Rantz: No jail for suspect seen punching victim as Seattle’s shoplifting surge continues

May 2, 2022, 5:58 PM
Scot Witzel on Nordstrom Rack surveillance moments before allegedly striking an employee...
Scot Witzel on Nordstrom Rack surveillance moments before allegedly striking an employee

Seattle’s violent shoplifting surge continues and judges keep offering little to no consequences for the thieves. Suspects continue to target downtown businesses despite an increased police presence. And the latest suspect won’t likely see any jail time.

Scot Witzel was charged by King County prosecutors for allegedly stealing from Nordstrom Rack in downtown Seattle. The suspect allegedly assaulted an employee who attempted to stop him from leaving with stolen shoes. It was recorded on surveillance footage acquired by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

But Witzel isn’t likely to see jail time for the alleged assault or shoplifting. A judge placed him in a jail-alternative program.

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Assault caught on surveillance

Prosecutors allege Witzel concealed over $1,000 worth of products from Nordstrom Rack on April 2. They say he never attempted to pay for the items and even tried to “burn off security devices.” They also say he threw boots at one employee before assaulting another.

“When Mr. Witzel was stopped by loss prevention officers, Mr. Witzel transferred the bag of stolen merchandise from one hand to the other and used his free hand to punch a loss prevention officer in the face,” the King County Prosecutor’s Office said.

The assault was captured on surveillance footage from multiple angles.

Witzel was arrested at the scene. The prosecutor says the suspect made “multiple threats to kill officers during his transport to jail.” Couple the violent threats with the actual violence at the store, prosecutors argued in court documents that he “demonstrates an escalation in violence and a willingness to resort to attacking others when he is confronted or angry.”

The suspect’s history includes two warrants since 2021, and “was on bench warrant status from December 15, 2021, until he was arrested in this case.”

“Mr. Witzel committed this crime after he was ordered to have no contact with any Nordstrom stores in Washington state or commit any new law violations pursuant to conditions of release in [previous case].” the prosecutor wrote. “Further, when Mr. Witzel was told that he was being trespassed from Nordstrom, he responded by saying he would just change his appearance, indicating he has no plans to abide by the trespass order.”

The prosecutor asked for bail. The judge had different plans.

No jail for suspect

Rather than set bail and send him to jail, King County Superior Court Judge Johanna Bender released Witzel on his own personal recognizance. But there were some conditions.

On April 20, Witzel was ordered to attend the Community Center for Alternative Programs Enhanced (CCAP) as a condition of his release. This program is offered instead of jail time, and it’s had decidedly mixed results. While low-level misdemeanor offenses seem tailor-made for these programs, Witzel is not a good fit based on what prosecutors presented.

This wasn’t merely an alleged shoplifting incident. He is seen on camera assaulting a staff member. After the arrest, he allegedly threatened to murder police and indicated he would return to the store. Why is this the suspect worthy of CCAP with little accountability? We’ve seen too many low-level misdemeanor suspects not committing to jail-alternative programs only to re-offend. And the situation isn’t getting better yet.

The court, through a spokesperson, offered the following statement:

“The decision of whether to release or detain a defendant in a criminal case is one of the most important decisions a judge can make. King County Superior Court takes these decisions seriously.

“Judges explain their decisions on the record during court proceedings. Judges are not allowed to speak about a case to the public or the parties involved, including the victims of an alleged crime, outside of court proceedings, directly or through the media. Intended to ensure fairness, these and other restrictions on what a judge can say and do form a group of laws called the Code of Judicial Conduct.

“While Judge Bender cannot provide a statement on this case before her, I can on behalf of the Court provide general information on release decisions. In the United States, every person accused of a crime is presumed innocent. Washington State Court Rule 3.2 presumes these individuals will be released by the judge, unless it is found that they are unlikely to return to court on their own when required, or it is shown there is a likely danger that they will commit a violent crime, intimidate witnesses, or otherwise unlawfully interfere with the administration of justice.”

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Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3–6 pm on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz  on  Twitter,  Instagram, and Facebook. Check back frequently for more news and analysis.

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Rantz: No jail for suspect seen punching victim as Seattle’s shoplifting surge continues