Less than three weeks after the city offered 18 drug dealers clemency the chance to get out of the drug trade, six of those dealers have been picked up by police and now face multiple charges in King County Superior Court.
Earlier this month, the Seattle Police Department and King County prosecutor's office unveiled the Drug Market Initiative (DMI), designed to clean up drug-related crime along the 23rd Avenue Corridor in the Central District. SPD spent months covertly videotaping drug deals in the Central District, building extensive cases against 18 dealers. The dealers were then invited to a community meeting on August 6th and told that they could either give up drug dealing or go to jail.
Two weeks ago, prosecutors filed charges against three of the 18 dealers, after two failed to show up for the August 6th intervention, and another man who was caught with a crack pipe the day after the meeting. Today, prosecutors filed three additional cases against DMI participants, who were busted with drugs within the last week.
Prosecutors say Demetrius James WIlliams, Jason Lamont Curry, and Jeffrey Charles Berry have violated the terms of the DMI and each man has been charged for drug offenses.
According to court records, police found cocaine on Williams when he busted for trespassing on August 18th. Williams is also being charged for selling drugs to a police informant in June. Curry was arrested for "drug traffic loitering" and carrying suspected crack cocaine on August 19, and will also be charged for previously selling cocaine along 23rd Avenue. Records say Berry was also arrested on August 19th for "drug traffic loitering" and possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia.
Although one-third of the initial DMI participants are now facing significant jail time less than a month after the program was rolled out—between 12 and 20 months or 20 and 60 months, depending on their criminal histories—the city still believes the DMI still has a shot to work.
One of the biggest problems the city faces with the DMI program is that low-level dealers are typically drug addicts themselves. Under the initiative, the city is essentially expecting dealers to immediately give up their lifestyle or face harsh consequences.
While the city has offered to provide treatment programs to DMI participants, Kay Godefroy, Executive Director of the Seattle Neighborhood Group and one of the architects of Seattle's DMI program, says the city is still having trouble getting dealers to sign up for services. "These folks are not clamoring to get into [treatment] programs right off the bat," Godefroy says. "We’re certain some of them need drug treatment. These are people who are not new to the game, so it’s hard for them to change their ways."
Whether the majority of DMI participants end up in treatment or in jail remains to be seen, but Godefroy says she's not concerned about the drop-out rate in the program thus far. "The pass fail is whether the drug dealing stops or not. The ultimate goal is to shut down the market." According to Godefroy, 23rd Avenue has been pretty quiet since the DMI program was rolled out. "I’ve never been able to say that before," she says.
According to King County Prosecutor's office spokesman Ian Goodhew, prosecutors and police understand that the dramatic lifestyle change will be hard for dealers. When asked whether it was reasonable to expect dealers and addicts to immediately go cold turkey or face incarceration, Goodhew was blunt: "It’s not reasonable to expect them to just go cold turkey," he says. "It’s reasonable to expect them to engage in the services they were offered."
Goodhew says the city will ultimately look at whether crime actually decreases in the Central District to determine if the DMI program is working. And so far, despite the fact that DMI participants keep getting arrested, the program may be having its intended effect. Since the August 6th meeting Goodhew says there have been a lower level of 911 calls and arrests in the neighborhoods surrounding 23rd Avenue.
"We have to give this time to see whether it works," Goodhew says.