King County prosecutor’s office criminal problem
August 17, 2022
The King County Prosecutor’s Office is in trouble.
In theory, it goes after felony crimes and seeks harsh sentences for particularly severe offenses. Its focus is on protecting the public and filing charges that match the crime in an effort to reduce the number of incidents.
But is that what actually happens?
Recently a group of south King County mayors wrote a letter criticizing both state and county officials, noting a “need for improved and timely juvenile and adult felony criminal accountability at the county level.”
In response, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg wrote in a statement listing off a variety of reasons for increased crime. What he didn’t include but should have, is the reluctance of his own office to go after criminals. While Satterberg cites the number of cases his office filed in July, that doesn’t tell the full story. Do the charges match the severity of the crime and the offender’s criminal history? Does his office intend to do a plea bargain that results in a milder charge and sentence? How many of them are serial offenders who will commit more crimes once they’re let out?
That’s precisely what happened in the case of a 16-year-old girl who was violently raped by a man in 2019. As we reported last month, the man raped the girl so badly she was incapacitated and suffered physical injuries.
Satterberg’s office initially charged him with a Class A felony that would have carried a mandatory life sentence, but ultimately accepted a plea agreement reducing it to a Class C felony, which carries a five-year maximum sentence. The rapist was let out after only 15 months in jail. He then proceeded to carry out a deadly, random attack on a handicapped man in Bellevue mere hours after being let out. It was known to both the judge and the prosecutor’s office at the time of his conviction that he had substance addiction and mental illness, and was also under investigation for a similarly violent rape of another underage girl.
On paper, Satterberg filed charges and got a successful conviction that involved jail time. In actuality, a drug addicted, mentally ill, violent rapist got a slap on the wrist made possible through a plea bargain that ultimately cost an innocent man his life.
Make Your Voice Heard!
Contact Satterberg’s Office and tell him to crack down on serial offenders!
Satterberg’s claims to be “tough on crime” fall flat in the face of basic facts. His office earlier this year backed a Restorative Community Pathways (RCP) program that allows violent juvenile offenders to avoid the court system in favor of a “community panel.” That program is now going to extend to adults as well, albeit it does not (for now) include violent or repeat offenders. The request for proposal document regarding the adult program makes it clear the county is seeking a nonprofit to run it whose first and foremost priority is NOT keeping the community safe.
The irony is that this comes as King County Executive Dow Constantine patronized the south King County mayors in a passive aggressive statement, saying they were “clinging to obsolete mindsets and practices that no longer keep our communities safe.” As Brandi Kruse noted, if Constantine has a mindset that keeps communities safe, we’re not seeing it.
The source of the increased crime in King County are chronic serial offenders like 24-year-old Johnathan Mamel Cruz, who is accused of recently kidnapping a six-month-old baby in Kent and stealing the vehicle the infant was inside. He has nearly 30 criminal convictions, including 16 charges pending trial in 11 different cases in four different jurisdictions. He has 11 active warrants for his arrest and has failed to appear in court 55 times.
Not all of these offenses occurred in King County, but now that he’s being charged here, how hard is the prosecutor’s office going to push for a long-term sentence? It is clear by the man’s criminal record he has no intention of behaving once released.
While the RCP wouldn’t apply to felons like Cruz, a revolving door for petty criminals is the last thing that King County needs at a time that Seattle City Attorney Ann Davidson is trying to crack down on them through her High Utilizer Program based on data showing that a relatively small number of people are committing a disproportionate amount of crime.
Satterberg’s Office wrote in a media statement that “we believe that if people shadowed our deputy prosecutors on any given day, they would see that we have the same common goal as mayors across King County — community safety – and we work tirelessly towards that goal.”
On the contrary, if they were to get an inside look at the prosecutor’s office they would see an internal “civil war” going on between the old guard that still believes criminals are the bad guys to be punished and the new guard of younger, ideologically-driven personnel who see their profession as more of a social service, hence the RCP for adults. If they do actually prosecute, they don’t push their case hard in front of judges, don’t include victim statements or consult with victims before making plea deals.
While Satterberg has chosen not to run for reelection this year, Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell and Satterberg’s Chief of Staff Leesa Manion are seeking to fill that role. Whoever wins will have the power to make reforms or maintain an unacceptable status quo.
The prosecutor’s office noted that they tried to keep Cruz off the street when they charged him in May for a stolen vehicle, but the judge ignored their concerns. Assuming the prosecutor’s office truly fought tooth-and-nail to keep him locked up, it brings us to the next failing aspect of our criminal justice: King County judges.