Saturday, November 15, 2008

Felon sentenced in Wash. to more than 7 years

A 33-year-old street gang member from Tacoma with a lengthy criminal history has been sentenced in U.S. District to seven years and two months in prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
TACOMA, Wash. —

A 33-year-old street gang member from Tacoma with a lengthy criminal history has been sentenced in U.S. District to seven years and two months in prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Jermaine Laron Gore was sentenced Friday by Judge Ronald B. Leighton, who told him that he would get "no more second chances."

Gore was on probation from a state conviction at the time of his arrest with a weapon July 4, 2006, after reports of a man waving a gun outside a home in Tacoma. Police found a loaded Rossi .357 caliber revolver in Gore's car.

Gore was prohibited from possessing a firearm because of his previous felony convictions that included assault in the third degree in 1993, drug possession in 1994, three counts of conspiracy to delivery a controlled substance in 2000, conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance in 2002 and unlawful possession of cocaine in 2003. All those convictions were in Pierce County.

Gore was prosecuted by the U.S. government as part of its Project Safe Neighborhoods program.

Criminal Case Law Update

The following cases of note were decided recently in Washington's high courts:

Supreme Court:

State v. Cayenne: The Court upheld a sentencing condition prohibiting a Native American tribal member convicted of off-reservation illegal fisihing using a gillnet from owning a gillnet for the next eight months. The Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals, which had partially reversed the sentence, holding that the sentencing court had no authority to restrict a tribal members rights while on the reservation. The Court pointed out that the defendant had appeared before the trial court and subject to its full sentencing authority, including crime-related prohibitions, and the trial court had authority to impose appropriate sentencing conditions that would follow the individual defendant. Limiting that authority to off-reservations activities, the Court reasoned, "would create the unwanted result of permitting tribal lands to be havens for criminals avoiding justice after violating state laws." A copy of the decision may be viewed online at:

State v. Gossage: The Court held that Mr. Gossage was entitled to a certificate of discharge from his sentence, despite the fact that he had not paid the full amount of restitution ordered, because all legal financial obligations (LFOs) expired ten years from the date of release from confinement under the plain language of RCW 9.94A.760(4). A copy of the decision may be viewed online at:

Division One Court of Appeals:

State v. Webb: The Court held that the State failed to prove that Mr. Webb was physically proximate to the passenger compartment of his vheicle at the time he was arrested for DUI, and therefore the items seized in the search incident to arrest of that area must be suppressed. In this case, Mr. Webb stopped his vehicle in the right hand lane of traffic, was been removed from his car and directed to the sidewalk by the officer who stopped him, and then placed under arrest by a second officer after an interview and field tests. After Mr. Webb was secured in the second officer's patrol car, he gave the officers permission to move his vehicle off the street, which they did, parking it in a bank parking lot some 40-50 feet away. The officers then searched the car, including the use of a canine search, without a warrant and "incident to arrest" and located cocaine and drug paraphernalia. After a lengthy examination of the search incident to arrest exception to the warrant requirement, the court overturned the search, holding that "Washington law requires more than temporal and physical proximity between the arrest and the search. It also requires physical proximity between the suspect and the vehicle at the time of arrest." A copy of the decision may be viewed online at:

Division Three Court of Appeals:

State v. Williams: The Court found improper the imposition of a firearm enhancement rather than a deadly weapons enhancement to the defendant's sentence where the jury found that the defendant was armed with a deadly weapon rather than a firearm. The Court noted that the Supreme Court has held that sentencing to a firearm enhancement as opposed to a deadly weapons enhancement can never be harmless error. The Court held that the trial court was without authority to impose a firearm enhancement and remanded for resentencing. A copy of the decision may be found online at:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Man sentenced to 25 years for cold case murder


A man who admitted to a 1980 murder in Des Moines was sentenced in King County Superior Court Thursday to nearly 25 years in prison.

James Maynard Blair, 54, pleaded guilty in October to second-degree murder in the slaying of Kirk Parker. Investigators used DNA evidence to link Blair to the crime, charging him in August.

Blair is already in prison serving time for a 2006 assault conviction.

In 1980, Des Moines police officers discovered Parker beaten and strangled to death in his mobile home after going there on a welfare check. But the initial investigation stalled when police could not locate any suspects in the killing.

