Top SPD Officials Asked King County Jail Officials to Override COVID Restrictions and Book Nonviolent Protestors. They Complied.

by Carolyn Bick


Since March 2020, the King County Jail in downtown Seattle has instituted certain COVID-19 protocols in order to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. One of these protocols stipulates that the jail will not book people arrested on nonviolent misdemeanor charges.

Except it has. 

The King County Jail has been accepting bookings of protestors on nonviolent misdemeanor charges that would appear not to rise to the level of serious public threat. These charges include the broad charge of “property destruction” — which appears to include writing on walls with charcoal and chalk — and “trespassing” and “obstruction” in a temporarily closed public park. Top Seattle Police Department (SPD) officials have asked that jail officials book nonviolent protestors into the King County Jail on more than one occasion, which top officials at the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) have confirmed in at least one call with a lawyer representing some of these detained protestors and that the DAJD has directly confirmed with the Emerald.

Moreover, protestors who were arrested in two separate instances — December 2020 and January 2021 — said that they were held in the jail for hours after they had gotten their personal recognizance papers — basically, discharge papers — putting them at greater risk of becoming infected with the novel coronavirus and developing COVID-19. They told the Emerald that jail conditions are filthy, at best, and that the jail staff are barely cleaning the cells. 

On March 24, 2020, the DAJD issued a press release that included updated jail booking directives. That press release contained a series of measures meant to lessen the spread of the novel coronavirus by decreasing the number of people in the jail, thereby providing each person booked with their own bunk.

The press release says that the County’s corrections facilities will include among these measures a restriction on the kinds of bookings they will accept and goes on to list the kinds of bookings the facilities will be restricting:

“Jails will not accept people brought in for misdemeanor charges, except for misdemeanor assaults, violations of no contact or protection orders, DUIs, sex crimes or other charges which present a serious public safety concern,” the first bullet point reads, before continuing. “Jails will continue to accept people booked for felony investigations for now. In the meantime, jail administrators have asked all law enforcement to prioritize bookings for those who pose an imminent risk to public safety.”

However, several protestors who spoke with the Emerald have been booked into the jail on nonviolent misdemeanor charges that do not appear to show that they were “an imminent risk to public safety.” The Emerald spoke with protestors detained on Dec. 18 and Jan. 1.

D.T., who spoke with the Emerald on Jan. 25, said that he has been booked into the King County Jail five times, all on protest-related charges since October 2020. All but one booking were for nonviolent misdemeanor charges. On Jan. 1, D.T., along with Robin and Monsieree — another two protestors who spoke with the Emerald — and one more protestor, were arrested and booked into the King County Jail for writing on the walls of the East Precinct with charcoal and sidewalk chalk. D.T. sent the Emerald a video of the arrests that a fellow protestor had posted to Instagram.

D.T. said that he was almost finished writing the words “peaceful protest” on the wall of the precinct when officers arrested him. He was the first person in that group to be arrested but said that officers never told him why, even though he felt he asked “100 times” why the police were detaining him.

“And, finally, they were like, ‘Oh, property destruction.’ And I laughed. I was like, ‘Property destruction? If you want, you can give me a bottle of water, and I will go wipe it off the wall with my sleeve,’” D.T. told the Emerald.

SPD Communications Officer Randall Huserik said in a Feb. 1 email to the Emerald that all protestors arrested that night were arrested on charges of malicious mischief in the third degree. Malicious mischief in the third degree is considered a gross misdemeanor, which does not rise to the level of a violent misdemeanor and does not in this instance appear to have constituted an imminent threat to public safety. Therefore, it would not appear to warrant a booking into the King County Jail under current COVID regulations.

D.T. also said that it felt like a “very, very targeted” arrest: “When I was in the holding cell, it was almost like [the officers] were joking around, or making bets — like, ‘Oh, I knew that was [D.T.], I told you that was him!’ And they were like, ‘Hey, [D.T.], what’s going on?’ … They were laughing and joking around about it.”

Robin corroborated this in a Jan. 25 interview with the Emerald and said that SPD officers “pushed me out of the way just to arrest [D.T.]” when they first came outside, in response to the group writing on the wall. This can be seen at around the nine-second mark in the video linked above.

