City Drops First Pot Charges Against Parolee and Gang Member

By Jonah Spangenthal-Lee January 15, 2010

Originally posted Friday night

Two weeks after taking office, City Attorney Pete Holmes is making good on his campaign promise to wage a war on the war on drugs in Seattle. Holmes’ office has already dropped charges against two young men for marijuana possession, and his office has identified four other cases they intend to withdraw. “We are not going to prosecute marijuana possession cases,” Holmes told the crowd at an event at Town Hall on January 14th hosted by Publicola.

Holmes’ activist stance against the prohibition of marijuana is a noble one. The war on drugs has been an absolute failure and the voters of Seattle have told the city to make marijuana enforcement its lowest priority.  However, Holmes may not have chosen the best poster children to kick off his ideological battle against the war on drugs.

According to Holmes’ spokesman Kathy Mulady, the city attorney’s office dropped pot charges against an 18-year-old man earlier today. As it turns out, law enforcement sources say the young man is a gang member with a criminal history that, King County Superior Court records say, includes robbery, burglary, and assault charges. Last week, prosecutors also dropped charges against a 19-year-old man, who has a record for obstruction and trespassing. Seattle police records also indicate the man has a history of “assaultive behavior” towards officers, and he is currently on Department of Corrections supervision.

The events leading up to the 18-year-old’s pot arrest began on June 12th when, police records say, the 18-year-old man showed up in front of a home in the 9000 block of Seward Park Ave S with a large group of friends—one of whom was armed with a gun—and tried to get a man inside the house to come out and fight.

A week later, officers on patrol in South Seattle spotted the 18-year-old man on Rainier and Henderson approaching the man he’d tried to fight in the earlier incident, who was also in the area.  Officers stopped the 18-year-old man on a warrant and because they believed he intended to assault the other man. Officers frisked the 18-year-old and found four baggies of marijuana. He was booked into the King County Jail for marijuana possession and released one day later. Jail records show that the 18-year-old is back in lock-up on robbery and theft charges.

Last week, Holmes’ office also dropped possession charges against a 19-year-old man who was stopped by officers after he nearly hit a police cruiser in West Seattle while driving on the wrong side of the road. Police records say the man was driving at an “excessive rate of speed” near Delridge Way SW and SW Myrtle Street, when he crossed over the centerline, nearly colliding with a patrol car. When officers pulled the man over, police records say he became belligerent and hurled “a nearly endless stream of profanities, racial slurs, and sexual insults.” The man also tried to spit on one of the officers. Police smelled pot in the car and found a ski mask in the back seat. Inside the mask, they found numerous baggies stamped with dollar signs. All told, officers found 17 grams of pot in the car. Although the 19-year-old man was on Department of Corrections supervision, police cited him for several traffic violations and released him.

According to Craig Sims, head of the city’s criminal division, the 18-year-old and 19-year-old men were the first to have marijuana possession charges against them dropped simply because their cases were the first pot cases scheduled to go to court this year. But there will undoubtedly be other cases where the city attorney's office drops or declines to file pot charges against not-so-upstanding citizens.

While there's much to be celebrated about Holmes' pro-pot stance, some police officers we've spoken with have expressed concern that they'll no longer be able to use marijuana cases as a means to take bad guys off the street.

In the first six months of 2009, the city filed 54 marijuana possession cases—21 of them were solely for possession—and several officers have told that they typically only make an arrest for marijuana possession when they believe they have a “bad guy” they need to take off the streets, and don’t have any other probable cause to arrest them. Regardless of Holmes' new police, police will still be able to make marijuana possession arrests but the city attorney's office will not file charges.

"It’s not our aim to change the way that police officers do their jobs," Sims says. "What we’re simply doing is enforcing the policy that’s been put in place by the new city attorney." Indeed, when contacted earlier today, Seattle Police Officers Guild President Rich O'Neill says Holmes' pot policy "is not going to affect officers taking [criminals] off the street.”

It's unfortunate that the first two beneficiaries of Holmes' new policy are a couple of ne'er-do-wells, but ultimately it's a step in the right direction for Seattle.

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