Last week Ann Davison, the Republican running for Seattle City Attorney, distributed a bunch of mailers that include several false or misleading claims designed to scare voters into backing her campaign. While spreading this sort of bullshit poisons the discourse and makes for a dumb race, I must admit I'm encouraged to see Davison finally using some crime stats in an opportunistic way! The Stranger Election Control Board expressed no small amount of sadness when she just sort of sat in our endorsement meeting and made obvious statements about crime being a bad thing, so I'm pleased to see her finally embrace her KOMO edginess.
In any event, Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who worked as a prosecutor in the City Attorney's office and who flagged the mailer on Twitter, said the mail piece "betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the office."
"There's two ways to look at it," he said over the phone, "either she fundamentally doesn’t understand what the office does—which is a problem—or she knows what the office does and is cynically trying to exploit people's fears to get elected; either of those two things is disqualifying."
Most of the nonsense shows up on the reverse side of the mailer. Let's review the major claims:
Claim 1: "Since [Pete Holmes] took over as City Attorney, violent crimes including homicide, rape, assault, and burglary have skyrocketed."
Davison argues that "violent crimes" have "skyrocketed" since 2010, when Holmes took office, but the crime dashboard from the Seattle Police Department shows that the reported violent crime rate only increased by 8.5% between 2010 and 2020. That's not nothing, but I wouldn't exactly call an increase of 8.5% "skyrocketing." So what's the deal?
The deal is Davison swapped "burglary" for "robbery" in her mailer to make her claim seem scarier, and to make other materials on her website align with her narrative. SPD's crime dashboard presumably lists "burglary" under property crime because it involves someone breaking into a building, and it lists "robbery" under violent crime because it involves stealing something from a person, often by force or threat of force. According to the dashboard, the robbery rate dropped by 16% between 2010 and 2020, which doesn't help Davison's case, so she just redefined burglary as a violent crime to fit her narrative.
That said, when I use SPD's dashboard to compare the 2010 and 2020 rates for the reported crimes she lists—rape, assault, burglary, homicide—I see increases of 100%, 20%, 29%, and 119%, respectively. Some of those increases, which the entire country is seeing right now—even in cities/states run by Republicans—do raise questions about whether throwing people in jail for these felonies actually reduces their prevalence, but people should ask those questions of the King County Prosecutor's Office, which handles the vast majority of the crimes Davison lists here. Since the Seattle City Attorney's Office only handles misdemeanors, pinning these felonies on Pete Holmes makes no sense.
In an email, Davison justified pinning these felonies on Holmes using the ol' "broken windows" fallacy: "The current approach has established Seattle’s reputation of looking away from misdemeanor crime and that has welcomed in more crime, increasing in severity and frequency," she wrote. To support her point, she sent me a line graph from her website that draws a connection between the number of cases the city attorney's office prosecutes and her cherry-picked "violent crime" numbers.
Rather than spread that misleading information, I'll just point to a recent massive study out of Boston showing that dismissing nonviolent misdemeanors leads to "large reductions in the likelihood of a new criminal complaint over the next two years," another one out of UCLA that came to a similar conclusion, and also to Baltimore, which saw a "20 percent reduction in violent crime, excluding nonfatal shootings and homicides," after State Attorney Marilyn Mosby stopped prosecuting some low-level crimes.
I'll also point to the widely recognized success of Seattle's own Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which reduces the odds of participants catching felony cases by 39%. If that's what "looking away from misdemeanor crime" looks like, then we should keep looking that way.
Claim 2 Holmes "failed to jail a serial gun offender" who killed someone "after he was let off."
This claim involves Sabbona Adam Waqo, who prosecutors charged with second-degree murder after he shot into a crowd on New Year's Eve in 2020. Waqo claimed he was drunk and didn't remember much, the Seattle Times reports.
Davison's claim sort of checks out here, but not totally. According to court records, cops had picked up 20-year-old Waqo in 2019 on an "unlawful carrying of a pistol" charge when they ran his brother's plates outside a gas station. The cop who wrote the report said a background check revealed Waqo had been charged for "firearm related offenses" as a juvenile in King County and also more recently in an "as-yet unresolved felony case for possessing a stolen firearm in Snohomish County," plus he had a warrant for unlawful carrying of a pistol in Snohomish County. So it's true he was a "serial gun offender" at the time, at least allegedly.
The city agreed to a dispositional continuance in the unlawful carrying case, which is a sort of jail diversion agreement made after the prosecutor files charges, but Waqo did serve four days in jail for this. Those four days in jail didn't appear to do much for Waqo, though, and, at least in this case, neither did the diversion strategy, which typically reduces the chances of reoffending.
Claim 3: "Holmes requested a light sentence for a 14-time assault convict, who then committed another assault when he threw hot coffee on a toddler after being released."
A couple things here. First of all, Davison claims the coffee was "hot," but, according to the Seattle Times, “nobody was sure how hot the liquid was,” and the kid "did not appear to be injured or burned." Davison offered no justification for this false claim.
Furthermore, Judge Ed McKenna gave the perpetrator, Francisco Calderon, the maximum sentence possible (364 days) for the assault he’d committed before the coffee incident. According to this other piece in the Seattle Times, the “light” sentence city prosecutors wanted to give him was "a mental-health evaluation, substance-abuse treatment and two years of probation with credit for 50 days in jail." McKenna chose the maximum jail sentence instead, citing the fact that Calderon had missed previous court-ordered treatment appointments, and then a few days after Calderon got out he threw non-hot coffee on a toddler.
The claim in Davison's mailer assumes a longer, harsher sentence would have prevented that crime, but if we're playing the proximate cause game, then the harsher sentence seems to have led to the crime. Calderon himself told mental health evaluators that a lack of housing made it harder for him to stay off drugs, which contributed to the assault.
In an email, Davison claimed the case was "an example of why Seattle needs an in custody inpatient treatment facility so that we can help stabilize someone before their release," which, again, doesn't make sense given that Calderon was in custody for 364 days before the incident.
Claim 4: Holmes asked for "just a one-day jail sentence for a seven-time DUI convict, who committed a Hit and Run shortly after being released."
I cannot see a copy of the guilty plea in this case because the City handled it before the Seattle Municipal Court fully stood up its electronic filing system, so I cannot see what the office recommended at sentencing, but looking at the docket I find it difficult to believe that a prosecutor only asked for one day in this case back in 2014/15.
The bail request of $25,000 suggests the office considered this case serious, and the defendant, Gerald Cowles, ended up serving a whole year in jail. He was given a six month sentence on the day he was sentenced and was authorized for work release, which may have allowed him to work during the day and be in jail at night. Again, this guy did do jail time, and it seemed like that didn't do much to get him on the right track.
In general, with the exception of maybe one of these claims, Davison has no answer for how jail would have stopped these crimes or prevented future crimes, and her obsession with violent crimes that the city attorney's office doesn't even handle suggests that she's in the wrong race. Wait until Dan Satterberg is up for reelection next year, Davison!