Chief Wants Pot Tickets Tossed; Written For 'Wrong Reasons'

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Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole has asked the city to seek dismissal of all citations issued by a bicycle officer who wrote 80 percent of the tickets during the first half of this year for using marijuana in public. The request to the City Attorney's Office stems from a conclusion that the 66 citations were written as part of a personal agenda on the part of Officer Randy Jokela, O'Toole said Friday. On many of the tickets, Jokela referred to City Attorney Pete Holmes, a vocal advocate of pot legalization, as "Petey Holmes."

The tickets were written for the "wrong reasons," O'Toole said. In addition to the references to Holmes, Jokela wrote on one ticket that he used a coin toss to decide which of two men to issue a ticket and on another described state voter approval of marijuana legalization as "silly." O'Toole is still considering disciplinary action against Jokela and is awaiting findings on why she was not told about the officer's actions before the department released a tainted report on marijuana enforcement.

O'Toole sent a letter to the City Attorney's Office requesting that it petition the Municipal Court to vacate and dismiss the tickets written by Jokela between Jan. 1 and July 30, Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a department spokesman, said Friday. O'Toole is taking the action based on facts that emerged during an internal investigation by the department's Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), Whitcomb said. Holmes will review O'Toole's request and consult with Craig Sims, the chief of the criminal division, said Kimberly Mills, Holmes' spokeswoman.

Two face discipline
Police officials are also moving to resolve possible disciplinary action, with Jokela facing a potential three-day suspension without pay and a reprimand stemming from three misconduct findings, according to two police sources with knowledge of the matter. Jokela's sergeant, Ryan Long, is facing a potential one-day suspension without pay and a reprimand related to his supervision of Jokela, according to the sources.

Jokela, 52, and Long, 40, have been contrite and both have clean disciplinary records, one of the sources said. Both have the right to meet with O'Toole to contest the preliminary findings, but there is a possibility they might accept the punishment as reasonable, according to a third police source with knowledge of the matter. Whitcomb said he couldn't discuss the disciplinary process because it has not concluded. The OPA recently finished its investigation and forwarded its findings to O'Toole, who will issue any final disciplinary action. Details of the OPA's misconduct findings were not immediately available.

"Officer Joker"
Jokela, who joined the department in 1990 and is widely known on the street as "Officer Joker," wrote 66 of 83 tickets during the first half of the year, often adding a notation requesting the attention of "Petey Holmes." Holmes supported Initiative 502, which legalized pot smoking in 2012 but barred public use. His office does not screen tickets written for public marijuana use, which are filed directly by police officers in Municipal Court. If a ticket is contested, an infractions attorney from his office then becomes involved.

Holmes sponsored a city ordinance enacted last year that gave police the authority to write $27 tickets for using pot in public. In making public consumption an infraction, the City Council action called for police to give warnings whenever possible before issuing fines and to study enforcement. Jokela's actions came to the attention of Police Department staff reviewing data captured for its first semiannual report on enforcement delivered to the council in July. Jokela works as a bicycle officer in the West Precinct, which includes the downtown business district, the Chinatown International District, Queen Anne, South Lake Union and other neighborhoods. He was reassigned to administrative duties at the time O'Toole revealed the internal investigation, but after apologizing to O'Toole, he was later returned to regular duties while the inquiry continued.

Who got tickets
The marijuana-enforcement report, delivered to the City Council on July 23, found that 99 percent of all public-use tickets were issued for infractions in the West Precinct, primarily in Victor Steinbrueck Park, Westlake Park, Occidental Park and downtown streets. The report referred to 82 tickets issued in the first half of the year, one fewer than the number cited by the Police Department when it disclosed the internal investigation.

Blacks were disproportionately cited, with 37 percent of the tickets, the report said. Blacks account for 8 percent of the Seattle population, according to 2010 census figures; 50 percent of the tickets went to whites, who represent 70 percent of city residents. O'Toole has said she has not seen any evidence Jokela's action were racially motivated. But the report didn't note Jokela's singular role in writing so many of the citations, a factor that skewed the findings.

O'Toole, who was sworn in as police chief June 23, has said she wasn't told that information when she was briefed on the report before the department delivered it to the council. She said she wasn't provided the information until July 29 – six days after the report's release. The next day, O'Toole publicly disclosed the internal investigation into Jokela's conduct. The OPA is continuing to look into the circumstances surrounding the release of the report.



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Source: Seattletimes.com
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