contacted me about this case it was the first time I had heard about it. It is important to know that cops don’t often complain about declined cases. But it is my job to make sure I answer your questions and seek answers for my team on the front line, while trying to facilitate change where it may be needed.

The original report is correct. It accurately quotes the statements from the King County Prosecutor’s Office. Only after they received significant negative coverage from outlets and pro-police groups that picked up my story, did Satterberg’s office change the claims of the deputy assault story and introduced talking points that no one argued.

It’s transparent damage control on a policy that has deputies and the public upset. Rather than put out contradictory claims, Satterberg should work to address the issues deputies have under his leadership.

Read the first email from the prosecutor’s office here.
Read the second email from the prosecutor’s office here.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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