Robin said she wasn’t arrested immediately, even though she also had been writing on the wall. She decided to finish the words “peaceful protest” that D.T. had been writing, but it wasn’t until she had written “FTP,” an anti-police acronym, on the wall — all still in charcoal — that she was finally arrested. 

Once she got inside the precinct, she said she heard officers talking about D.T.

“We were listening to the police outside the cells. They said they recognized [D.T.] on the camera — ‘See, I told you it was him.’ They started laughing,” Robin recalled. “In the East Precinct, you can hear everything from cell to cell.”

Robin said that she was also arrested for property destruction, as were the group of others who had been writing on the wall with charcoal and, eventually, sidewalk chalk — the kind found in grocery and drugstores that can be washed off with water.

SPD officers took D.T., Robin, Monsieree, and the fourth protestor to the King County Jail, where they were booked and held for property destruction. Monsieree said that she had a short conversation with the officer as he was taking her and Robin to the jail. She said she told him that it was “ridiculous” that SPD would be sending them to jail for using washable sidewalk chalk and charcoal to draw on the East Precinct’s walls.

“Robin and I were sitting in the back seat, and we were like, ‘Yo, it’s COVID, why are you sending us to the jail for chalk? We are pretty sure you are not allowed to book us right now,’” Monsieree said. “And they said, ‘Yes we are.’ And I kept saying, ‘Bro, it’s COVID.’ And they kept saying, ‘So? What about COVID?’” 

D.T. said that the King County Jail booking procedures were not straightforward or equal by any stretch of the imagination. He said he waited for almost an hour for a COVID-19 test but that some of his friends who had also been arrested and taken to the jail had already gotten their personal recognizance papers by the time staff came around to give him a test.

Still, only Monsieree got out of jail quickly. She told the Emerald that she was released within a two- or three-hour timespan, even though other people received their personal recognizance papers before she did.

“I get it for COVID reasons — they want us in and out of here as fast as possible,” Monsieree said. “I got out real fast — three hours — and the other people who … were in with me that night, they got [their personal recognizance papers] before I did, and I got released before them. And I was like, ‘Great, we’re all going to get out relatively fast,’ … but they all didn’t get out until 7 [a.m.], like, six hours later.” 

D.T. said that he and some of his other friends were sitting in the jail from late at night on Jan. 1 to about 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 2, despite their release paperwork having already been processed.

“We … had our [personal recognizance] papers,” D.T. recalled. “So, it had already been processed, but they still kept us there for almost eight hours after the fact that they knew, when they shouldn’t have even taken us there in the first place, and the fact that they broke all of those COVID protocols.”

Robin was held for a significantly longer period of time, as jail staff denied her personal recognizance. Robin said that the jail staff didn’t tell her why they denied her release on personal recognizance, but she wondered if it had something to do with the number of times she had been detained and arrested. She told the Emerald that, at that point, she had been arrested four or five times but detained on several additional occasions.

She also said that the jail nurse asked her a series of what felt like very “invasive” questions that were much more detailed than she had previously faced from jail staff. These questions included inquiries about her sexual orientation. The nurse also did not believe Robin when Robin told her she had a heart murmur and needed to be put in a solitary cell out of an abundance of caution to try to avoid contracting the novel coronavirus and developing COVID-19. Robin, Monsieree, and D.T. had been arrested just one day before King County Jail officials discovered a fresh outbreak of COVID-19 within the jail. The outbreak occurred within the same unit as the 16-person outbreak in December 2020, the news of which the Emerald also broke.

Robin said the nurse listened to her heart and “told me I didn’t have a heart murmur, even though I do,” a diagnosis Robin got directly from her doctor at age 14 and has been told “frequently” ever since.

Robin said she was finally released around 1 p.m. on Jan. 2. The reason it took so long, she said, is because “they actually full-on got a court case set up to figure out if I could be released.”

“I didn’t actually at any point enter a court. I just got taken to a separate, little pre-court cell, and then … they said, ‘This is when you are getting out,’” Robin recalled. “[This] is pretty typical, in that a lot of times … they give you a court date and then just strike it and release you. Because everyone involved knows that it’s made-up allegations. There’s no way you can actually charge someone for it.” 

