City Hall

Despite His Angry Letter, Holmes Hasn't Prosecuted Repeat Nuisance Offenders for Failing to Appear in Court

Despite an indignant letter claiming he has no policy against prosecuting chronic nuisance law offenders who fail to appear in court, City Attorney Pete Holmes hasn't prosecuted a single such case since 2010.

By Erica C. Barnett August 21, 2013

Despite his claim, in a letter sent yesterday to Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel, that "I have no blanket policy against filing ... charges" against repeat nuisance offenders who repeatedly fail to appear in court, city records show that Holmes has filed no failure-to-appear charges since 2010.

Additionally, the city's prosecution of offenses like soliciting prostitutes, public urination, sitting or lying down on a sidewalk, and prostitution have declined dramatically since Holmes took office in 2010.

Last week, as PubliCola first reported, Pugel sent Holmes a letter asking the city attorney to prosecute 28 downtown residents who had failed to appear in court three or more times on charges of nuisance violations such as public drinking and sitting or lying down on sidewalks.

In response, Holmes rejected Pugel's request, writing that he was "cautious about filing criminal [failure to respond, or FTR] charges" on the grounds that doing so turned minor civil infractions—the equivalent of a parking ticket—into criminal offenses. And he said "as you know, [it] is not true that he had "stopped charging Failure to Respond" misdemeanors, as West Precinct Captain Jim Dermody claimed in an email to the city council last Friday. 

"I am both surprised and dismayed that [Dermody] would make these statements to City Councilmembers—especially without copying me," Holmes wrote yesterday. 

But Holmes hasn't been prosecuting failures to appear for nuisance law violations. And the city's prosecution of nuisance offenses in general has declined dramatically during his tenure.

Here is what the numbers show. Prosecutions for failure to appear in court for nuisance law violations. declined under Holmes from 46 in 2010, to zero in 2011, 2012, and the first quarter of 2013. The city has since arrested a single repeat offender, Jay T. Morin (AKA Morris) for failing to register as a sex offender and charged him with failure to appear.

Charges for so-called nuisance violations such as walking in the road, jaywalking, sitting or lying on the sidewalk, prostitution, and urinating in public have also declined since Holmes was elected.

Holmes confirms that he hasn't prosecuted any of the 28 failure to respond cases Pugel identified in his letter, but adds that that's because SPD hasn't provided enough information for him to know whether it would make sense to do so. Five of the 28, Holmes says, have active warrants for their arrest; another is in prison; and another is participating in the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, which attempts to divert chronic offenders from prison and toward services. 

"I'm confident we will seek failure to respond warrants for some of the 28," Holmes says, but "we need to dig into" their cases.

In general, though, Holmes says that prosecuting failure-to-respond cases has been "ineffective. [Former city attorney Mark] Sidran started them in the mid-'90s. and by the time [Holmes' predecessor] started they were doing thousands of them a year." 

As for prostitution, public urination and other low-level street violations, Holmes says he has ordered them to be put on "hold" because prosecuting those cases doesn't lead to fewer such activities. 

Finally, we asked Holmes why his letter to Pugel called out Captain Dermody specifically in his letter. 

Holmes told PubliCola, "I've been trying to work with [Dermody] in a non-public manner, and for him to send an email that incorrectly states my position to all nine council members and members of the public was breaching the one-on-one meeting I had with him about how we can move forward free of politics.

"You cannot politicize public safety. I don’t know how many times I can be ambushed like that before I have to say, 'Chief [Pugel], I’m trying to work with you, but here’s a problem that I’m personally having in your deparment.'"

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