Week In Review: June 3, 2022 - with Will Casey

Week In Review: June 3, 2022 - with Will Casey

On today’s week-in-review, Crystal is joined by staff writer covering Law and Justice at The Stranger, Will Casey. After another difficult news week across the nation and locally, Crystal and Will wade through the latest controversies facing Washington’s police departments. They break down the revelation that SPD has not been investigating adult sexual assault cases, and why this is more of an issue of priorities rather than staffing. They also question Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s accountability for the actions of the department, which he leads. Next they look into Pierce County Council candidate Josh Harris’s shooting of a man Harris alleges stole from him and ask why Auburn’s police department put the image of an officer accused of multiple murders on their recruitment banner. For housing news, Crystal and Will question the usefulness of Bruce Harrell’s new Homelessness Data Dashboard and ask why landlords are enraged over the Seattle City Council’s proposal to ask them to report the rents they’re charging renters. Finally, the show wraps up with a check-in on controversy surrounding former Mayor Jenny Durkan’s missing text messages, and how it’s one example of why Washington’s Public Records Act needs to be updated to meet our modern era.

About the Guest

Find Will Casey on Twitter/X at @willjcasey.


“Seattle police stopped investigating new adult sexual assaults this year, memo shows” by Sydney Brownstone and Ashley Hiruko from The Seattle Times and KUOW: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/times-watchdog/seattle-police-halted-investigating-adult-sexual-assaults-this-year-internal-memo-shows/

“Auburn officer charged with murder featured on department’s recruiting banner” by Mike Carter from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/law-justice/auburn-officer-charged-with-murder-featured-on-departments-recruiting-banner/

“This Auburn cop killed 3 and injured others. His department didn't stop him — outsiders did” by Ashley Hiruko and Liz Brazile from KUOW:

“Pierce County candidate with pro-law enforcement platform shoots at suspected car thief” by Patrick Malone from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/pierce-county-candidate-with-pro-law-enforcement-platform-shoots-at-suspected-car-thief/

“Seattle greenlights minimum wages for app-based delivery drivers” by MyNorthwest Staff from MYNorthwest: https://mynorthwest.com/3499857/seattle-city-council-passes-payup-legislation/

“Harrell’s New Homelessness Data Dashboard Invites More Questions Than It Answers” by Natalie Bicknell Argerious from The Urbanist: https://www.theurbanist.org/2022/06/02/the-urbanist-podcast-harrells-new-homelessness-data-dashboard-invites-more-questions-than-it-answers/

“How Many Dashboards Does it Take to Build a House?” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2022/05/31/74506931/how-many-dashboards-does-it-take-to-build-a-house

“Pedersen Pisses Off Seattle Landlords: Is the rent too high? The City wants to know, but landlords don't want to say” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger: https://www.thestranger.com/news/2022/06/01/74545296/pedersen-pisses-off-seattle-landlords

“Did Our Last Mayor Commit a Felony? Washington’s Public Records Act Needs An Overhaul” by Will Casey from The Stranger: https://www.thestranger.com/news/2022/06/02/74581748/did-our-last-mayor-commit-a-felony


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those during the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced on the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. Today, we are continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a cohost. Welcome to the program for the first time today, today's co-host: staff writer covering Law and Justice at The Stranger, Will Casey.

[00:00:55] Will Casey: Thanks for having me, Crystal - excited to be here.

[00:00:57] Crystal Fincher: Hey, excited for you to be here - excited that you're at The Stranger covering Law and Justice. We all need great coverage of law and justice and wow, there is no shortage of law and justice news this week. So want to start by discussing a revelation that made my jaw drop, and made me gasp, and made me absolutely infuriated and perplexed - the news that Seattle police stopped investigating new adult sexual assault cases this year. What is going on?

[00:01:34] Will Casey: Well, the mayor would like you to believe that a staffing shortage at the Seattle Police Department is responsible for their inability to process these new allegations of sexual assaults. To be specific, they are still investigating cases that involve children, but these are for new allegations of assault against an adult. And unfortunately, the mayor's not really telling the whole story there because other police departments in our area and nationally are also dealing with the labor shortage, but they have not made the same decisions in terms of how they allocate their existing staff out of the unit that's supposed to be handling these kinds of cases.

[00:02:19] Crystal Fincher: That's right. And even within our department, every type of department has not seen decreases. They have moved people out of these investigative positions into other roles. What does that look like in the police department?

[00:02:37] Will Casey: Well, so you probably heard a lot last year, during the mayoral campaign, about 911 response times. This is the frequent calling card of the more-law-and-order folks who want to conjure this image of - this resident's in distress, trying to get help and not having it come, while they're presumably being made the victim of a crime. Well, here we have actual victims of real crimes who are trying to ask for help from the Seattle Police Department and getting basically silenced. So, while they've shifted deputies and investigators out of this unit, they're moving people into things like these hotspot policing efforts or other just general patrol duties in attempts to presumably reduce those 911 response times.

[00:03:24] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, definitely. And operation support has seen an increase, actually, in the amount of personnel allocated to that in the past couple years, despite the shortage - as they're calling it and dealing with it - the shortage of police that we have here. And just what is the rationale behind saying these other things are priorities more than investigating violent sexual assault?

[00:04:00] Will Casey: Honestly, I can't personally vouch for the rationale that's backing this up. The only comment that our City leaders have offered on the record to The Seattle Times here is just that the mayor finds this situation "unacceptable." They noted that they tried to interview several other City councilmembers about the issue - they all ducked from being interviewed on the record. Chief Diaz says that - if we don't have an officer to respond to the sexual assault, then we're never going to be able to have the follow-up to investigate it. And so that's - and at least from him - why they seem to be maintaining the patrolling staffing levels rather than this investigative situation. But that doesn't really seem to be offering much comfort to the advocates for survivors of sexual assault who are bringing these criticisms to the public's attention.

[00:04:54] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And beyond that, it continues to be perplexing to me how the mayor is finding himself becoming aware of this right now. As the executive of the City, he is in charge of this department - the police chief reports to him. Lots of people - I hear talking about the Council - the Council can pass policy, they can fund things. But operationally, administratively - all of that falls under the control of the mayor's office. So how - one, either how does the mayor not know this is happening, or are they doing this despite different direction - which we've seen examples of that happening before - where is the disengagement? How is it okay that policy like this is being enacted and the mayor doesn't know? Are there any steps taken to get answers about that, to address that? How are they saying they plan to increase monitoring of what's going on within the police department if stuff like this is happening without him being notified of it?

[00:05:58] Will Casey: It's hard to say, honestly. And I think that there's some other details here in The Seattle Times report that really call into question the mayor's surprise - that at least that he's expressed - about this issue. Because it seems as though he doesn't have any difficulty getting SPD to allocate resources when he does have a policy interest in something - so notably the department's alternative response team, which is the unit that responds to homeless encampment removals. Monisha Harrell on the show a couple of weeks ago - that unit is now staffed by twice the number of officers on the sexual assault unit, after an additional seven patrol officers were added to that unit. And then you also have twelve detectives, compared to the four in the sexual assault investigation units, devoted to property crimes. So that's three times the number of detectives we have - looking at things like catalytic converter thefts, as opposed to sexual violence. So I don't know, maybe the mayor has an explanation for that, but it's not one that's been heard by the public thus far, at least.

