On Wednesday, we interviewed City Attorney Tom Carr and challenger Pete Holmes. In our first installment of the transcripts, we try to suss out the details of controversial stolen can of tuna that Carr claimed, until this week, was an “urban myth.”
Let’s talk about the $1.50 can of tuna.
Carr: $1.72, Eli.
CARR: I’ve been chasing, as I said the other day, that particular story for years, and I was so happy to get it. People would raise it with me, and I’d say, you know, give me a case number. And no one ever did until someone apparently gave Pete one and, uh, Nina Shapiro gave it to me.
The Can of Tuna has become a symbol of your overzealousness, that people feel that you, you know, want to send a guy to jail for nine months and then the death penalty for shoplifting a can of tuna. And you claimed like two weeks ago, or a week ago I think in one of these forums that it never happened.
CARR: Well, I had never gotten—I had asked for it and I had never gotten it, I had come to conclude that it was an urban myth. And what I also said, if you listen, was, if he got that recommendation, he had a serious history.
So, you said it didn’t happen, but now you know the price of the can of tuna, and you wrote a thousand-word blog post this morning about the history of the case, so you have a pretty clear…
CARR: Not this morning. The morning after I heard about it.
So, the morning after you heard about it, so it didn’t take a whole lot of research to figure it out. I’m just wondering why you claimed that this thing didn’t happen, and then by the next morning you were able to give the details of the case.
CARR: What I said was, I had asked for it many times. So, we do 15,000 cases a year. So, do the math. I’ve been in office for eight years, that’s a lot of cases. Someone…said, there’s a case of tuna, so I asked around, I’d asked people who’d raised it with me before, and no one could ever give me a docket number. But apparently someone had one because they gave it to Pete. And I asked Pete for it, and he didn’t give it to me, Nina Shapiro gave it to me. So I looked at the case. And I looked at the guy’s criminal history, and it turned out that I had actually prosecuted this guy in May, so I know him. And I remember him, because in May he was charged with stealing a textbook. And it was remarkable. So here’s what really happened. So, before that charge, that was his 50th Seattle misdemeanor conviction. Five-zero. So he’d run through the system a few times. So the charge that we were going off the deep end—and it wasn’t just five misdemeanor convictions, he had six felony convictions, 14 misdemeanors outside of Seattle, and 40 other arrests around, around the jurisdiction—arrests that didn’t result in convictions.
So this guy cost us, probably conservatively, probably a million dollars in various things. So, the recommendation that one of my lawyers made—and I’ve never seen the recommendation, because it doesn’t exist anymore—so all we know is that he spent about 30 days in jail for this. So there’s still the question of whether or not someone recommended the nine months in jail. But I gotta tell you, with that kind of history, I’m not against that kind of recommendation. I mean, if that would get him to change his behavior.... What I think changed his behavior is that that recommendation was in mental health court. He got the treatment he needed. And at the same time he was in drug court. And so—he had this—before—he had this incredible history. And so, from 2004 to 2008, he doesn’t reoffend again. He goes four years without being arrested. As a result of that intervention, I think. The drug court and the mental health court.
And this all came back to you between midnight and four in the morning…
CARR: No, I looked it up. We had the file on the community court case that was in May.
Pete, let’s flip it over to you though, because you’ve made a lot of hay about the tuna case and you’re using it as a symbol. So let’s talk about what it symbolizes and why you think it’s such a big deal.
HOLMES: You bet. One of the problems is that this is an election year, and I find that it’s—that Tom wants to articulate that he’s opposed to the jail, notwithstanding the fact that he said, on the record, “I’ve given up on it, it’s gonna be necessary.” And to say that you’re looking for alternatives to incarceration when you’ve got an example like that, that’s just one example.
That seems like a fair one though, right? Like, if this guy’s committed this many crimes, right, what are you gonna do? At what point do you pull the trigger and have it say, ok, this person, we need to do something about…
HOLMES: Yeah, well we’re not talking about a three strikes law, because we know what that certainly does to the prison population…
Really, he has a point though. At that point there wasn’t a community court, right?
HOLMES: There was not.
And what do you do with somebody who’s stealing?
HOLMES: Well you know the definition of insanity, as you’ve heard, is you keep doing the same thing over and thinking you’re going to get a different result each time. Well that was a perfect example, I think. The guy had been incarcerated, had been through the criminal justice system, repeatedly, and you were still getting the same results. And simply lengthening—well, community court wasn’t in existence then, and a quick footnote there is I would like to see that you give credit to all the people that were involved in creating community court as an alternative to traditional criminal court. And it wasn’t in existence then, and he’s right that we now have some more tools. But to me it shows that instead of asking for different tools, he was asking for a bigger hammer. That plainly wasn’t working—rather than someone stepping back dispassionately, which is what you need in this office, and say, “Look, I’ve got to detach myself from the irritation or the personal feelings I might have about this person and how they’ve chosen to lead their life. I’ve gotta head up a law department, and I’ve gotta manage scarce resources that includes includes law-enforcement resources, jail resources, and my prosecutors’ resources. And if that’s not working, I’m not gonna keep doing the same thing that’s not working.’ And to say, here in this election year, that you’re in favor of all these alternatives, when in fact that is but one example of where extreme sentences were being sought. And then the problem was, you know we don’t have to go back and call this an urban legend, that’s what you called it on Thursday. There was a memo that you wrote that described the case. And the $1.50 came from your memo to Nick Licata. So these numbers are all in your words.
So I’m sorry, I might have missed it, but what would you have done in that situation? With the same dude with the can of tuna.
HOLMES: Well, he clearly needs treatment, he needs help. And I don’t know the full line of resources that were available then. And in fairness, Tom is right, we do have to look at—community court wasn’t available then, and so what was available, and I don’t know, historically what the options were. But clearly, my point is that adding more and more jail time was not working. The very fact that he had that lengthy criminal history was showing us that it was not working. And it was costing us a lot of money. We’re spending—your own numbers in that memo, Tom, said something like $16,000 we’d spent. And a $1.72 or $1.50 can of tuna. That’s clearly not wise resource management.
In tomorrow's installment, the SECB asks Carr about another past statement that turned out to be untrue.