Category Archives: ACLU

High Court: Race Must be Considered in Determining Legality of Police Stops and Seizures

Center for the Study of Race and Law | University of Virginia School of Law

In State v. Sum, the WA Supreme Court held that  a person’s race – and law enforcement’s long history of discrimination against people of color – should be taken into account when determining the legality of police seizures.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The case concerns Palla Sum, a person of color who identifies himself as Asian/Pacific Islander. Mr. Sum was sleeping in his car in Tacoma one morning in April 2019 when police came upon him. Deputy Rickerson An officer ran his plates. The car was not stolen. There is no indication that it was parked illegally. Nevertheless, the car attracted the deputy’s attention because “it was parked there.”

The officer knocked on the window, asked Sum questions and asked him for identification. Sum gave a false name and the officer went back to his cruiser to check records. Sum then drove off, crashed into a front lawn and was caught as he attempted to run away.

Sum was subsequently charged with Making a False Statement, Eluding and Unlawful Possession of a Firearm, after a gun was found in his car.

Sum filed a pretrial motion to suppress pursuant to CrR 3.6. He argued that he was unlawfully seized without reasonable suspicion when Deputy Rickerson requested Sum’s identification while implying that Sum was under investigation for car theft. The court denied Sum’s motion to suppress. It ruled that because Sum was not seized when Rickerson asked him to identify himself, because the did not retain Sum’s physical identification to conduct his records check. Sum was convicted of all three charges by a jury.

Although the WA Court of Appeals upheld his conviction, Sum again appealed to the WA Supreme Court. He argued  that there is no justification—aside from unacceptably ignoring the issue of race altogether—for courts considering the totality of the circumstances to disregard the effect of race as one of the circumstances affecting evaluation of police contact.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Supreme Court discussed the standard of review for addressing similar cases. It reasoned that the search and seizure inquiry is an objective test. An allegedly seized person has the burden to show that a seizure occurred. It further clarified that a person is seized if, based on the totality of the circumstances, an objective observer could conclude that the person was not free to leave, to refuse a request, or to otherwise terminate the encounter due to law enforcement’s display of authority or use of physical force.

The Court also took its “objective analysis” test a step further:

“For purposes of this analysis, an objective observer is aware that implicit, institutional, and unconscious biases, in addition to purposeful discrimination, have resulted in disproportionate police contacts, investigative seizures, and uses of force against Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) in Washington.” ~Justice Mary Yu, WA Supreme Court

Furthermore, wrote the Court, if the person shows there was a seizure, then the burden shifts to the State to prove that the seizure was lawfully justified by a warrant or an applicable exception to the warrant requirement.

Next, the Court applied its now race-conscious test to the facts of the case. It reasoned that based on the totality of the circumstances, Mr. