Rantz: King Co. public defenders try to end jail bookings for sex offenders, car thieves, more

Feb 1, 2022, 10:54 AM | Updated: Feb 2, 2022, 11:18 am
Public defenders jail bookings...
(King County TV)
(King County TV)

Radical activists running the King County Department of Public Defense (DPD) are engaged in a coordinated push to stop jail bookings of suspects accused of serious crimes. It comes one day after a new report showing an alarming rise in gun violence, and after a year of surging non-violent crimes like car theft, shoplifting, and more.

The DPD wants the King County Council to stop jail bookings for suspects accused of failing to register as a sex offender, first- and second-degree motor vehicle theft, residential burglary, and even those with fugitive warrants.

They claim booking these suspects puts them at risk of catching COVID in jail and argue lawyers face longer-than-normal wait times because of a staffing shortage. The risk to the public, however, is greater than their risk of catching COVID.

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The demands

The DPD, run by Anita Khandelwal, prepared a PowerPoint presentation. Their goal is to keep criminals out of jail.

“Omicron is amplifying the disproportionate harm the BIPOC people and/or people experiencing poverty that occur in the criminal legal system,” one slide reads.

Khandelwal’s presentation asks the county to implement restrictions on bookings for suspects “arrested on suspicion of non-violent offenses without a warrant or pre-booking charging decisions.”

Another slide lists the offenses that would no longer be booked:

This would apply to prolific offenders with even decades-long criminal histories.

Click here to read the full PowerPoint

Releasing criminals protect the criminals but not the community

The DPD presentation asks this new policy to stay in place until the COVID “crisis has passed.”

“Expand jail booking restrictions to lesson [sic] the harm that bookings cause,” another slide reads.

But the DPD is not referring to the significant harm caused to the public when suspects of serious crimes are released.

According to the council agenda, the following activists signed on to the proposal: Rachael Schultz, Associated Counsel of the Accused, DPD; Elbert Aull, Attorney, DPD; SEIU 925 Political Action Chair Molly Gilbert, Investigator, DPD; Kim La Fronz, Attorney, DPD; and Sadé A. Smith, Attorney, The Smith Law.

A coordinated push

Before the presentation was to begin, a stream of professional activists remotely testified during a Tuesday morning Law, Justice, Health, and Human Justice committee hearing. Several of them work for the county or the city of Seattle. It appears that all but one person who spoke testified in favor of releasing prisoners.

“It’s unfathomable what people are living through right now and forced to endure,” one commenter, Kelly Johnson, claimed of the conditions in the jail.

Becky Herrera is the executive director of the Northwest Community Bail Fund. It is a police and jail abolitionist group that pays to release suspects regardless of their accused crimes.

Herrera complained that the county has “continued and increased use of jail for our social ills.” She calls it “unjust” to keep prisoners locked up with the threat of omicron.

“I will say my father was incarcerated under apartheid South Africa,” said Zoe, a creative writing teacher in the King County Jail. “He was held in conditions that amount to torture. And I can say as his child, I’ve seen the effect on him of that throughout his life. And I just really want to take a second to acknowledge that holding folks in these conditions, that’s what we’re contributing to. It’s a heavy thing.”

The comments were part of a coordinated effort to pretend their views reflect those of the community.

“Thank you everybody who called in and gave public comment, and it really does help us get a sense for how the public is feeling and what you all are seeing,” Councilmember Girmay Zahilay said. “That helps us shape good policy.”

It’s almost like he knew this was coming.

The King County Council will now decide whether to implement this proposal. The timeline is unclear.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg testified strongly against this proposal.

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Rantz: King Co. public defenders try to end jail bookings for sex offenders, car thieves, more