King County District Attorney candidates discuss criminal justice issues facing the region

On July 21, the League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County hosted a forum featuring female candidates vying for King County District Attorney in the November general election.

This year’s race for the job will be one of the most competitive elections for the post – and it is following the retirement of Dan Satterberg, incumbent for 14 years.

Satterberg’s current chief of staff, Leesa Manion, is running for office against current Federal Way mayor and former King County assistant attorney Jim Ferrell.

During the forum, both candidates gave voters insight into their political platforms and stated priorities for the job.

During the forum, Manion touted a wide range of support from local Democratic Party organizations, as well as a plethora of currently serving Democratic state lawmakers whose districts intersect in King County. It has also been endorsed by more than a dozen retired judges from across the region.

Ferrell spoke of endorsements from several police unions that represent officers in communities like Bellevue, Seattle, Kent, Federal Way and the King County Sheriff’s Office.

Ferrell attempted to position himself as the “pro-police” candidate and reiterated several points and priorities during the forum, including adding law enforcement officers in unincorporated portions of the county and the clarification of the terms of the new police pursuit laws, which he believes hinders their ability to investigate crime.

Manion agreed the region needs more police and resources, but also stressed the need to “reinvent” the mental health care system and urged lawmakers in states that support her to reform how involuntary treatment works. in the justice system and implement a more ‘collaborative’ approach to getting people the mental health care they need before they become perpetrators or victims of crime.

Among Ferrell’s grievances with the current prosecutor’s office, he expressed frustration with the thousands of pending criminal cases that have yet to go to trial in King County. Manion attributed this to the conditions of the pandemic and other regulations established by higher courts. Ferrell also accused the current office of not working with local mayors – something he said he personally experienced.

Manion maintained that as chief of staff in the DA’s office, her team worked to build partnerships, and she mentioned communities in Seattle that she said had reduced crime rates during her work.

One of the issues this election season is restorative justice and programs that divert criminal offenders from incarceration in favor of community justice programs like King County’s Restorative Community Pathways – a program that enrolls young offenders from certain crimes to avoid the courts and incarceration instead of what had been announced. as a more community-centred approach to justice and rehabilitation.

“I have seen the power of working with communities to implement proven and effective diversion programs. That’s why youth crime, including referrals to police, is at an all-time low,” Manion said in reference to the county’s implementation of Restorative Community Pathways. “When you go upstream and tackle the root causes, you get ROI and lasting impact.”

In the past, Ferrell and other South King County mayors have criticized Restorative Community Pathways for allowing perpetrators of certain types of assaults and gun possession to avoid court and jail time. During the forum, Ferrell stressed the need for “transparency” and “accountability” for the program.

“[Restorative Community Pathways] was launched, again, without notice to towns in King County, but it also included eligible offenses such as bringing a gun to school, illegal possession of a firearm second degree, residential burglary, commercial burglary, stalking, auto theft and dozens more,” Ferrell said at the forum. “Obviously we want to make sure people get back on track, but they have to appear in front of a judge, they have to get a case number, and we have to make sure they actually showed up and did what they were asked and required to do.

Manion said that contrary to Ferrell’s assertion, the Restorative Community Pathways program was launched with notice to towns and communities in the area. She said some of the charges listed by Ferrell may seem violent and serious, but in real life, these charges could be brought against a minor for typical youth mischief, such as a fight at school or theft. a backpack.

She also argued that under current state laws, a young offender would have to commit five offenses before they could be subject to juvenile detention – suggesting that restorative community pathways might be a more effective way to get some type of justice for victims and perpetrators.

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Sound Publishing will host a forum with King County District Attorney candidates at 6:30 p.m. on September 28 at the Carco Theater, 1717 Maple Valley Highway, Renton, WA 98057.

Elna M. Lemons