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Rantz: Emails reveal Dan Satterberg’s office coordinated media lie on felony assault story

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. (KIRO Radio)

The King County Prosecutor’s Office actively misled the media in response to a KTTH report, email records show. Consequently, one local media outlet unknowingly broadcast false information, that Satterberg’s office later walked back.

The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH reported a filing standard King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s office follows that states they will not file felony assault 3 charges against a suspect who injures an officer, if the assault can be best described as resisting arrest.

The standard isn’t new and law enforcement is aware of it, but it was highlighted to the public after a Sheriff’s deputy was intentionally kicked in the groin by a suspect under the influence of a substance.

Despite Satterberg’s office confirming, in an email, that the assault was intentional, they did not file charges, citing the suspect’s mental state. These details were in the original report. King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknekt also discussed this incident in an interview on my show.

The coordination

My story was first flagged Thursday morning, May 2, by Satterberg, who forwarded it to his communications team. Shortly after, they received emails and phone calls from concerned citizens and curious media members. That’s when Satterberg’s office went into damage control.

Satterberg and his team squared up their messaging. Dan Katzer, the spokesperson who worked with me on my original story, forwarded his communications with me to Whitney Keyes, Satterberg’s communications director. Daniel Clark, a prosecutor in the office, would send Satterberg and his communications team the language on felony 3 assaults. Keyes would later circulate a statement internally, as they prepared what they’ll state publicly.

Concurrently, Satterberg proactively emailed law enforcement agencies in King County with a response. On May 2, at 4:45 p.m., Satterberg emailed them claiming that my story’s headline was “misleading,” the story “inaccurate,” and that it “could pose additional risks for officers.” Here is the email.

He explained that “There has been no change of policy or practice” (which was not alleged in my story) and that “In the past 18 months we have filed 367 felony assault 3 cases where officers are the victims, 85% of the cases referred to us.”

Additionally, he sent the filing standards for felony assault 3.

Satterberg also addressed the deputy assault case mentioned in my story. He claimed “there was no evidence that she [the suspect] attacked the officer, only that she resisted being strapped to the 4-point restraints on the gurney.”

Satterberg would also speak with Sue Rahr, Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission — after she was invited to speak to KUOW. It appears from emails obtained in a public disclosure request, she was invited to discuss the resisting arrest case. Rahr emailed the producer, after speaking to Satterberg about the case, that she “got ‘the rest of the story.’” This is presumably in reference to a supposed lack of evidence on the intent of the assault.

But, this claim directly conflicts with the statement his office put out on April 28, 2019: “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.”

Johanknekt also confirmed, twice on the record, that the attack was intentional and caused significant pain, based on her reading of the deputy’s statement. These facts would trigger an felony 3 assault charge.

The media grift

Much of the language Satterberg used would be used in a media statement Keyes sent to some media outlets in the early evening of May 2 — though it was not sent to me.

But before select media outlets received the statement, Keyes sent it to KING 5 reporter Michael Crowe, according to emails obtained through a public disclosure request. He had called her a couple hours earlier looking for a comment, so it makes sense.

Crowe asked Keyes “Can you also send me the original statement that went out to My NW?” She doesn’t appear to have sent those statements.

Instead, Keyes claimed the statement they sent to me in April was  “basically summarized in sections 1-4” in this new media statement. This is demonstrably false.

Here are the two emails they sent me: email 1 and email 2. Keyes had seen both these emails before misleading Crowe at KING 5.

Had Keyes sent the original statements to Crowe, he would have seen the office explain the assault was intentional, a claim they’d later pretend they never made. And he’d had realized they never sent any stats on felony 3 assault cases being charges.

Consequently, Crowe broadcast a report, about a minute long, that included most of the main points Keyes made in the statement, but did not provide much content or context from my story. The next day, Keyes internally emailed the link to Crowe’s piece touting it as “Responsible reporting of facts.”

Only, Keyes would end up having to walk back those “facts” two days later.

The Satterberg walk back

On Monday, May 6, Keyes was forced to recant the only statistic Satterberg’s office used to show he charged felony assault 3 cases against officers.

The statement, which was originally delivered to some media members and law enforcement agencies, was corrected to read, in part: “From January 1, 2016, to August 1, 2018, we have filed 367 cases involving a named police officer as a victim. These cases include felony assault, felony harassment and some misdemeanor charges.”

So, in other words, they overstated the data. It went from 18 months to 32 months, and it went from felony assault cases to felonies, misdemeanors, and harassment.

Satterberg’s office did not return requests to break down how many of the 367 cases were, in fact, felony assault 3 charges. In fact, they’ve not returned a single call or email from me with requests for comments. The only call and email I received was from Katzer with this correction.

It’s remains unclear if Satterberg sent the correction to the same law enforcement officials and media outlets they sent the original incorrect statement to.

The same KING 5 piece Keyes internally touted as “responsible” was corrected and Crowe would tweet the new information. The station appears to have also taken down the video of the original report. Kudos to KING 5 for helping to set the record straight.

Satterberg, about a week after tweeting the incorrect data, finally took down the tweet, but without any notes that it was wrong or why he was taking it down.

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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