I'm of the opinion that there is a statute of limitations on youthful indiscretion. I'm just not sure whether it has yet expired for 32-year-old Sylvester Cann.
It turns out that Cann, who is challenging Democratic State Representative Gerry Pollet in the 46th Legislative District, has had a couple of run-ins with the law, that, while relatively minor, don't particularly show sound judgment.
In 2001, at the age of 21, Cann was cited for street racing by the Renton Police, an incident that set him off on a two-year odyssey with the Renton Municipal Court that included multiple bench warrants for failure to appear, failure to comply, and failure to pay fines.
Cann fully admits to the incident, and says that he doesn't feel that he was singled out by the police or the courts. (Cann is black, but he doesn't think this was a case of racial profiling.) He claims that he initially had no idea he had to appear in court—he was never arrested, and thought he'd just received a ticket. The court summons, he says, was mailed to his parent's home in Kent, while he was living on campus at the University of Washington. But the court docket (PDF) just goes on and on with missed fine payments and failures to comply... it's a pretty impressive series of fuck-ups.
But for me the more serious incident occurred in January of 2004, when Cann was caught shoplifting at the University of Washington bookstore. Cann says that he was two weeks into his final semester, short two textbooks, and with no money to pay for them. He tried to exchange a couple used textbooks back to the store for credit, but they were rejected, so he attempted to surreptitiously swap the books he had for the books he needed. He was caught.
"I am not a habitual lawbreaker," Cann insisted, "but in this situation, it was just really bad judgment."
And to compound it, Cann failed to appear again—this time before the Municipal Court of Seattle (PDF)—and again a bench warrant was issued. For this incident Cann seemed truly surprised that there even was a court record. He says store security never brought in either the University or Seattle Police, and that he thought he had settled the whole thing out of court by paying for the books and a $200 fine. Yet court records show Cann was "present" on April 6, 2004.
Perhaps the court records are wrong. Perhaps Cann just forgot. Either way, this incident showed incredibly poor judgment, especially since it violated the terms of his disposition with the Renton Municipal Court that required "no criminal violations" for two years.
Whatever. It was eight years ago, and Cann was only 24 at the time. Most of us do stupid things when we're young. Most of us just don't get caught. Twice.
"I don’t think the threshold to be in the legislature in Washington is to have a perfectly clean record," pleads Cann. "There are lapses in judgment, but I am still willing to go out there and fight for the state."
To be clear, while the SECB enthusiastically endorsed Pollet, I'm not thrilled to be writing this post. In fact, I probably put it off way too long. Other media outlets refused to publish these documents*, but we figured we had no choice because voters have a right to know about a candidate's criminal record and judge it for themselves.
* UPDATE: I've been informed that PubliCola did mention Cann's legal problems in a post. I stand corrected.