[00:07:07] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and it's perplexing, especially as we're hearing plans from the City Attorney for people who would previously be eligible for Drug Court or other court - that they're cracking down harder on them. How is it that we are finding ways to invest more, change policy, apply resources in different directions when they have an initiative, when they have an idea - but stuff like this has to be uncovered by reporters outside of the City to even begin to get answers or to see what's happening. It's just really, really perplexing and outrageous, especially given so much work done legislatively to make sure that all of the things downstream, especially when it comes to sexual assault, are being investigated, are they taking rape kits and processing those in a timely fashion. And I don't think anyone anticipated that the next problem we were going to be encountering is just police deciding not to investigate sexual assault at all. And if you're trying to project a safer image for the City and that you're taking action to make people safer, which is absolutely necessary, it seems like this would be a critical component of that. So it just feels very disjointed, very disappointing, and really infuriating that these decisions can be made that are so at odds with public safety.

Another thing at odds, seemingly, with public safety that we saw this week was with Pierce County Council candidate, Josh Harris, who's running on a pro-law enforcement platform. People may be familiar with his name from a while back when he bailed out the police who had killed Manny Ellis - very, very problematic. Well, just recently he decided to go into an encampment where he felt some things had been stolen and engaged in an altercation with someone. The altercation escalated, police were - the story's murky - police were there, told him to stand back and stand by, somehow the person who they were engaging with got into a car. They're saying that the car went in the direction of Josh Harris and potentially charged at him. Josh Harris, then in front of police, fired into this car - does not seem like police fired into that car - really confusing what happened. And then somehow this person was not stopped, wound up back in the encampment - where Harris and a partner went in and took some things they said were stolen. They didn't say they were stolen from them, they didn't say how they knew that there were stolen, they were just a variety of things that evidently they're characterizing as stolen and we're not questioning this yet.

But it just seems like we have seen more incidences of people feeling like they can go into encampments and communities where people are living, who don't have other shelter, and just assume that they're places of crime - to have no problem victimizing people, don't seem to have to substantiate whether or not something was indeed stolen, and hey - if something's stolen, someone should be able to get it back. We have processes for that that people should follow. But seeing this escalate to violence, seeing people go into these encampments armed with guns is just asking for a violent situation to happen. It's asking for people to get shot and killed. There have been several examples of this happening and why is this person running for office - who seems to have some kind of a complex that he needs to go and do this macho thing - it just seems really problematic. This is someone running for office in Pierce County right now, and I hope more people start talking about this and examining this and really getting to the details of this situation and his prior situations. 'Cause there seems to be a history of problematic or questionable activity here. Just really concerning.

[00:11:37] Will Casey: Yeah, and the only thing I have to add to that is - this is not an isolated trend, data point here, right? We're seeing across the country, in contested Republican primary after primary, this is just becoming part of - this vigilantism is becoming part of their mainstream rhetoric. And I think that that's - frankly, very deeply troubling for our ability to continue to maintain our democracy and yeah, not the kind of moral leadership you'd like. But the sad fact is I doubt there are very many of his base voters who are going to have a problem with this behavior.

[00:12:16] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and that's the challenge. And I just hope that, as these things that happen are covered, that they're covered critically and that facts are verified and that accounts are verified because the framing of this sometimes seems really problematic. And it's just also worth mentioning the fact that although we have some real troubling characterizations and narratives about unhoused people and crime, the fact is that there are few people in society who are more frequently victims of crime than the unhoused population. It's a very, very vulnerable place to be - there was talk this week about potentially - Reagan Dunn, actually, introduced the idea of basically mapping where every unhoused person is and stays. And there's just a ton of concern by a lot of people about that. Because one, as we just said, unhoused people are already extremely vulnerable, are frequently victims of crime, are much more vulnerable than most of the rest of us. And we have seen, from reporters who have been very inappropriate in the way that they have tracked down and covered and photographed and videotaped folks in these encampments, and people feeling like they are entitled - if they know where one of them is - to walk in, to harass them, to assault people there. We've seen this happen several times. And so anytime you target a group and just point a big red arrow at them and say there they are, while simultaneously dehumanizing them with rhetoric and talking about how much of a problem they are - we know that's a recipe for violence, and we know that's a recipe for targeting. So no, we don't want to do that and that's a bad thing, Reagan Dunn - among the number of variety of bad things that Reagan Dunn seems like he's doubling down on doing.

