Candidate Andrew Lewis answers criticism over Seattle crime, justice
When a city council candidate forum for District 7 was held this week in downtown Seattle, a particular question was pointed directly at Andrew Lewis.
“My recollection of what the question was, it was more ‘Is the City Attorney’s Office doing a good job?'” Lewis told the Candy, Mike, and Todd Show on KIRO Radio. “…Given the resources we have right now, I think the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, the criminal division where I work, is doing the best we can with the resources we are given.”
Lewis is not just a candidate for city council, he is an assistant city attorney for the city of Seattle. Property crime, drug use, and prolific offenders are hot button issues around Seattle. Given his role as a candidate and city attorney, he has faced a considerable share of criticism over local crime and the criminal justice system, perhaps more than other District 7 candidates.
The forum was moderated by KIRO Radio’s Mike Lewis (no relation). As a follow-up, candidate Lewis joined the Candy, Mike, and Todd Show to discuss the issues he’s concerned about, and to answer some of the criticism.
“We have 30 prosecuting attorneys to deal with 14,000 criminal referrals a year,” Lewis said. “Those 30 prosecutors put in a lot of work every day. I’m one of them. I’m proud to be one of them. I’ve argued many cases in the Seattle Municipal Court. I’ve won convictions for the people of Seattle and held people accountable. I’m proud of that track record.”
“I’ve also taken referrals and sent them to diversion programs, where we’ve had a really good, successful track record of getting folks placed in programs that emphasize treatment and mentorship as an alternative to incarceration,” he said. “We’ve sent 245 young people to the Choose 180 Program, as an example. Only 8 percent of those folks have recidivised, which is a huge success rate. We need to be looking, going forward, at all of our options to really take care of this big issue that is property crime in the city of Seattle, and is the growing amount of angst people are feeling. As a city council member that will be a big budget priority for me.”
Andrew Lewis and Seattle’s mental health crisis
Still, the city attorney’s office continues to be a target of blame for the people who do cycle in and out of the courts with little jail time or deterrence. Jonathan Wilson, 34, is one suspect many point to as an example. Wilson was arrested three times since September 2018 — often for violently assaulting strangers — before he was arrested in March for attempting to throw a woman off of the Madison Street overpass. Wilson did not know the woman.
The three prior arrests were handled by Seattle Municipal Court and were “dismissed without prejudice,” or “dismissed by reason of incompetency.” According to the court, a person who is deemed not competent cannot stand trial, and that prosecutors did not request “competency restoration” to pursue the cases further. The court also said that when an evaluation of a suspect is requested by the court, the suspect can only be held for 72 hours awaiting an evaluation by a Designated Crisis Responder.”
“That is absolutely terrifying, that referral,” Lewis said. “It’s very concerning to me. What I can say to add a little context to that story — our office did, to my knowledge, go forward on that person, but he was not found competent to stand trial.”
“One of the big crises that we face, and I think it is the biggest crisis, is behavioral mental health in the city of Seattle,” he said. “I think we have a lot of our neighbors who are suffering from behavioral mental health conditions that, in some cases, manifest in committing criminal actions that, in many cases, are violent.”
Lewis notes that the City Attorney’s Office does not perform civil commitment proceedings. That falls under the purview of King County and the state.
“In cases where we have folks who have some sort of behavioral health issue and they are not competent, we need a place to send those folks right now; we don’t have that,” Lewis said.
He feels hopeful about the behavioral mental health teaching hospital slated for the University of Washington, which will create space for 150 inpatient beds. He also favors the creation for a supportive release center, similar to the one in Chicago. This provides an option to release a person with mental health issues to the center, rather than the street.