SPD officers arrested Ali at the Dec. 18, 2020, sweep of Cal Anderson Park, along with a total of 20 others that day. An earlier video of the sweep from Instagram user Miracle Howard can be seen here, and more videos by Morning March can be seen here and here

Like D.T., Ali said in a Jan. 19 interview with the Emerald that she could not get an answer for why she was being arrested, at first. Initially, it was for alleged obstruction, but she said that this answer was later changed to “trespassing,” once she and the eight other people arrested along with her were in the police transport van on their way to the West Precinct. Her record in the Municipal Court system says that she was charged with criminal trespass in the first degree and obstruction of an officer, but Ali said her actions were much more benign than these charges make it seem.

In a text message to the Emerald on Jan. 31, Ali said that she was on Nagle Place, watching SPD officers put up police tape between the trees about 5 feet into Cal Anderson Park from the retaining wall on that side of the park. She remembers seeing a group of between four and six police officers walking over to the fountain nearby, once they were finished putting up the tape. She said she stepped up onto the retaining wall and walked to one of the trees, leaning against it to watch them.

“[One officer] pointed at me and said something about me removing the (completely intact) police tape and I hopped down off the retaining wall since they were being so sensitive, but then they chased me so I ran because there was nobody else around me and [I] thought they were thinking they could arrest me for nothing and get away with it, so I ran to where [C]onverge and [F]uture [C]rystals were streaming and they arrested me anyway,” Ali said.

Based on Ali’s description of events — about which she also completed a drawn map for the Emerald, included below — it is unclear how she was either obstructing an officer or trespassing. It should also be noted that neither obstruction of an officer nor criminal trespass in the first degree is a violent misdemeanor, nor is it clear how Ali presented an imminent danger to the public.

Ali remembered that she and several other protestors were in the West Precinct for “a good amount of time,” but that “they kept telling us that we were going to be released that day.”

She said that one of the officers they had been speaking with was especially communicative and open with them and had told them that all of their release paperwork had been filled out. But this same officer and another told Ali and her fellow detainees shortly after this that they still weren’t getting out, because someone “above their head” wanted them booked into the King County Jail, even though jail officials were initially resistant because that would have gone against COVID protocol.

“It was to the point where some people I was in with got taken from West Precinct to [King County Jail] to [the Maleng Regional Justice Center in] Kent back to [King County] and then back to the West Precinct, and then eventually back to [King County Jail]. And then they were released from [King County Jail],” Ali recalled of the efforts to get her and her fellow protestors booked into the jail.

“The officers, I could tell, were upset. Most of them were telling us, ‘We think this is ridiculous. This came from above our heads.’ They kept saying, ‘above our heads,’” Ali said.

Robin was arrested and taken in the same transport van as Ali to the West Precinct on Dec. 18, 2020. She said she doesn’t remember the specific words the officers used, but she recounted the same story to the Emerald, naming the same officer Ali had. She said that she remembers this officer saying that “they were calling around to get us booked. … We had one officer … who kept coming in and being like, ‘You all are being released from here.’ And then said that a supervisor … or someone higher up was going to get us booked into the jail.”

Sarah Lippek, of Cedar Law, PLLC, is representing several protestors, including Ali. Lippek said that a public defender who had worked with the protestors arrested on Dec. 18 separately reached out to her and, in doing so, corroborated both Ali’s and Robin’s recollections. Lippek said that this public defender told her that the officer got on the line with him while Ali was talking with him from the jail on Dec. 18. The public defender said the officer told him what had happened. Lippek said the public defender told her that the officer used the same phrasing that Ali recalled, saying that someone at “the assistant chief level or higher” was the one who wanted the protestors booked into the jail.

“This [public defender] talked to the same cop, and the cop told him the same thing — that … someone at the leadership level at SPD has leaned on King County to accept the booking. The [public defender] was working on getting the whole batch of people out, and, eventually, they were released that day,” Lippek said.

