The C Is for Crank Interviews: City Attorney Candidate Scott Lindsay

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Scott Lindsay, the onetime public safety advisor to former mayor Ed Murray who is challenging City Attorney Pete Holmes, was in the news a few weeks ago for leaking draft legislation that would offer limited amnesty from fines and impoundment to people living in cars and RVs and create dozens of small safe lots for people to park their vehicles around the city. Lindsay released an early version of the bill, sponsored by city council member Mike O’Brien, last month, forcing O’Brien to quickly amend and release the proposal and to hold a hasty press conference to walk back some of the more controversial elements of the draft Lindsay leaked. Lindsay’s reputation as the guy who defended Murray’s encampment sweeps, and his efforts to kill legislation reviled by neighborhood activists, like O’Brien’s RV bill, helped earn him the endorsement of the Seattle Times, which effused about his “tougher,” “stronger,” more “aggressive” approach to homelessness and drug addiction. But Lindsay has also won endorsements from onetime Holmes supporters like Harriet Walden and Lisa Daugaard, two members of the Community Police Commission and longtime advocates for police accountability and reform. The CPC soured on Holmes when he proposed delaying police reform legislation earlier this year.

I sat down with Lindsay at Cupcake Royale in Madrona.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: When we set up this interview, you said you could make a strong case that people who lean further left should vote for you. From what I’ve seen so far, most of your support has been coming from the right, from places like the Seattle Times editorial board and neighborhood groups like Safe Seattle. If you’re the candidate for the left, why are those groups so convinced that you’re their guy?

Scott Lindsay [SL]: I have no idea what their impressions are. I’ve clashed in very public ways with them. What makes me different, and maybe what they might find attractive, is, I’m willing to go talk to them, and I’m actively trying to convince them that fighting supervised [drug] consumption [sites] is maybe not the smartest use of their resources. The thing that also may differentiate me is that I do think we have some public safety issues in the city of Seattle, and I’m willing to acknowledge that. I think  we’ve heard a lot of talk about a progressive approach to public safety. We have not seen action and we have definitely not seen results, and I’m a guy who is going to not only say it but do it.

ECB: What are some of the places where we haven’t seen results?

SL: Holmes, and in fact all of the Seattle political establishment, talks as if we have implemented significant criminal justice reforms in Seattle when we’ve not. We’ve not. The [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program has been in existence for five and a half years, and it’s barely grown outside of downtown into Capitol Hill. [Eligibility for LEAD] has not yet expanded out of the narrow classification of [criminal] charges that we started with. That program is touching just some tiny portion of the population that actually needs it. Holmes says that the cosponsored LEAD, but I haven’t seen any evidence of his engagement over the last three years. We’re not delivering on that program. We’re not delivering on  criminal justice reform within the court  system. And so the result is, people are cycling through the system repeatedly, and reoffending to a significant degree.

ECB: What do you say to neighborhoods when they’re already worried about Navigation Centers bringing more homeless people into their communities? It sounds like you’re saying to them, ‘We’re going to take people directly out of jail and bring them into your neighborhood.’

SL: Well, they’re going directly out of jail and into your neighborhood anyway.

What I told the Seattle Times is, I laid out a specific plan and I said we need to address the intersection of criminally involved individuals who are suffering from addiction and suffering from homelessness. And I brought to them specific data about how that population makes up the bulk of people currently being prosecuted by the city attorney and how we’re getting very crappy results in terms of trying to change the behavior of that population.

ECB: Do you believe that the population of homeless people with addiction is primarily responsible for crimes like car prowls and break-ins?

SL: Absolutely.

ECB: What makes you so confident?

SL: Because that’s what our data tells us, and that’s what our police tell us, and that’s what our courts tell us. Go to SPD and they will say that virtually 100 percent of the car prowls in the North Precinct are committed by people whose underlying issue is addiction, principally heroin and methamphetamine.