But aside from that, also - Auburn, City of Auburn, featured a police officer - who is currently charged with murder - who is featured on the department's recruiting banner. They were at an event, banner sitting here - big picture, officer's smiling - well, it's an officer who's charged for murder. What is the deal here, Will?

[00:14:43] Will Casey: When you literally have a poster boy for your department being someone who's currently facing an accusation of murder and has a history of killing several other civilians while on duty, that's a problem. And I think, especially in this atmosphere of new-found focus not just on big city police departments, like Seattle's, but also how these same dynamics are playing out frequently with far less oversight in these smaller towns and cities throughout the state. And I think - what this shows is that there's a culture issue here in Auburn, at least in their police departments, with not being concerned, apparently, with the image that they're projecting into the community.

And this is not someone who, at least from my perspective, it seems like you'd want to be holding out as a representative of the kinds of officers you're looking to hire, if you're really interested in changing the culture of the police department. KUOW has done a fantastic investigative series documenting all of the various moments throughout this officer's lengthy career - where he's been involved in violence repeatedly, has not found not been held accountable for any kind of discipline. And frankly, you shouldn't have to look at anything other than his own hands to tell you that he's someone you should be worried about. He's got tattoos that show - frankly, very common slogan - I guess, is the right word, motif - among the more extreme police officers that refer to being judged by 12 - meaning 12 jurors in a courtroom, presumably for reviewing some sort of act of violence that they engaged in, rather than carried by 6, which is - or 8 sometimes - referred to pallbearers bearing a coffin. And this is kind of warrior mentality where you're always under threat, the people who you're supposed to be protecting and serving are a constant possible source of danger to you, and if you "fear for your life" - that really does need to shift. This particular officer also has a combat veteran background, and there have been reports from within the department of people trying to get the Auburn PD to take some practice steps, get him some specialized counseling that may be necessary for someone adjusting to a civilian, law enforcement position. And it's just apparently never stuck.

So, we have a lot more work to do in following the story and keeping everyone's attention trained on it - that pending murder charge will next be at issue in the public, possibly this September, because the judge overseeing that case just had to issue a continuance in the scheduled trial date for June.

[00:17:56] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and just the family dealing with this - it's really hard. The family is very disappointed, very dismayed that - one, this officer did have a history, it was not addressed before. Unfortunately, he killed their family member and egregious enough - we all know how high the bar is for a police officer to get charged - he is charged. He's just waiting to go on trial, and unfortunately this trial keeps being delayed, which is very painful for the family. And just - there are people attached to this, these are real stakes and real people who are being impacted by this. And it just makes it that much more insulting that all of this is there - that we talk about wanting to keep people safe and healthy and whole, and treating people with dignity and respect - and wow, how this is not happening in the operations. And I just cannot - I cannot imagine being a family member of this person and then reading that he's literally the poster boy for the department. Just very, very disappointing.

The department did say - well, hey, this is an old poster, this was before this happened and before he was charged with murder. It didn't happen before he killed other people - he has killed two other people, injured others aside from that. And so, they are putting that kind of behavior and history and record up on display. And so the question is, so who are you actually looking to recruit with this? What message are you sending? What does it say about the culture of the department? And I just hope that we begin to grapple with those questions as a community because it's absolutely necessary.

In some better news this week, Seattle City Council passed PayUp legislation. What does this do?

[00:19:56] Will Casey: Effectively, this is going to give a whole slew of app-based gig workers - finally - a minimum wage, which is a huge, huge deal. There's a little bit of back and forth in the final version of the law that got passed - Councilmember Alex Pedersen introduced a late amendment that did exclude a certain category of workers from the legislation, which was strange because he was the original sponsor of the bill. So it's not often you see -

[00:20:26] Crystal Fincher: Andrew Lewis!