When asked about these specific booking instances — Dec. 18 and Jan. 1 — that appear to have gone against COVID protocols, DAJD Communications Specialist Noah Haglund confirmed in a Jan. 26 email to the Emerald that since the beginning of the pandemic, the DAJD has had specific booking restrictions in place. However, these restrictions are not hard and fast rules that can’t be surmounted by explicit exemption requests from law enforcement. Ultimately, he said, “King County jails have little control over who arrives at our door for booking. We work closely with our law enforcement partners, but any questions about who they choose to bring to our facilities should be directed to them.

“SPD asked DAJD’s Director [John Diaz] to receive the bookings you mentioned from December, and we agreed to do this. Seattle Municipal Court [personal recognizance] screeners were made available when those bookings arrived, and 20 of the 21 people brought to us in that instance were released prior to being placed in jail housing,” Haglund said, referring to the Dec. 18 arrests at Cal Anderson Park.

“SPD made a similar request in January, which we honored,” Haglund continued, referring to the Jan. 1 chalking arrests made outside the East Precinct.

Lippek also had a private virtual meeting with DAJD Director John Diaz — a former SPD Chief of Police — and Corrections Major Todd Clark on Jan. 28 that once again confirmed protestors’ allegations and reinforced what Haglund had told the Emerald.

In two phone calls with the Emerald — one right after the Jan. 28 meeting and another on Feb. 3 — Lippek said she specifically asked both Diaz and Clark why the protestors were detained in the King County Jail on these two occasions. 

Lippek said that Diaz confirmed the request had come from an SPD police chief — he did not say which one, and there are several assistant chiefs within SPD — but that when Lippek asked why the jail had decided to override booking policies on these two separate occasions, all Diaz would say was, “Ask City executive leadership.”

“I was trying to ask him, ‘How did you apply criteria — under what criteria these people are dangerous, under what criteria did you say yes?’ And that’s the point where he said, … ‘Ask the executive leadership of the City,’” Lippek said.

Lippek said that Diaz was unwilling to give names, because the DAJD is supposedly in litigation with Lippek, who is representing the protestors in tort claims against the DAJD. But this isn’t true, Lippek said, because these specific cases have not yet been added to the overall complaint yet. Moreover, at the beginning of the call, Diaz had said that the DAJD had not yet received the tort claims Lippek filed, some of them months ago.

Lippek said that Diaz was similarly cagey, when she asked whether he or someone else gave the go-ahead to book the protestors in question into the jail. He would not say whether he or another DAJD staff member OK’d the bookings.

“He was cagey about who made the decision to let the people in the door,” Lippek said. “He was cagey about whether he made the decision to say yes. … He confirmed that they requested and that the request had been approved, but he was cagey about whether it was him that made the decision.”

The Emerald followed up with Haglund to ask about Diaz’s statements and to ask who specifically requested that the protestors be booked into the King County Jail. The Emerald also reached out to SPD Communications Officer Randall Huserik and the Office of the Mayor for comment.

Haglund told the Emerald in a Feb. 3 email that it should “refer this question to the Seattle Police Department.”

Huserik did not answer the Emerald’s specific question about who asked DAJD officials to book arrested protestors into the jail on both Dec. 18 and Jan. 1. Instead, he replied that SPD “routinely reaches out to [the King County Jail] and [Maleng Regional Justice Center] when protests/demonstrations are planned to check and see on the status of possible bookings in case arrests are made. And with Covid issues surrounding operations at the jail, is (sic) has become standard practice prior to planned demonstrations.”

When the Emerald followed up to ask again who specifically asked for these jail bookings, Huserik replied that he had no additional details.

The Emerald also asked why protestors were booked on Jan. 1. Huserik said that the protestors arrested on Jan. 1 were arrested for malicious mischief in the third degree, which, as the Emerald noted above, is a gross misdemeanor, not a violent one. When the Emerald followed up with the same question and specifically noted that writing on the walls with sidewalk chalk and charcoal did not appear to put anyone in danger, Huserik replied that he had no additional details.

In this same follow-up question, the Emerald also pointed out that it was unclear how writing on a wall presented imminent danger to the public. Huserik replied that he had no additional details.

