City Hall

"Surprised and Dismayed" City Attorney Rejects SPD Request to Prosecute Repeat Downtown Offenders

Declaring himself "surprised and dismayed" by an SPD official's statements, City Attorney Pete Holmes says he won't issue a blanket crackdown on 28 repeat nuisance-law offenders downtown.

By Erica C. Barnett August 21, 2013

As we reported yesterday afternoon, Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel wrote a letter to city attorney Pete Holmes last week asking Holmes to prosecute 28 "repeat offenders" who had failed to show up in court three or more times to respond to respond to citations for violating the city's prohibition on open containers of alcohol or sitting or lying down on public sidewalks. 

In a letter responding to Pugel yesterday, Holmes soundly rejected Pugel's request, noting that prosecuting people for failing to appear on minor charges turns a civil violation into a criminal misdemeanor. 

"As we have discussed, I am cautious about filing criminal [failure to respond] charges because the City deliberately decided to make the underlying offenses civil matters, not criminal," Holmes wrote. 

"Moreover, as you well know, FTR (Failure to Respond) proceedings seldom improve our urban quality of life, except for the very short time people may be incarcerated at great expense to taxpayers. While I am willing to file criminal FTR charges under certainly specific circumstances, as a general rule I believe in addressing problems with more effective, lasting approaches." 

Holmes' letter goes on to say that SPD has not demonstrated that the 28 downtown residents identified in Pugel's letter meet the high standard for criminal prosecution. "Simply identifying three defaulted civil infractions is not the same as explaining the chronic nature of specific people's uncivil conduct or efforts to either address the underlying human services problems or stop the behavior short of criminal charges."

Holmes also said he was "disappointed by the inaccurate and unhelpful statements [West Precinct] Captain [Jim] Dermody sent to the entire City Council in an email last Friday," in which Dermody asserted that Holmes had stopped charging for failure to respond. "As you know, this is not true," Holmes wrote.

"You and I need to meet to discuss how to address Captain Dermody's statements, which threaten not only the success of the Center City Initiative"—a city-led effort to address street disorder downtown—"but our two departments' ability to collaborate on critical public safety challenges."

Holmes' spokeswoman Kimberly Mills says Pugel and Holmes have spoken by phone and are working to set up a face-to-face meeting.

Last week, in response to the recent Metro bus shooting, Mayor Mike McGinn announced the city would spend $400,000 in overtime costs to deploy officers to known crime "hot spots" around the city.


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