It was a hot June day when Edith Pardew woke up in her tent near the Columbia City light rail station. It was too hot to smoke a joint in her tent, so she got up and started walking down the sidewalk.
“I was trying to get this joint lit, it was too tight cuz I rolled it too tight, and then I see a cop come up and I say 'oh great here we go' and I put it my pocket," Pardew told me.
According to Pardew, the cop was driving in the opposite direction and proceeded to swing his patrol car around and demand the joint. She said the cop took her joint, issued her a ticket for smoking pot in public and then handed her back the joint.
“It made me pissed off and feel harassed that he stopped me. I ain't committing any dang crime but smoking a joint. I was really mad,” Pardew said.
While it is illegal to smoke pot in public in Seattle, city law makes smoking in public the lowest priority for enforcement. The penalty is a $27 civil fine, not a criminal charge, and officers are told to give a warning "whenever practical."
The Seattle Police Department (SPD) hasn't returned my calls asking why the cop wasn't able to give Pardew a warning instead of a ticket. SPD has a history of disproportionately giving out pot tickets to people of color and homeless people. A city report of pot citations issued in the second half of 2014 showed that 27 percent of tickets were given to African Americans, despite African Americans making up less than 8 percent of Seattle's population.
Even more concerning, 66 of the 83 tickets for smoking pot in public during the first half of 2014 were issued by Randy Jokela, a bike patrol cop in the West Precinct. Jokela was reassigned to desk duty after news broke about his penchant for pot tickets.
Douglas Hiatt, a local attorney that is representing Pardew for free, said SPD's ticket of Pardew was a waste of city resources.
"Why are you targeting a person that appears to be homeless or just appears to be walking down the street, what’s the big deal?" Hiatt said. "Are we talking efficient allocation of resources here? That’s a big no."
Hiatt said the officer's demand to confiscate the joint without any clear evidence that there was weed inside, instead of a hand rolled cigarette, was possibly unconstitutional. He said the case also has some relation to a recent federal court case that ruled that cities can't criminalize homelessness when people have no other options.
"I know it’s a narrow ruling in some respects, but I think it also stands for the basic idea that you can’t be penalized for being homeless and you can’t lose rights over being homeless. Here you don’t necessarily have a right to smoke pot, but what you have a is a problem of unequal treatment," Hiatt said.
SPD's pot tickets have clearly had a big impact on homeless people in the past. A 2014 study looking at tickets issued in the first 6 months of 2014 showed that over 46 percent of tickets were issued to people that listed either homeless, transitional housing, low income housing, or post offices as their address.
I'll update this post if I hear back from the department, but it looks like SPD might be back on its pot ticket bullshit.