Finally, Huserik pointed the Emerald to the SPD Blotter post detailing arrests made on Dec. 18 at Cal Anderson Park. The Blotter did not note any violent misdemeanors, nor did it note imminent danger. Also notably, in his initial Jan. 26 reply to the Emerald, Haglund said that “20 of the 21 people brought to us in that instance were released prior to being placed in jail housing.” Haglund later clarified that “[h]ousing refers to the housing wings upstairs at the [King County Jail], as well as the housing units at the Maleng Regional Justice Center. In this case, all but one of the people in question left the intake area of the jail (i.e., where the holding cells are) before being moved to one of the housing units.”

The Emerald followed up with Huserik to ask again why these protestors were arrested, since the Blotter did not note any violent misdemeanors or imminent danger. Huserik replied that he had no additional details.

When asked about Diaz’s statement that someone at the “City executive” level was involved in asking DAJD officials to book protestors and whether either Mayor Jenny Durkan or someone else from the City’s executive leadership was involved in these booking requests, Press Secretary Anthony Derrick at the Office of the Mayor said in a Feb. 2 email that the Office had “touched based with SPD on this request, and as they mentioned, it is not uncommon for SPD to be in touch with King County almost daily to discuss booking capacity at KC Corrections, especially to plan for operations and track any cases of COVID-19. 

“‘City Executive Leadership’ is obviously a little vague, but it’s important to know that the Mayor’s Office does not make any decisions about booking or arrests at individual level — arrests are determined based on criminal activity that occurs, booking occurs based on capacity of the jail under COVID-19 restrictions, and prosecutions are determined by [the City Attorney’s Office and the King County Prosecutor’s Office],” Derrick said.

The Emerald also asked King County Department of Public Defense (DPD) Communications Manager Leslie Brown to put the Emerald in touch with public defenders at the jail about people being booked for nonviolent misdemeanors, but she did not. In an email to the Emerald on Jan. 22, she said she had spoken with a “few people at DPD and learned that there is a process for overriding the booking criteria at law enforcement’s request. This has happened a few times. I suggest you talk to DAJD to understand more fully why and when this is happening.”

Brown did not respond to the Emerald’s Jan. 22 request for her to relay what officials with the DPD had told her. The Emerald also learned that the public defender who relayed the officer’s words to Lippek was unwilling to speak with the media.

Lippek also explicitly asked for the DAJD’s policy regarding bookings and the current restrictions on them. She wanted to know exactly what criteria would allow jail officials to override the County’s COVID restrictions and accept nonviolent misdemeanor bookings.

Diaz said that these policies weren’t public, due to security concerns, but when Lippek asked whether they were public under a public disclosure request (PDR), Diaz said they were and that a PDR is “basically the only way to get them.”

Lippek doesn’t see why they should only be obtainable via a PDR, which can take months to process. After all, she said, the state’s Department of Corrections’ policies are publicly accessible via their website, and they handle a much larger volume of people who are incarcerated in much higher-security facilities than exist within King County’s DAJD.

When the Emerald asked King County Executive Dow Constantine about these instances of the DAJD booking protestors at the request of SPD — and, possibly, City — leadership, seemingly against COVID restrictions, Constantine’s Director of Communications Alex Fryer replied that he understood the Emerald had received information from the DAJD, and that “[w]e’ll let that stand as our response.”

Haglund also included the criteria under which the DAJD would accept bookings, which was first sent out in an email to jail intake and release staff in late March 2020 and then expanded in an email in April 2020. The Emerald has included the expanded list from the April 2020 email below:

“Booking Restrictions

“With the implementation of our recent booking restrictions we temporarily stopped booking misdemeanor charges except for the following that present a serious public safety concern:

•         Assault 4

•         Assault 4 Domestic Violence

•         Assault 4 with Sexual Motivation

•         Alcohol related Traffic

•         Communication with a Minor

•      Stalking

•         Violations of a No Contact Order

•         Violations of a Restraining Order

“We are now expanding this list of misdemeanor exceptions and will book the following charges that [Seattle Municipal Court] Judges have identified as no bail holds.