[00:20:27] Will Casey: Oh, I'm sorry - did I say - yes, yes, yes - sorry, I made the frequent mistake of confusing him with the two other squishy progressives from the Council - my apologies to Andrew. But yeah, so anyway, he did undermine his own bill here in a relatively strange move that he said was to "take down the temperature on the issue." But that didn't really seem to happen because advocates for the workers are very upset that that exemption was inserted last minute into the legislation. But the large takeaway here is - this is still a significant step forward for a large class of employees who - Uber and Lyft, and these similar-style companies have been fighting tooth and nail in every state that tries to do this - to keep these people from getting a fair wage. So, let's not look a gift horse in the mouth here, I guess.

[00:21:21] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. This is a step forward - it does meaningfully help a lot of drivers in the City, so this is a good thing, this is helpful. It would have been nice if it could be good for more people - we talked about that a lot last week. Councilmember Tammy Morales did offer an amendment that was passed that says they will take up legislation for the people left out of this bill - the marketplace workers who were excluded from this bill in that amendment that you just spoke about - that they will take that up by August of 2023. So there is now a date attached to it. One of the issues last week was - yeah, we'll get to it. But there was nothing concrete following that, there was no - well, when are you going to get to it, when are you going to address it if it's not here. And so now we do have a date, so hopefully app-based, or marketplace app-based workers, will also be included. But that's a very positive thing, very helpful. A number of these app-based service companies were very much in opposition to this, certainly were pushing for the amendment that Councilmember Lewis eventually passed for this bill. But it is a step forward, and I do not think it is too much to say that everyone deserves to make the minimum wage. And that just because you have figured out some technological loopholes does not absolve you with the responsibility for paying people who you're profiting from - to be clear, who you're profiting very handsomely from - a minimum wage. It's the least that should be done.

So this week also, in City of Seattle news, Mayor Harrell introduced a new homelessness dashboard. What happened here?

[00:23:09] Will Casey: Well, we've got a bunch of the data we already have now being aggregated into one place with some data visualization that made a tech worker friend of mine send me a long string of Twitter DMs talking about how terribly organized and poorly visualized the data is. And so - and his criticism is not the only one. My colleague at The Stranger, Hannah Krieg, had an excellent piece talking to some of the folks at Tech 4 Housing, who are experts in this field, and included an excellent breakdown of - that basically this dashboard presents the point of view that homelessness is a problem for the people seeing it, rather than for those who are experiencing the lack of shelter. And for me personally, I think this is going to be - a little bit of background here - part of the reason that the City is so concerned with visualizing this data and proving that they have the shelter capacity is that there's a federal lawsuit out of the Ninth Circuit, which is where Seattle resides, that effectively makes it illegal to do the encampments sweeps that the administration has been engaging in, unless there's adequate shelter available for everyone who's being forced to move. And so that's why you'll hear City officials so focused on this idea of referrals and saying that they had available capacity, without really ever getting into the details of - are you actually getting these people housing? Just - it was available, technically. And so we can't be punished by the courts for sweeping the problem to some other part of the city.

[00:24:50] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it is - it is a challenge. And we've certainly talked about before, talked about even last week, the issue with that shelter - just because we're hearing shelter is available, an offer of services was made, does actually not mean that those services were applicable to the person who they were made to. Someone may have a job that requires them to work hours later than the shelter will accept people. Well, the offer was made - that person couldn't accept them - and you're making someone choose between having a job and spending a night somewhere. And to be clear, many of these shelters, it is a night. This is not housing. This is oftentimes a bed. If we're talking about congregate shelter, those for a variety of reasons can - not be safe places, not be places that help people become more stable. And oftentimes in these shelters, you have to leave early in the morning with all of your possessions - it's not an easy thing to do. Anyone suggesting that people who are unhoused are somehow getting by in the system, or doing this because it's easy, or because they're lazy - does not understand what being out on the street is actually like. It's a dangerous place, it's a scary place, it's a very destabilizing place. And to help people get back to the point where they can find stability for housing requires stabilizing so many things in their lives that are made worse by the trauma and experience of being on the street.

