- Pete Holmes: "These are tickets that appear to have been issued for an improper purpose and should not be enforced."
What should you do if you were ticketed for smoking marijuana in public by Officer Randy Jokela, the cop who, it recently was revealed, wrote 80 percent of all the city's pot tickets? Seattle city attorney Pete Holmes, the city's chief prosecutor, says, "My hope is that the people who received the tickets do not pay them."
Only 6 percent of the tickets, which are punishable by a $27 fine plus additional fees, have been paid thus far, according to police.
Holmes's office has sole authority to summon suspects to court if they don't pay the fines or get involved if the tickets are contested, but Holmes says he doesn't plan to issue warrants or crack down to collect money. "These are tickets that appear to have been issued for an improper purpose and should not be enforced," Holmes says.
Still, some police officers object.
"I think that is a very irresponsible comment from him," says Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, the conservative police union that has long criticized Holmes. "It sends a bad message that an elected prosecutor says, 'Don't pay your tickets.'"
But Holmes points out that the citations were tainted with political messages about the "silly" 2012 marijuana-legalization law (which legalized pot possession but makes it an infraction to use pot in public). Citations written by Jokela also include numerous messages aimed at Holmes, who backed the "silly" legalization law, writing on the back, "Attn Petey Holmes." Holmes says, "I feel pretty bad that people were harassed in an apparent attempt to get at me."
The tickets, particularly those written by Jokela, were handed out disproportionately to racial minorities and the homeless. In one case, Officer Jokela used a coin flip to decide which of two suspects would get a ticket.
Smith acknowledges that Jokela's "tickets that have the comments on them are tainted, but I think the original reason for issuing them is valid... This is the most benevolent officer I have seen in my entire life. His career is skewed over comments he wishes he didn’t make."
Smith also told KIRO Radio recently that putting Jokela on administrative duties was a "gross overreaction."
SPD chief Kathleen O'Toole said in a recent interview with The Stranger that she reassigned Jokela to desk duty because she was "curious about the political nature of the notes on the citations" and found the coin toss and comments "totally inappropriate." As we reported in this week's paper, the SPD is also investigating why Jokela's role in issuing most of the citations was omitted from a city report last month.
Jokela is currently under investigation by the SPD's Office of Professional Accountability (OPA). When that wraps up, Holmes, says, "I am open to nullifying the tickets or taking whatever is the correct procedure. It could be as simple as the recipients ignore them and no further action is taken. I want to see the outcome of the OPA investigation." Holmes adds the investigation needs to check out the officer's "level of hubris and lack of discipline."
In handling pot citations, Holmes says he's applying the same protocol as other quality-of-life infractions, such as urinating or drinking in public, or citations given to people who are mentally ill. If the public believes reflexively issuing a warrant or arresting those people will solve the problem, he says, "we are deluding ourselves."
Holmes's office typically intervenes in these sorts of cases when a person has three or more tickets, if the city has tried to get the suspect into social services before, or if legal intervention can help leverage someone into services they have resisted in the past.
For the homeless, "they don't have a home in which to have a glass of wine or smoke a joint, and it shouldn't be a shock that they do these activities in public," says Holmes. "It is not helpful to cite them to deter conduct they have no way of really avoiding."