ECB: I find addiction as a contributing factor easy to believe. What I don’t know, and what I’m asking, is how many of the people committing property crimes are homeless. I have heard many people in the neighborhoods express the opinion that by cracking down on homeless people, the city will solve the problem of property times, and I’m wondering if you think that’s true.

SL: I am the first to say that we are not talking about all homeless. The county has done good work on this. What we know is, it’s people with addiction and who are unsheltered who are currently going through  the system. That does not mean that the vast bulk of homeless individuals are criminally involved or that they’re struggling with addiction, but the folks who are in the  criminal justice  system are very substantially homeless and suffering from addiction.

This is our status quo—the streets-to-jail cycle—right now. We’ve got a lot of folks who are coming out of the criminal justice system right back onto the streets, right back into homelessness, right back into drug addiction. So we have to go and do proactive outreach to folks where they are. The Navigation Team is a form of proactive outreach that’s trying to find low-barrier housing and services for folks to get them out of the cycle before they enter into  criminal justice  system.

The second [intervention] is diversion after arrest. That means expanding LEAD citywide and expanding the total number of qualifying crimes for LEAD. If somebody’s committing a car prowl right now, and they are arrested right here, and their underlying issue is addiction and homelessness, that would be a perfect client for LEAD. And yet because we’re outside of the geographic boundary [of LEAD] and car prowl is not a qualifying crime, they are not eligible to be diverted. Then, if we arrest somebody whose underlying issue is addiction and homelessness [and the case goes to court], we should tie that judge into the Navigation Team, into LEAD, and have, in effect, a street court that is oriented around a harm reduction approach.

And then, in jail, we have to have treatment options. The second somebody on a Seattle Municipal Court charge is booked into a jail and if they [have heroin] addiction,  we need to be offering them counseling and, if not methadone treatment, which can be more involved, then at the very least suboxone.

And finally, we need to have a serious warm handoff. Instead of pushing folks [leaving jail] out onto the street who we know came in homeless, came in with addiction, let’s crate warm handoffs, all tied into the Navigation Center and the Navigation Team.

ECB: So is idea they would exit jail and go straight into the Navigation Center?

SL: I think so, yes—or in a setting similar to the Navigation Center facility.

ECB: It seems like that would require a scaling up of our shelter facilities that isn’t anticipated in the Pathways Home plan (which proposes a shift from shelter to permanent housing) or in the city budget.

SL: This is a four-year plan, but absolutely, if we’re going to be serious about these things, we need to have a vision, have an architecture, and then fund these things appropriately.

ECB: What do you say to neighborhoods when they’re already worried about Navigation Centers bringing more homeless people into their communities? It sounds like you’re saying to them, ‘We’re going to take people directly out of jail and bring them into your neighborhood.’

SL: Well, they’re going directly out of jail and into your neighborhood anyway. And so the question is, can we do something to reduce the impact of that? We already have a lot of transitional and halfway housing around Seattle. We’ve been able to manage this in the past. The Navigation Center is a temporary way station on the way toward, hopefully, more permanent options.

ECB: Would you have released the draft [of Mike O’Brien’s RV legislation] if you were city attorney?

SL: Not if they were seeking my attorney-client privileged legal advice.

ECB: What if they weren’t, and you just didn’t like a piece of legislation and you wanted to slow it down?

SL: I think the city attorney should speak publicly on issues of significant importance to the city.

ECB: Why did you leak O’Brien’s RV legislation—or do you dispute the term ‘leak’?

SL: I dispute the term ‘leak.’

ECB: Okay, how come?

SL: So O’Brien had created his [vehicular living task force]. They’d made their recommendations in April. He then worked up the legislation and his office spread it to a lot of stakeholders. They briefed it to some other council members. They briefed it to city departments. And it spread to series of stakeholders. His office then put out an email out 15 to 20 stakeholders that they were introducing that version of the legislation imminently and it was in the law department for a final review—with minor revisions, but they made clear that it was final. That version of the legislation was in the hands of 50 to 100 people. It was not closely held. In that email, they said, we are introducing it imminently and we’re going to have two hearings on it his month and vote it out of committee right after Labor Day. It was a very truncated legislative process right in the middle of August, when a lot of people aren’t paying attention. That had me very concerned, because I thought the legislation was deeply flawed in a legal sense and a policy sense, and that O’Brien was going to try to shove it through at the wrong time. I wasn’t going to do anything with it until his office said they were introducing it imminently. Once they said they were doing that and on such a truncated timeline, I made it public.