Then, in January 2006, Des Moines Police Sgt. David Mohr reopened the case and sent items believed to have DNA evidence from the killer to the state crime lab. According to investigators, lab technicians found Blair's genetic signature on several items from Parker's home.

According to court records, Blair told investigators that he had been hitchhiking in the area during the February night that Parker was killed. He said Parker picked him up and took him to his mobile home, where Blair killed him in a drunken altercation.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Police arming Newcastle residents with radar guns Staff

NEWCASTLE, Wash. – Residents in Newcastle who complain that drivers are speeding through their neighborhoods will now have proof.

Newcastle police are arming residents with radar guns. The guns will record the speed and license plate numbers of drivers.

Officers will send out warning letters to speeding drivers. While those warnings will not carry a fine, police say the program will help them determine whether they need additional patrols in those neighborhoods.

Newcastle police say their first volunteer caught over 70 speeders in three days.

McNeil Island prison searched for phones


MCNEILL ISLAND -- The attempted suicide of a McNeil Island inmate in September highlighted a new high-tech threat for the state Department of Corrections: contraband cell phones.

Over the weekend, the entire prison was on lockdown while officers searched it stem to stern for illicit phones and other contraband. Such prisonwide searches are rare and expensive because of the manpower involved.

Information developed in the suicide case led to the Oct. 31 arrest of a McNeil corrections officer on suspicion of smuggling-in at least one cell phone, a Washington State Patrol spokesman said. The News Tribune is not naming her because prosecutors have not filed any charges in the case.

Cell phones are dangerous behind bars because they allow inmates to have unmonitored contact with the outside world, including with drug and gang ties, prison officials say. Unlike calls made through prison phones, they can't be recorded or screened.

The morning of his Sept. 18 suicide attempt, Leon Toney and another inmate were linked to a cell phone that had been smuggled into the prison, records show. It's also clear from the department's review of the incident that family members found out Toney was hurt not from prison officials, but from someone on the inside. They said the call came from another inmate using a cell phone and that they knew of several others inside.

The phone in the Toney case was the third found at McNeil in the past two years, officials said. No statewide figures were available, but DOC spokesman Chad Lewis said a survey of state prison administrators found they had seized only a couple phones each.

"The number we've seen aren't that high," Lewis said. "But this is different than most other types of contraband. You can only pass a cigarette around so many times. You can pass a cell phone around countless times."

A special team of 44 officers from three other prisons was brought to McNeil on Saturday to conduct the two-day search, which went cell-to-cell and inmate-to-inmate through the 1,280-inmate prison.

The inmates were strip-searched and officers crawled beneath beds and desks, peered into light fixtures, and made sure TVs and radios hadn't been pried open so that contraband could be hidden inside. The two-man teams spent roughly 20 minutes per cell.

"It's a serious thing to inconvenience a whole facility like this," said Jocelyn "J" Hofe, who heads up the Department of Corrections' emergency operations statewide. "It's a disruption for the staff, visitors and inmates."

Most facilities see such large-scale searches only every few years. But, officials noted, they only augment the daily cell searches the facilities already do.

Bringing in the specialized team from outside prisons adds fresh eyes, said DOC administrator Earl Wright, who supervises several prisons, including McNeil. It also provides training opportunities for the specialized officers and McNeil staff.

Hofe said some contraband may have been flushed or destroyed when it became clear that a sweep was happening. "But it still gets it out of the prison," she noted.

As of Sunday afternoon, officers turned up several homemade tattoo guns and a small amount of drugs. A syringe was found inside a jigsaw puzzle box in a common area. Also seized was a fist-sized pouch of tobacco that had been hidden inside an inmate's radio. Investigators estimated it was worth $200 to $300 on the prison black market.

No cell phones were found, however.

"This is a whole new game for us," McNeil Superintendent Ron Van Boening said in a recent interview. "They (cell phones) are getting smaller and smaller."

The inmates know officials are looking for the phones and are going to great lengths to hide them, he said. It's tough, officials admit, because some of the phones are small enough to be, in prison parlance, "keistered."

The state Department of Corrections is weighing administrative and legislative approaches to increasing the penalties for being caught with a cell phone, said Lewis, the DOC spokesman. The department is also training its drug-sniffing dogs to find them, though budget cuts have reduced the number of dogs across the state from eight to two.

