On July 24, WAFOP sent a letter to King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg to discuss concerns regarding a proposal by the Equity and Social Justice Workgroup that we felt was dangerous to public safety and the image of peace officers in the King County Area and beyond.
On September 23, we received a response from the Attorney's Office. Below is that letter in full. We are sharing this to ensure that members of law enforcement and the community are kept educated on the stance of other players of the criminal justice system in Washington State.
We encourage you to reach out to the office, or your local Attorney's Office, if you have your own questions. As always, feel free to reach out to us if there's anything we can do to help.
Dear President Monteblanco:
I am writing on behalf of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in response to your letter (sent via email) regarding your concerns over an internal memo from some of our Deputy Prosecuting Attorneys (DPAs), which outlined some initial proposals that sprang from an Equity and Social Justice (ESJ) Workgroup. The draft document was published by Q13, and we want to have clear and direct communication with you about those proposals.
First, this document should be recognized for what it was – an internal, draft set of proposals written by junior DPAs who were asked to brainstorm various ideas addressing equity in the criminal justice system. It is not a policy change.
Second, as we shared with Q13 before the story was published, this was intended to be just the first part of a long process of possible reforms. We are not going to make rushed decisions at the expense of public safety. We will solicit feedback both internally and externally before substantive changes are made. Every case that is referred to us is reviewed individually, and those reviews are overseen by a Senior DPA. With regard to officer assault cases, what we have shared with the public is the same message that we have shared across the board: before we make a filing decision, we want to ensure we have all possible evidence, including dash cam videos, body cam videos, or other evidence. But seeking additional evidence and reviewing each case individually is completely different from a categorical decision on these cases. We have not made any categorical decisions about these cases.
Regarding the recent protests, the message is the same there, too: Our office is not filing charges against non-violent protesters. However, we also see a distinct difference with individuals who take advantage of the otherwise peaceful protest to commit violent acts, victimize peaceful protesters, or commit acts of arson, property destruction and theft. For those cases, we have to work diligently to determine when charges are warranted and what options we have to hold offenders accountable and to make victims whole. There is more discussion to have on these cases as well. To date, our office has file 20 protest and CHOP-related cases, and we have shared each of those cases publicly. If you have a question about a specific case referred to our office, we are happy to provide more information.
As we shared with our office last month, we have been embarking on a three-part plan to address equity in the criminal justice system: healing, education, action. We presume each partner in the criminal justice system is also taking a hard and honest look at their own practices. Our leadership worked with the junior DPAs to help kick-start a robust discussion about various ideas to address equity action items. The intent was to create a supportive and thoughtful environment for the junior DPAs, within their own deputy association, to have an unfiltered exchange and develop ideas on equity and social justice. The goal was to internally share and develop all ideas so that every perspective was reflected, and then, once presented, add the valuable insights of Senior DPAs and staff who are eager to join the discussion.
Their proposals were shared with the Criminal Division leadership. These proposals are a the first step in much larger and complex discussions to come that will lead to constructive, collaborative change. The proposals drafted by the DPAs is not a policy change – nor does it necessarily reflect the individual opinions of the DPAs listed in the memo. That point was made in their presentation to leadership before the memo was made public. We understand the language and tone of the proposals may be off-putting to some because they may appear to go too far some and for others, not far enough. But we received the proposals as they were written – in an honest, unfiltered effort to spark internal discussion and further dialogue. An email from the DPAs to the leadership of the Criminal Division leadership gave the best description of these proposals:
“Please receive our input in the spirit that it is offered – as ideas and recommendations. Although we firmly believe there are problems in the current system, we are open, flexible, and committed to collaboration with you and senior DPAs in solving them. These ideas are a starting point; we have a diversity of backgrounds and opinions, and we recognize that some proposals may not come to fruition. Our allegiance is not to any particular recommendation within, but to the overarching mission of equity and racial justice. We are confident that you and senior DPAs will join us in this effort.”
As you know, the county is in a difficult budget position, including the law enforcement agencies that serve the people of King County. Our office alone had been directed to take an $8.8 million cut over the next two years. The court closures because of the Covid-19 pandemic also stalled roughly 5,000 felony cases. We must move forward with discussions made earnestly in an effort to improve. It is important to note that the essential work of addressing issues in the criminal justice system and addressing public safety are not mutually exclusive. More than ever, this is a time to encourage feedback, listen closely to that feedback with an ear toward understanding, especially if the feedback/concept may be controversial. In doing so, we believe we can thoughtfully work towards change together.
In any case refereed to our office, we will be accountable – to you, the public and the media – for the charging decisions we make. If you have a question about a specific case, please share it with us. The hard work to review and file felony cases referred from your departments is being done every single day.
We will work through these difficult times with collaborative, thoughtful discussions -- and we will not make rushed decisions at the expense of public safety or counter to our commitment to crime victims. As noted in the proposals from the deputy prosecuting attorneys, our partnership with law enforcement is vital and many times we see officers at their best. We look forward to constructive conversations on the road ahead.
Thank you for taking the time to share your views and concerns with us.
Leesa Manion (she/her)
Chief of Staff
King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
516 Third Avenue, W-400
Seattle, WA 98104