12A.14.071 (discharge of a firearm)

12A.14.075 (unlawful use of weapons to intimidate another)

12A.14.130 (failure to register as a firearms offender)

12A.14.140 (unlawful carrying of pistol)

12A.14.150 (unlawful possession of loaded rifle in motor vehicle)

12A.14.180 (unlawful delivery of a pistol)

12A.14.195 (unlawful sale or transfer of firearm)

12A.14.200 (altering identifying marks of firearm)

12A.14.080(c) (possess firearm – public property)

12A.14.080(e) (firearm-noise suppression device)

12A.06.195 (failure to surrender firearm)

12A.14.080(f) (furtively carrying a dangerous weapon)

12A.14.160(A) (weapon at school) except at the preliminary appearance or arraignment.”

In the course of her Jan. 19 interview with the Emerald about her Dec. 18 arrest, Ali also detailed unsanitary conditions in the King County Jail’s holding cell. She said that not only did the SPD officers who transported them to the jail wear driving gloves and touch the inside of her and other detained protestors’ masks without removing the gloves and washing their hands or even sanitizing the gloves between mask changes — a practice that increases the likelihood of these protestors catching the novel coronavirus and developing COVID-19 — but the masks the jail provides are still flimsy cloth masks that don’t meet the standards of surgical masks.

Moreover, Ali said, once she and the others got to the jail, jail staff told them to do rapid COVID tests on their own. Both the use of a rapid COVID test and asking an untrained individual to do a self-test for COVID can increase the chances of a false negative, which may lead to negative consequences for both the person being tested and others with whom they may come into contact.

Inside the holding cell, Ali said, she found “a bunch of fake, press-on nails,” which indicated to Ali and the others held in the cell that it had not been cleaned before they were put inside. Staff told them they could drink out of the apparently also unclean sink, which is attached to the back of a toilet.

By chance, upon his Jan. 1 arrest and subsequent booking, D.T. happened to be put in a holding cell he had been held in about a week and a half prior, after he and others were arrested at Cal Anderson on Dec. 20 for allegedly trying to “de-arrest” someone who had allegedly spat on an officer.* He said the cell — holding cell 11 — clearly hadn’t been cleaned at all since the last time he was there.

“Someone had wrote stuff in soap on the wall … and that same soap was still on the wall almost two weeks later. They don’t clean that … at all. It was two weeks, and it was just as clear as the [first time] I went there,” D.T. said. He said he couldn’t read the words, because it appeared to be a graffiti tag.

D.T. also said that there are red marks on the perimeter of the wall, where the cell benches are located. The red markings come from the fabric of the red uniforms detainees wear.

“When you sit down, the small of your back rubs against the wall … and the whole entire perimeter of the benched area is red, basically, from people leaning back. … It’s almost dyed, at this point,” D.T. said.

But D.T. also said that this is not anything new, based on his past experiences at the jail.

“When they put me in other holding cells, there’s straight-up blood on the wall and blood on the phones and stuff,” D.T. said. “It’s just left there. That’s not just once, not just twice. That’s three of the five times that I have been put in those specific, general pop holding cells. There is straight-up blood on the wall.”

When asked about the unsanitary conditions the protestors detailed, Haglund said that “[i]nmate-workers typically clean the [King County Jail] and [Maleng Regional Justice Center] holding cells at least once per shift. The frequency of cleaning depends on workflow. Each cell may not get cleaned between occupants, especially during busy periods. However, if an employee noticed blood on a wall or other unsanitary conditions in a holding cell — or was notified of this by a detainee — they should have addressed it right away.”

D.T. said that the only time he saw jail staff engage in any sort of cleaning protocol was the first time he was arrested, just before Halloween. A jail guard came in with a spray bottle to wipe down the door handle — but not before several dozen people had touched it.

“I stood there, and I counted how many people touched the door handle, without anyone cleaning it. And, honestly, at 40, I stopped,” D.T. said. “The whole time I was there, there was blood on the wall. I refused to touch anything, while I was there. I stood in the middle of the room.”

*Several of the protestors the Emerald spoke with denied that anyone spat on an officer or that the group tried to “de-arrest” the person who allegedly spat on the officer. Based on video of the incident, it is unclear what prompted the first arrest, but the video does not appear to support the claim that the group tried to “de-arrest” anyone.


Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. As the Emerald’s Watchdragon reporter, they dive deep into local issues to keep the public informed and ensure those in positions of power are held accountable for their actions. You can reach them here and can check out their work here and here.

Featured image used with permission from a source who prefers to remain anonymous.

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