A Seattle police officer who was reassigned after writing almost 80 percent of tickets for public pot use has resumed patrol duties.
Seattle Police Department (SPD) Chief Kathleen O’Toole announced in late July that an officer who wrote 66 of 83 citations for smoking marijuana in public had been reassigned and that the officer was being investigated by the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA).
Weeks after the announcement, SPD officials confirmed that while the investigation is still ongoing, the officer has returned to bike patrol.
“He was put back on his assignment,” said Det. Drew Fowler, SPD spokesperson.
Fowler said that Pierce Murphy, civilian director of the OPA, and O’Toole concluded the investigation hasn’t revealed any information that precludes the officer from resuming his duties.
In July, KIRO and the Seattle Times identified the officer who was reassigned as Officer Randy Jokela.
On Aug. 18, KIRO reported that Jokela was back on bike patrol. The news agency posted a photo on Twitter of Jokela standing next to a police bike in Occidental Park.
Fowler said that he could neither confirm nor deny Jokela is the officer in question.
SPD officials discovered that one officer had written the majority of citations following a department analysis of pot tickets issued during the first six months of this year. The analysis also revealed that nearly half of the tickets written for the civil infraction were given to homeless people and more than a third to black people. (“Toking while poor,” RC, Aug. 6).
Some of those citations contained handwritten notes addressed to “Petey Holmes,” a reference to City Attorney Pete Holmes. The city attorney supports legalized marijuana.
In 2012, state voters passed Initiative 502, which made it legal for people 21 or older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Personal consumption also became legal.
The passage of I-502 created a civil fine for public use, however, which is illegal.
When the Seattle City Council wrote the fine into city law, councilmembers mandated SPD track the age, race, gender and address of each person who received a ticket. The department is required to issue a written analysis of marijuana citations every six months in 2014 and 2015.
In response to the first analysis, Holmes and City Councilmember Nick Licata released a joint statement that said, in part, it appeared a disproportionate number of tickets were written to people who did not live in a private residence.
Fowler said that an OPA investigation routinely takes several months. Given that the department still needs a presence on the street, some officers under investigation can return to duties before the investigation is complete.
“He was an officer that was needed on patrol,” Folwer said.