Saturday, March 14, 2009

Soliciting prostitutes could become more costly


KENT, Wash. – Should police be allowed to impound cars used by men who solicit prostitutes?

That's the pitch from the Kent Police Department, which is pitching the idea as a new way to deter prostitution in their city.

"Our neighborhood along Pacific Highway South deserves better, and that's part of the initiative and that's part of the message to change the paradigm," says Kent Police Chief Steve Strachan.

Strachan's department has recently been cracking down on the crime in recent months, while pitching a proposal to State Lawmakers.

Two bills are now in the Legislature which would impound the cars of suspected Johns, and force them to pay a $500 fine to get it back.

"All of those dollars (would) go to a state fund that funds intervention and prevention, so instead of Johns approaching the girls, we have service workers approaching them," Strachan says.

The local chapter of the ACLU says it has no objections to the bill in its current form, and is not taking a stance on the issue.

The two bills:

Suspended Wash. policeman found not guilty

A suspended policeman has been acquitted of first-degree assault and reckless endangerment by a Spokane County Superior Court jury for shooting a man in the head two years ago.

A suspended policeman has been acquitted of first-degree assault and reckless endangerment by a Spokane County Superior Court jury for shooting a man in the head two years ago.

A city spokeswoman told The Spokesman-Review after Friday afternoon's verdict that 45-year-old officer Jay Olsen will be paid all his back pay according to civil service rules. He is a 16-year veteran of the Spokane Police Department.

Following his acquittal, Olsen was placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation. He had been on unpaid layoff status since his April 2007 arrest.

Olsen was charged with first-degree assault and two counts of reckless endangerment after a chase Feb. 26, 2007, that ended in the shooting of 29-year-old Shonto Pete in a Spokane neighborhood. He was off duty at the time of the shooting.

The bullet that hit Pete in the head lodged in his scalp.


Information from: The Spokesman-Review,

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Manslaughter charge in Fort Lewis girl's death

The Army has charged a 19-year-old soldier from Indiana in the fatal drug overdose of a 16-year-old girl at a Fort Lewis barracks.


The Army has charged a 19-year-old soldier from Indiana in the fatal drug overdose of a 16-year-old girl at a Fort Lewis barracks.

Pvt. Timothy E. Bennitt, a heavy construction equipment operator from Rolling Prairie, Ind., faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, wrongful use and distribution of controlled substances, and conspiracy to use controlled substances. He is assigned to the 555th Engineer Brigade.

The girl, Leah King, a high school sophomore from Lakewood, had been dating Bennitt for about a month, officials said. She was found dead in the barracks early on Feb. 15. Another 16-year-old girl was found unconscious and eventually recovered. Army pathologists and investigators determined that King overdosed on an antidepressant marketed as Xanax and a painkiller called oxymorphone, some of which she had apparently inhaled after the pills were crushed.

Army officials said Bennitt, 19, is also under investigation for distributing drugs to other soldiers, including oxycodone and marijuana, and taking drugs himself. If convicted of all charges he could face up to 82 years in confinement, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a dishonorable discharge.

The charges against him will be presented to an investigating officer in an Article 32 hearing, the equivalent of a civilian grand jury, and that officer will recommend whether to proceed with a court martial.

King's death revealed that many juveniles from the area enter Fort Lewis with soldiers to attend parties. In response, the base changed its procedures to require all minors to be signed in at the Fort Lewis visitor center, and to deny access to those who do not appear to have a legitimate reason for being on base. Officials also increased the number of random checks they do of cars entering the base to ensure minors aren't entering the post inappropriately.

Bennitt entered the Army in June 2007 and reported to Fort Lewis that December, after training at Fort Sill, Okla., and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. He has not deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Criminals could be free from probation


OLYMPIA -- A bill that would allow certain criminal offenders to say goodbye to their community supervision made it through another one of the Legislature's hoops this week, but concern about the measure remains.

At the bill's first hearing in the House, Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, supported the bill "with some discomfort," but felt that if the Legislature must make cuts in the Department of Corrections, supervision of low- to moderate-risk offenders would be the right place.

Lawmakers, facing an $8 billion budget deficit, are looking for ways to save money.

The bill's original sponsor, Sen. James Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, estimates the cost savings to the state to be roughly $40 million for the next biennium, with $1.5 million in savings for the current biennium if the Legislature moves quickly enough.

"This measure, if enacted, will have some level of adverse affect on community safety," Pierce said. "But other places would have a much more significant impact on the community we're sworn to protect."

Senate Bill 5288, which would lower the number of criminal offenders on parole or probation, reflects suggestions made by the governor to reduce the growing budget deficit by making cuts in the Corrections Department.

The current, revised bill would eliminate supervision of low- and moderate-risk offenders unless they were convicted of a violent offense, a crime against a person, or ordered to chemical dependency treatment.

Their supervision would be terminated after six months if they have not reoffended.

Those offenders categorized as high risk, or low to moderate risk convicted of a sex offense, would still be supervised.

Rep. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, is concerned that the bill doesn't address the issue of domestic violence seriously enough.

"I will be looking very closely to the areas of gross misdemeanants with relation to domestic violence," Dammeier said.

Under the current wording of the bill, gross misdemeanants would not be supervised by parole or probation.

There are 4,300 gross misdemeanants who would be unsupervised under SB 5288.

"I'm sensitive to the fact that we need to protect" domestic crime victims, Dammeier said.

Some domestic violence offenders are put in the high-risk or gross misdemeanant probationer category -- under current law, these types of offenders are under supervision by a corrections officer.

SB 5288 would eliminate their supervision completely.

Hargrove said changing the bill so that these specific levels of domestic violence offenders would be supervised would cut the majority of the state's potential savings.

"We looked at that, and I believe that such a large percentage of those, if you included all domestic violence offenses, your savings would drop to about $10 million," Hargrove said.

"In other words, it's a huge chunk of that bottom category, so it was a very big moving piece."

Although some domestic violence offenders won't escape supervision because their relative threat to the community will put them in a high-risk to reoffend category, Ginger Richardson, a community corrections officer in King County, is concerned that their convictions, and therefore their categorizations, won't accurately depict the seriousness of their threat level.

"It's usually about the fifth or sixth time that (domestic violence victims) finally call the cops, that they go forward with filing charges.

"They've got to survive, they've got kids, things like that," Richardson said.

Richardson also worried that with the elimination of supervision for some domestic violence offenders who are categorized as misdemeanants by having pleaded down their charges, corrections officers would have no way of enforcing the offender to go to treatment.

"Many just wouldn't go," Richardson said.

The cost-savings would ultimately mean a big job loss for community corrections officers.

Eldon Vail, secretary of the Department of Corrections, estimates that nearly 300 jobs would be lost.

"Primarily how to save money will be laying off staff," Vail said.