Retired Seattle judge believes murder by prolific offender Travis Berge was ‘preventable’
Travis Berge, a man who had at least 35 felony convictions and who was profiled in the “Seattle is Dying” documentary from KOMO, allegedly committed a murder-suicide Wednesday night at Cal Anderson Park in Seattle.
Retired Seattle Judge Ed McKenna told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show that he first got word of this story late Wednesday from some police officers he knows. Basically, McKenna says, they told him that Berge killed his wife or girlfriend and then holed himself up in a water supply place in the park.
When SWAT went in, Dori clarified, Berge was at the bottom of a 12 foot tank that had 50 gallons of a 12% bleach solution. He also potentially had access to the water supply system while he was inside, as McKenna was told. But why was Berge even still walking the streets when he was a known offender?
“I’m aware that Mr. Berge has a pretty significant criminal history, and I also know that he was from another state,” McKenna said. “So I don’t know, and I’m not sure anybody really knows how many times he has been arrested or convicted because being from another state, he probably has history elsewhere as well.”
“And there’s a presumption that when a person is arrested, … that they will be released on their promise to appear,” he added. “Unless you can establish that a person is a likely danger to others, or they won’t appear. And, given Mr. Berge’s history, I think that’s highly likely in both cases and, unfortunately, found that to be the case.”
McKenna said this region can be a “magnet” for people to come from out-of-state as it is a largely drug-tolerant society and there’s readily available social services.
“I think there’s a lot of people that share your views of being disgusted by what’s happening. And, in reality, we have elected public servants who are wagering public safety on the highly unlikely chance that a person is going to be rehabilitated,” McKenna said. “And I really don’t think that anybody in their right mind would think that Travis Berge would voluntarily, or even involuntarily, engage in treatment to change his behavior. Clearly, he had a significant problem with methamphetamines, and that changes your brain structure.”
So to release him and expect he’ll make changes on his own is “unrealistic,” McKenna added.
“One of things that I’ve been an advocate for, for a long time, is an in-custody inpatient treatment facility where judges can order people to long-term treatment, where they can get the services that they need, and then only when they’re stable, should they be released,” he said. “And Mr. Berge might be alive today had we actually had something like that.”
The ideas from many of the politicians, county executives, and some judges in Seattle contribute to this, in part, McKenna said.
“I think they have some pretty extreme social ideas that, you know, you can engage in harm reduction. In other words, assist an individual while recognizing they’re still going to engage in drugs or alcohol, and continue to commit crimes,” he said. “And so long as they can reduce and lower that, that’s a success.”
“In my opinion, however, that’s continued victimization,” he added. “Somebody is going to continue to be victimized by engaging in that kind of thought process, and of course, we saw that today.”
McKenna says there is a very small number of people that are engaging in a very high number of crimes, which is contributing to the “revolving door” in the criminal justice system.
“It’s unfortunate our elected prosecutors simply are, you know, they’re engaging in that revolving door process,” he said.
“And I understand even Mr. Berge was one of the first people arrested at CHOP, and I don’t know what happened to him, but it’s unfortunate that he is still out of custody after he and many others are repeatedly arrested, prosecuted, and they are just back on the streets almost immediately,” the retired judge added.
McKenna agreed with Dori that this was “inevitable.”
“My heart goes out to the community because I really think this was a preventable situation, that had our elected officials simply taken a harsher stance on someone who we know can’t be rehabilitated or is unlikely to be rehabilitated without significant effort, I think it was just inevitable what happened,” he said. “And I simply have to place the blame where people had an opportunity to make some changes and they didn’t do it.”
It’s a prosecution driven system, McKenna explained.
“The prosecutors make bail recommendations to the court. They make release recommendations to the court. They make sentencing recommendations to the court. And if they’re lenient in those recommendations, then persons are going to simply walk the streets,” he said. “Granted, there’s a presumption of release, but when you have someone who you know is going to commit another crime, and probably a violent offense, judges should be looking at that differently.”
“And judges are under a lot of pressure from both prosecutors and defense,” he added. “… Judges, of course, want to keep their jobs, but really, if the prosecutor and defense are making the same recommendations, it’s really difficult for a judge to rule against them and not follow their joint recommendations.”
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