ECB: Would you have released the draft if you were city attorney, rather than a candidate for city attorney?

SL: Not if they were seeking my attorney-client privileged legal advice.

ECB: What if they weren’t, and you just didn’t like a piece of legislation and you wanted to slow it down?

SL: I think the city attorney should speak publicly on issues of significant importance to the city. I have very specific experience with this. I was the guy who created the RV safe lots [a safe RV parking program that the city abandoned after deciding it cost too much.] I tried to make those work. I saw what the challenges were. So I have experience. I’ve also seen how Mike O’Brien’s program, Road to Housing, which we spent several hundreds of thousands of dollars on, was a serious flop. [Road to Housing was a program that encouraged churches to allow people living in vehicles to park in their lots. Ultimately, it only created a dozen safe parking spots]. So I’m not coming at this as, ‘Oh, I got a special document and I’m just going to throw it out there.’

“They had a small group of investigators that were able to make sure the domestic violence cases were able to be filed right away. Holmes says domestic violence is a top priority, but he took away these investigators. SPD’s domestic violence unit is telling me, ‘Here’s why we’re getting shitty results out of our domestic violence cases.'”

ECB: Why did you think O’Brien’s plan wouldn’t work? What was the issue?

SL: I think the blanket amnesty [from fines and towing] is just a very legally problematic policy. The thought that we could create 50-some safe lots is unfortunate—it’s counterproductive because we already have experience with this. At the end of the day, what we found was that trying to serve people in their vehicles and to help them stay in their vehicles is the most expensive way to try to service this population.

ECB: So what is a more effective and affordable solution?

SL: I think we need to vastly ramp up the outreach, and outreach to somewhere. Just going and sending an outreach worker alone and cold to a situating and saying, ‘Hey, would you like services?’—the answer is almost always ‘No, thank you.’ Having a police officer try to resolve the legal issues and the social and health issues at the same time is a more effective model.

ECB: You said that ‘blanket amnesty’ isn’t workable from a legal perspective. It seems to me that from a ‘managing homelessness’ perspective, towing people’s vehicles away isn’t working either, since they go from being homeless people in cars to being homeless people in tents and doorways.

SL: There’s a way to do this with appropriate controls and forgiveness, where we say, if your vehicle’s broken down and you received tickets and all you need is $250 for a new starter, we’re going to forgive the tickets and we’ll help you with the starter, but you have to get your vehicles back into basic legal compliance. We absolutely should not be towing somebody’s vehicle away if it’s just a matter of some basic economics. At the same time, to say that there’s blanket amnesty if you’re living in a vehicle creates a whole host of significant issues.

Go under Spokane Street. We had massive fire hazards. We had major public health problems. We had widespread exploitation of women. We had serious drug dealing and other issues. And we had a homicide just three weeks ago. How is the city going to manage the impacts of significant accumulations of vehicles in one location if there’s a blanket amnesty?

ECB: Let’s shift gears and talk about domestic violence. You accuse Pete of declining to file more DV cases than any city attorney in recent history. His counter is that he’s been boosting more DV cases to felony status, which goes through the county court system, and that the number of DV cases that come before the city attorney are cyclical. How do you respond?

SL: The decline rate, at which they refuse to file cases up front, is 65 percent. That is the highest that it’s been in Seattle’s history. In 2009, it was under 50 percent. So, per the city attorney’s own stats, they are declining to file more cases than they ever have in the history of Seattle. [Ed: The city attorney can decline to file a domestic case for prosecution for many reasons, including a victim who is unwilling to testify, incomplete or unclear paperwork, or an accuser who decides it’s safer not to press charges; charges that are boosted to felonies also show up as declines].

