County prosecutor Dan Satterberg speaks about not charging Ian Birk, budget concerns
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg told a community group Saturday that Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk, who shot and killed Didihat woodcarver John T. Williams in August 2010, was out of his depth on the force.
“It’s obvious Officer Birk shouldn’t have been a cop in the first place,” Satterberg said of the 27 year-old’s deadly force decision to fire five shots from his service weapon at Williams.
“A seasoned cop would have made a space at least 25 feet away from the suspect to defuse and assess the situation,” Satterberg said.
Birk was cleared by SPD and Satterberg declined to file criminal charges against him, largely, Satterberg said, because they would crumble against state laws protecting cops.
Satterberg spoke to about 20 people gathered Oct. 9 at the Salmon Bay Cafe in Ballard for a Seattle Neighborhood Coalition discussion called “Justice on a budget.”
The King County prosecutor’s staff took a 14 percent cut in 2010. Satterberg touted several programs for their cost-effectiveness, including the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program in Belltown, when cops can decide to take an IV drug user injecting in an alley to a Crisis Solution Center.
Charging attempted possession pleas as misdemeanors saved his department $2 million last year, Satterberg said. Felony possession charges don’t decrease drug abuse, he added, but prevent people from getting public housing and getting student loans.
Satterberg also lauded the 180 Degree Program, which helps to mentor troubled kids in the community.
“If you are in trouble as a youth, the judge wags a finger at you,” he said. “What if there was someone from their community there to show them how screwing up can be bad?”
Having a juvenile wait a year to get to trial, often times being forced to return five or six times through the trial setting and hearing processes, usually results in a missed court date, which precipitates a warrant for arrest.
The 180 Degree Program works better, Satterberg said, by taking 350 kids out of the criminal justice system, which can save the county $300,000 in a year.
Satterberg said his office will continue looking for foundation money, like the $1.1 million grant from the Ford Foundation that funded the Crisis Solutions Center, a 16-bed facility for people who are mentally unstable.
“We have the resources to help with stable housing and a place for stable medication,” he said, “to help the individual by by-passing jail and the courthouse.”
I also talked with Dan about Occupy Seattle, and while some in the meeting I covered “don’t get it,” when considering what’s happening at West Lake and elsewhere, I am somewhat assured that the King County Prosecutor will have to be very fluid and use ethical guidance to deal with any Draconian measures the City of Seattle and other entities in King County might use to take away free speech and free association in public space that will surely arise from the Occupy Towns and Occupy Colleges movement gaining speed as state legislatures go hog wild with their axes, which really are Our Axes to use.
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