So it is actually important - if we're going to solve this issue, there has to be housing for people, not a shelter bed. I am pretty fed up with just talking about shelter bed capacity. Is it better than nothing? Sometimes, actually not all the time. And we actually need, we do need to have capacity to get people out of extreme heat or extreme cold, those situations, but we are doing nothing to address the problem. And in fact, making it worse if we just force people to start over and over and over again, get the little bit of their lives and stability that they've gotten, and the bit of community that they've built to help them try and - one, just stay alive and two, get things together enough where they can just get a little bit more and get more stable - to just keep sweeping and moving and sweeping and moving. And it just is not working, and for as much money as we're spending on all of this sweeping, on all of the resources going into this - we could be spending that on housing, we could be spending that on services. We are throwing a ton of money at this in ways that are only moving people around and not getting anyone actually off the street, or very few people off the street, while more people are falling into homelessness.

So it's - if you listen to this show, you know how frequently frustrated this is. But I - yes, this is a dashboard. Yes, we are tracking this. I want it to be more than checking off a box to justify sweeps. And I think that's the bottom line. And I am hoping to see some evidence that this is coming online. There has been hopeful talk. There has been talk about providing services - there've been too many sweeps that have not had them at all. And so when is it going to start? I would like to see that more than a dashboard in terms of this. But we will continue to follow how this progresses - it has just been frustrating to continue to watch us relocate people and not do that.

Also want to cover - this week, an interesting situation with talk about requiring landlords to disclose the rent that they're paying. What is happening here?

[00:28:49] Will Casey: Well, it seems like Alex Pedersen - I'm getting my white male councilmembers correct now - might've pissed off a few members of his base in pushing forward this legislation. It actually caused a relatively interesting 5-4 split among the Seattle City Council. It wasn't your traditional divide between conservatives and progressive factions. On the conservative side, you had Sara Nelson and Debora Juarez voting No - each of them had their own reasons. Dan Strauss and Teresa Mosqueda also voted No - Mosqueda mostly due to the budget concerns with implementing this bill. But he did get support from Andrew Lewis, Lisa Herbold, Tammy Morales, and Kshama Sawant - who are all in favor because in their perspective, if you're already doing the paperwork to advertise the units and pay taxes on the income that you're gathering from these investments - passively I might add - it shouldn't be that much more of an effort to collect some of that data and report it to the City on a regular basis so that we actually have an idea of what it costs to live here. It'd be very, very helpful for a lot of things the City's trying to do.

[00:30:10] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. A number of cities across the country are moving in this direction - Seattle is not unique in doing this. And originally I misspoke - I said the rent that landlords are paying, I meant to say the rent that they're charging - but this is good and useful information. And absolutely will help inform policy and determine what is appropriate, what is not appropriate, and what action could or should be taken to help address this affordability crisis which we are absolutely in the middle of. And so having this happen is - having landlords at the table is perfectly fine, but we need all of the information. If they're giving us input on how this might be onerous or how this is affecting their ability to do this or that, then let's see the data for that. We ask that for so many other people and so many other ways - hey, to get rent assistance, we make people divulge lots of things about their income and living situation and personal life - and the hoops that they have to jump through just to do that. They're asking for a ton of information from renters about their qualifications, they're running background checks. We're only asking for them to divulge the rent that supposedly they're advertising what they're charging - they may be unhappy for people to see if they raise the rent in exorbitant amounts. I know a number of people who've had their rent raised by over 30%. Someone close to me had their rent raised by over 45% - it's egregious, and so this is an issue that I'm sure that they may not want lots of visibility on, but - hey, everyone else is required to put in a whole lot of information, to divulge a lot of information - we're in a crisis. This is the least they could do.