Cell phones aren't just a problem in Washington. Last month, a state senator in Texas received a cell phone call from a death row inmate. The caller told the senator he knew that he had two daughters and gave their ages, address and other personal details he had gleaned from the Internet, the Austin American-Statesman reported. Officials found the phone had been used to make more than 2,800 calls in the previous month alone.

While prison officials stress the dangers cell phones pose behind bars, prisoner rights advocates say there's another reason they're coveted -- they allow inmates to keep in touch with family.

Maintaining community and family ties is important for an inmate's success upon release, corrections officials say. But at the same time, inmates and their families pay far more to talk to each other than the general public does.

Despite a rate cut in 2006, Washington's rates remain among the highest in the country, according to the advocacy group Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, or CURE. In surveying rates nationwide, the group ranked Washington ninth-highest out of 46 states where data were available.

The rates, which can be as much as 22 times higher than the five cents per minute many South Sound residents pay for long distance, amount to a tax on some of the poorest members of society, said Kay Perry, coordinator for CURE's Campaign to Promote Equitable Telephone Charges.

"A lot of states spend millions of dollars trying to help inmates transition out of prison and build a social network when they get out," she said. "But the current telephone systems tear families apart. The family members pay for it -- you're punishing them only because they love somebody."

While most types of inmate calls in Washington are now billed at a flat rate -- either $3.15 or $3.50, depending on how it's paid for -- out-of-state calls cost $4.95 plus 89 cents per minute, or $22.75 for a 20-minute call. The average wage for state inmates is about $1.15 per hour.

About 60 percent of what state inmates and their families spend on phone calls goes to programs that have nothing to do with phone service.

From September 2007 to September 2008, inmates at Washington's 17 prisons and their families paid for $8.7 million in phone calls, according to records obtained by The News Tribune. Under a contract with Chicago-based FSH Communications, $5.1 million of that is given right back to the DOC.

Most of that money goes into an Offender Betterment Fund, which pays for items like school supplies for inmates' children, books and staff for prison law libraries, and cable TV service. A quarter of it goes toward a state fund for crime victims and witnesses.

Perry says she understands the argument that the $5 million commission that returns to the DOC is $5 million that taxpayers don't have to spend. But to her, it's unfair to shift that burden to inmates and their families.

"It's all of our responsibility," she said. "When society makes the decision to incarcerate somebody, we have the responsibility to rehabilitate them. All citizens should have to pay for rehabilitation programs that help these people turn their lives around. Otherwise you're taxing some very poor folk."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Police shot co-owner of home, not burglar


EVERETT -- The owner of an Everett house where a 31-year-old man was shot and killed by police early Saturday says the man was a co-owner of the house and lived there.

"It's devastating. He didn't deserve to die," Bear Whalen told The Everett Herald.

Whalen described the slain man as his friend who was a good person who cared about his community and was a volunteer.

"He never even got a ticket. He respected the law," Whalen told the newspaper.

Three Everett police officers responding to a report of a burglary shot and killed Whalen's roommate at the home. Investigators found a shotgun next to the man's body, officials reported Sunday.

Snohomish County sheriff's spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said someone in the neighborhood called police just before 2 a.m. Saturday to report that someone was breaking windows and kicking in the door of a nearby house.

Hover said three officers arrived and said they were confronted by a man with a gun, standing in the doorway of the home.
Officers said they repeatedly ordered the man to drop his weapon but he refused. The three officers fired multiple shots at the man. Hover said he died at the scene.

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office had not released the slain man's name.

The officers involved in the shooting have been placed on paid administrative leave, while a team of detectives from throughout the county investigates.

The officers were a 24-year-old woman who has been with the Everett Police Department for 2 1/2 years, a 33-year-old man who has been with the department for 2 years and a 29-year-old man who has been with the department for 1 1/2 years, Hover said.

Whalen, 28, said he went with the man who was slain with some friends to a bar Friday night.

Whalen said his roommate went home about 1 a.m., while he said he spent the night at a friend's house.

Gunnar Nelson, 26, a neighbor, told The Herald: "I just wish my friend was back. I don't know how long it's going to take to get over this."