One of the major problems is that Pete Holmes has been shuffling and reshuffling the criminal division and moving people around. They had a small group of investigators that were able to make sure the domestic violence cases were able to be filed right away. Holmes says domestic violence is a top priority, but he took away these investigators. SPD’s domestic violence unit is telling me, ‘Here’s why we’re getting shitty results out of our domestic violence cases.’ It used to be the case that when there was some missing information, the investigators would complete that—no problem, it’s a little Google search, boom, complete. Now the city attorney’s office says, ‘Okay, SPD, this case isn’t ready to file,’ and they send it back to the officer who’s out on the street. And that officer may be on vacation, or maybe he has a really full workload. Maybe it gets pushed to the back of pile, and they maybe complete it a week, two weeks later. The case gets more and more stale.

Domestic violence cases are hard, but they haven’t fundamentally changed in the last 30 years, and Holmes has a burden to explain why, if you are an abuse survivor in the city of Seattle, the prospect of you making it through  this process and holding your abuser accountable is slim to none. He says it’s a priority. Those numbers don’t show that. Those numbers show that, in fact, we are badly failing survivors.

Read my pre-primary interview with Lindsay, where we discussed even more issues, including the role of the Community Police Commission in police reform, here; and check out both my recent conversations with City Attorney Pete Holmes here.

4 thoughts on “The C Is for Crank Interviews: City Attorney Candidate Scott Lindsay

  1. I think taxpayers have the right to know about the tremendous amount of money Pete Holmes’s prosecutor’s office wastes. The money and time wasted on cases where lying assistant prosecutors try cases should be funneled toward cases that deserve prosecution. Why is Mindy Longaneker Deranek still employed by the city when she has a documented history of lying to a judge during trial? https://youtu.be/gLCEy6HWVpA
    Does Pete Holmes lack the concern to fire process abusers?

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  2. Regarding DV cases: Maybe this is another indication that we’re paying armed and dangerous people to do jobs that other people are capable of doing safely. Let’s transfer funding from the police department to the city attorney’s office and get those cases completed. Blaming the head of one department for rejecting incomplete work submitted by another department makes little sense.

    It sounds from the interview like the prosecutor’s office formerly dedicated three members of their own staff to completing SPD employees’ incomplete work, and that for reasons not discussed here, Holmes cancelled that arrangement, instead sending SPD’s incomplete work back to SPD, where it sites, incomplete, sometimes pushed to the back of the pile, sometimes not examined again for two weeks.

    This sounds like a failure of SPD. If police can’t manage to complete their case files before submitting those cases and ignoring the situation for weeks on end, and we’re going to continue to fund there performance of this work, then maybe their managers or co-workers should complete the cases.

    Are SPD management tracking rejections of cases by employee to spot trends and address them?

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  3. Lindsay sounds like he’s actually interested in a policy position or executive role, rather than City Attorney. It’s absurd for a candidate to say that as City Attorney he’d leak draft legislation whenever he felt like going outside the process to scupper bills.

    Separately – I appreciate your recent interviews with candidates and with activists on both sides of the safe consumption site issue. Have gotten a lot out of reading these conversations.

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    • Lindsay’s previous job was a policy adviser to the mayor, so it’s not surprising that he comes across as someone interested in policy and execution.

      The draft legislation of topic, here, was public record. It was created by public staff at public expense and was not exempt from mandatory communication to the public upon request. It was not “leaked” so much as it was lifted from obscurity–made available to the public without the need for us to formally request it and wait for it. Without commenting on the urgency of need to get that public record front of the public, I can say that if there was a need to do so, then simply publishing it for all to see was a very effective way of accomplishing such.

      Too much law-making goes on behind closed doors. Selectively and occasionally lifting the veil makes for confusion. Let’s open it all up. Put those bills under revision control and make every version available for public inspection. Then we would not only see the product of our public staff’s work, but how they produced it and whose input led to what changes from one draft to another.

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