Seattle Hitting 'Reset Button' In Move To Dismiss Public Pot-Use Tickets

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As the city moves to dismiss 100 tickets tainted by one police officer's political agenda, Seattle police said Monday they plan new steps to better teach the department's officers and citizens about the ban on smoking marijuana in public. "It's not really about writing tickets. We're trying to educate people," Deputy Chief Carmen Best told the City Council during a briefing prompted by the disclosure that bicycle Officer Randy Jokelaissued the vast majority of public-use tickets the first half of the year for personal reasons.

As a result of Jokela's actions, City Attorney Pete Holmes informed the council he will seek dismissal of all 100 tickets written for public marijuana use during the first seven months of the year, including tickets written by other officers. In what he called a practical move, Holmes told the council the "cleanest and most efficient thing to do" is vacate every ticket and "hit the reset button," in part because Jokela's ticket writing compromised the council's directive to monitor the effect of the ban enacted last year.

Jokela issued about 80 percent of the $27 tickets for public pot use from Jan. 1 to June 30, referring to Holmes on many of them with the notation "*Attn: Petey Holmes*." Holmes actively supported Initiative 502, which legalized pot smoking in 2012 but barred public use. Jokela also wrote on one ticket that he had flipped a coin to decide which of two people to cite. Best told the council that maintaining the tickets Jokela wrote would be "irresponsible and unethical" because people were cited by an officer with "political motivation."

Holmes' plan includes 86 infractions identified as part of a department study of the first six months of the ban, of which at least 66 were written by Jokela. They stand to be dismissed if approved by a judge during a Seattle Municipal Court hearing that could be held as early as Tuesday. Holmes' request includes 14 tickets written in July, because Jokela also issued tickets that month. Jokela wrote the majority of those tickets, the council was told.

Those who were cited had the option of paying the fine, seeking to have it lowered or contesting the infraction. The cases of those who defaulted were sent to collections. City attorneys will file 100 individual motions Tuesday with Seattle Municipal Court to dismiss the tickets. Of 22 offenders who paid fines, the City Attorney's Office will ask the court to refund the money, said to Holmes' spokeswoman, Kimberly Mills.

The other 78 tickets are in default, and there will be no attempt to collect, Mills said. The Seattle police study found that 99 percent of all public-use tickets were issued for infractions in the West Precinct, where Jokela works, primarily in Victor Steinbrueck Park, Westlake Park, Occidental Park and downtown streets. More than 40 percent of people who received tickets lived in low-income housing, shelters, motels or vacant lots.

Holmes' plan goes beyond Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole's earlier request to dismiss tickets written only by Jokela, who's still subject to discipline. Best told the council the department has nearly finished its internal review of Jokela's actions and that the results would be publicly disclosed. Best declined to elaborate on Jokela's specific political motivation while the matter is still under review. But she said Jokela had made it clear he had a political motive in a discussion with O'Toole.

O'Toole has notified Jokela he faces a three-day suspension without pay, and she has informed Jokela's immediate supervisor, Sgt. Ryan Long, he faces a one-day suspension without pay, according to a police source familiar with the matter. O'Toole won't issue her final decision until after she meets with Jokela and Long to discuss the proposed discipline. Jokela's actions came to the attention of police staff reviewing data collected for its first semiannual report on enforcement of the public-use ban, which was delivered to the council in July.

The report was made public without disclosing Jokela's role in writing most of the tickets. But O'Toole quickly revealed the officer's conduct when she learned of it days after the release of the report. Holmes told the council the report's statistical sampling had been skewed by Jokela's actions. "I'd like to have a clean sampling," he said. Assistant Chief Nick Metz, acknowledging there has been confusion about enforcing the public-use ban, told the council the department was focused on educating the public about the law and teaching officers how to enforce it.

He said that when officers encounter someone smoking marijuana, they should, if possible, issue a verbal warning. Under a new directive to track that, officers will be expected to document warnings, Metz said. "This is all new. I think some officers may have been a bit apprehensive about exactly how to enforce this," Metz said, responding to a question about the clearing of tickets and why only eight warnings were written since Sept. 2. "So again, it's our job to make sure they clearly understand what is expected of them and what they are authorized to do."

Metz said he liked Councilmember Tom Rasmussen's suggestion that the department hand leaflets to offenders containing information on the rules about smoking pot. Officers will have the discretion to bypass warnings under certain circumstances, such as seeing someone smoking pot in public who previously has been warned, Metz said. Holmes said the city wants to allow people the full benefit of marijuana legalization, while educating them on what they can't do.

"We want to change behavior," he told the council. "This is not about promoting, you know, a smoke-in in downtown Seattle." After the briefing, Holmes told reporters he was sympathetic to concerns that public pot use was widespread. "It does bother me," Holmes said, adding that people have the right not to be subjected to secondhand smoke.



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Source: Seattletimes.com
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Website: Seattle Hitting 'Reset Button' In Move To Dismiss Public Pot-Use Tickets