And to the point that Hannah Krieg covered, and that you mentioned, they're already doing it. We're just organizing it in the same place - for a dashboard - we know how much the City loves the dashboard. Let's get a dashboard together. But I think this is a good situation, I commend Alex Pedersen for stepping up to address this crisis, for talking about this very common sense, really low-effort step that can be taken to help get more information on how we can solve this. And understanding that his constituents are his residents and people who are afraid of being priced out of the places where they're at. The City has - about half of its residents are renters. This is a pressing issue for so many people, so commend him and the rest of the councilmembers who did vote to support this. It's really important. And people really are expecting action to be taken. And so I'm happy that they're heeding that call.

Another issue this week that we've talked about before and that you covered was - hey, what's going on with those texts that were deleted? Was that a felon - like it wasn't supposed to happen. They're saying it's a crime, a serious crime - a felony in fact - for things like that to happen. And so the question has been, are you going to refer this for investigation? Who can do this? Why isn't it done? What is going on?

[00:33:34] Will Casey: Well, this was a very wonderful deep dive into a realm of a lot of people not wanting to admit anything was their fault, which is a lovely place to be. And as - I cannot believe I'm about to say this, but this is the cost of not having an effective opposition party - because if King County had a Republican Party that was remotely capable of winning any elections, we'd have a partisan incentive for someone to dig into the truth of what's going on here. And we'd actually benefit from a little bit of competition, but currently everyone who's involved.

[00:34:14] Crystal Fincher: Well, the Republican Party has resources that make them effective as an opposition party, but there could be other opposition parties that were stood up - technically it wouldn't have to be a Republican Party, although they are more integrated statutorily into our system. But anyway - keep going.

[00:34:29] Will Casey: Yes, yes, yes - trust me, I'm the last person who's going to wish for success for any Republican candidates. But my point being that this is a situation where - normally, this is where the political realities of government tend to work towards the interests of people actually finding out what's going on. Instead - here, we have a bunch of political allies - Bob Ferguson at the Attorney General's office, Governor Inslee, Dan Satterberg - all kind of just doing the Spiderman meme of pointing at each other and saying - it's your responsibility to kick this off. But actually, in reporting this out this week, what I learned is that the real culprit here, I think, is just a lack of stewardship at the Legislature in how this law is written. So the Public Records Act has been updated several times, it's something that voters put onto the books through initiatives at various points in Washington State's history - that part of the law is very well tended to. However, it only really includes civil penalties for agencies who fail to produce a given record on the required timeline, or if there is some other - hey, they're being overly aggressive about the redactions that they're making in providing these sorts of records. So there's a specific grant of civil action authority for any private person to sue a government agency and say - hey, you were supposed to get me this record by X date. It's now Y date. Where's the paper?

The problem is there's also a separate law on the books in a different part of the RCWs that makes the willful destruction of a public record a felony. And that's what the publicly available information suggests Mayor Durkan and/or former Chief of Seattle Police Department Carmen Best may have done with their messages. That law was last substantively amended in 1909. And in speaking with legislative staff, they agreed with my guess - which is that this was something that's a relic of back in the pioneer days - when one small town would lead a raid onto somebody else's records office and burn all of the deeds so that they could just take over their farms or mining stakes or whatever. So what needs to happen, in the next legislative session, is for the Legislature to specifically grant the authority of - either to the County Prosecutor or the Attorney General - but basically make it very clear that if we ever encounter a situation like this again, there's a very specific person whose job it is to investigate. And so we don't end up with this farcical game of hot potato that's going on right now.

