Abel Pacheco pulled out his phone. "You want to see the video?"
In the video, there's a yellow cab parked in front of the Wallingford 7/11. It's night time. Pacheco comes on screen, opens the cab door and puts money in the backseat. He backs away, hands up from the cab driver approaching him. Then, the driver spits. Pacheco ducks. The cab driver swings, his fist connecting with Pacheco's face. The two tussle around the cab, shoving each other. After that, Pacheco calls the police. Except when the officer shows up, he arrests Pacheco instead of the driver.
Pacheco is running for city council in District 4. You may recognize him, he ran for the position in 2015. That's also the year he was wrongfully arrested. He juggled running for council with jumping through the hoops of the criminal justice system to fight the arrest. Just a couple of weeks ago, more than three years since the arrest happened, he received the paperwork expunging it from his record. And, after everything, the city refused to reimburse him, according to Pacheco. Unsurprisingly, his platform centers around reforming the criminal justice system.
In 2015, back when Pacheco was working for the University of Washington Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity (OMA&D) he went out to celebrate a promotion. His cab ride home to Wallingford turned violent because the driver thought Pacheco hadn't paid for the ride. According to Pacheco, he had paid through a now-defunct app called Flywheel. It was the taxi response to Uber. The driver didn't buy it, locked the doors to the car until Pacheco agreed to pay. The cab pulled over at 7/11 where Pacheco got out some cash and paid the driver. But, the driver assaulted him. When Pacheco called the police for help, the responding officer made the mistake of arresting him, Pacheco told me. The driver had also called the police, asserting that Pacheco had refused to pay.
"It’s sad but I have to carry a video wherever I go," Pacheco said, referring to the surveillance video from the Wallingford 7/11. "People will ask you and when you tell someone you’ve been arrested for theft and assault it'll start them thinking."
His arrest record has allegedly come up in the race already, Pacheco told me. He fears it's being used against him.
"I was told by two separate individuals that there’s an email thread going around that says 'Abel is a criminal,'" Pacheco said. That email thread was reportedly sent by the Alex Pedersen campaign, another candidate in the District 4 race.
Pedersen denied sending this email when I asked him about it.
"Abel is the one that's been saying that," Pedersen told me.
The night after that conversation he called Pacheco.
"Yeah so, he called me that night and he acknowledged there’s an email thread," Pacheco said, "And he said it was a debrief on the state of the race and he’s like, 'there’s a misunderstanding.' Alex called me to try to clear it up but I’m still telling Alex to show me that email. If it’s a debrief of the week, how did you label me? It shouldn’t have been relevant in the first place."
Hearing those rumors spreading reminded Pacheco of the last time he ran in 2017 when Tim Burgess assumed ex-Mayor Ed Murray's position and left behind an empty council seat.
"I remember when I ran two years ago I'd hear the"—he imitated the sound of a lock clicking—"sound on the doors, which it’s like… I’ve worked too hard and given a tremendous amount of sacrifice clearing my name."
Pacheco acknowledged that it's weird to get arrested and immediately run for office; that's the thing that usually ends a political career. But, he still believes in an individual's capacity to effect change. If his arrest taught him anything, it's that there's a lot that needs changing.
"When I got out of King County Jail I felt like it was a revolving door," Pacheco said. "I can begin to see how people get led down pathways that eventually lead to homelessness."
Pacheco was fortunate to have the job he had at the time; the OMA&D believed his side of the story and he was able to retain his job.
"I remember when I finished grad school thinking, ‘Wow, there aren’t many men of color here,’" Pacheco said. "And I remember thinking to myself, 'Where is everybody?' And a lot of guys, disproportionately men of color, when we get caught in the system it becomes a cyclical thing."
He told me about one guy who had done his time but hadn't appeared in court. That tacked on more jail time to his sentence. By the time Abel met him, the man hadn't seen his son in three months. The people he met in jail the night of his arrest reminded him of the people he grew up around.
Abel was raised by Mexican immigrant parents in Los Angeles. "All of us," he said, referring to his peers growing up, "struggled to find a loving parental figure in a dad who wasn’t there." He reflected back on the man he had met in jail, "I remember thinking the cycle is setting the same thing up for his son."
There's a lot Pacheco would change. There's the fact that police officers get little training and professional development, like racial bias training or emotional behavioral training. Or providing individuals in jail with resources to get back on their feet, ways that aren't setting them up to fail. He wants to create more pathways to recovery and success.
"The prosecutor's office treated me like a number," Pacheco said. "They’re so overwhelmed they just treat you like a number. It’s a very inhumane system and then we wonder how people end up down on their luck and on the street. Well? It’s because we treated them like a number."