[00:37:15] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and it is farcical - to be clear. And even - you touched on in the article that you wrote, which we will be including in the show notes, along with the other articles that we've discussed - was that - just incentives for accountability aren't there, they're actually pointing in the other direction. And so if there is no expectation that - hey, if I do something that I shouldn't do here, or if there's no record of other people being held accountable for those same things. And - hey, it would be easy for me to do this thing that I'm not supposed to do, and then just cover up that I did the thing that I'm not supposed to do - because the penalties of doing what I'm not supposed to do are greater than just covering it up and all that kind of stuff. And this is what we see. And especially that it was not just one person, it was multiple people involved in these incidences, and so it seems like - hey, we are trying to get rid of a record of what happened. And so many troubling things that happened - this is around the time when the precinct was abandoned. And again another issue of just - we find out that either there is no control or negligence or a refusal to own decisions that were made from the Mayor's office - but very troubling things that are happening that the public is owed - is literally owed - and just no accountability for that.

So there needs to be, this should not be a my-team-versus-your-team type of thing. As we've seen in so many different instances, if we let this go now and even if - hey, well, that's my buddy, that's my team, that's my party, whatever it is - someone else is going to get a hold of it that you don't like and do worse. We have seen so many different examples of this. These are just good governance things that should not only apply to people who you are in opposition to politically - they're best when they apply to everyone, and they serve everyone better when they do apply to everyone, and we should find out what happened with these and there should be accountability attached to that. And I just wish we would take that more seriously. It would do a lot to create more trust in people in institutions. We're at a time right now where there is a crisis of confidence in all of our institutions, and only bad things happen in society when people lose trust in the institutions that are supposed to provide an orderly way of resolving disputes, find out information, talking about who has power and how they're able to wield it - all of those things. If we don't trust, if the public doesn't trust how that happens, then people start to take things into their own hands and use their own means - and that never turns out well, it never ends peacefully.

[00:40:22] Will Casey: Yeah, and I think that there are some people who I think are looking at this as - oh, there's just a couple of people who've got it out for Mayor Durkan and they just don't want to let this go or move on - and we need to unify and heal after the 2020 protests. And I cannot disagree with that strongly enough - because in criminal law, we talk all the time about how we have to have these harsh sentences as a deterrent for criminal behavior, as if someone who has no other way to put food on the table except for stealing that food is going to think about the consequences of like - oh, well, down the line, this is going to mean X, Y, or Z for me. But here - these are sophisticated actors, right? These are people with power and leverage and public office who have the ability to make a cold, calculated decision about whether or not - how likely it is - they're going to get caught. And if they are, how bad are the consequences going to be, really? And we've already seen this trend continue in a disturbing way. This didn't make it into the piece that I wrote this week, but it's been reported elsewhere. We've seen similar issues with deleting texts at the Washington Redistricting Commission when they just blew past their midnight deadline. And voted without actually having maps in front of them. And so I think that this is a live issue, this is a real problem for people's faith in government, as you pointed out. And it's frankly, not that hard to fix - one-line amendment to say it shall be the responsibility of the Attorney General's office to investigate whenever there has been a destroyed public record - would solve this entire problem.

[00:42:03] Crystal Fincher: It would, and it certainly needs solving and we certainly should have some accountability to this. I'm sure we'll be talking more about this subject more in the future as developments unfold, but it's just a challenge. There's lots that's been challenging this week, lately. We don't even get into the national stuff here - that's enough. And then just to see these types of events and headlines on a local level is challenging, but it is possible to create positive change. There are some good things happening and ways that we can all engage to make this better. And part of what we want to do in talking about this is to - like we say - understand what's happening, and why it's happening, and what we can do about it. And we see what's happening, and got further insight into the why this week and the levers that we can use to fix it. And so certainly is something that people need to do - is to advocate with their legislators that - hey, this is something that is an easy fix, a quick fix, and that should be fixed, and that we're expecting to be fixed. So hopefully that does happen.

And with that, we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks today, this Friday, June 3rd, 2022. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler with assistant producer Shannon Cheng and help with Bryce Cannatelli. Our wonderful co-host today is staff writer covering law and justice - and if it wasn't clear to people, who is also a lawyer who is a reporter, which is helpful when reporting on law and justice and it shows - Will Casey. You can find Will on Twitter @willjcasey - that's C-A-S-E-Y. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii. Now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks & Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.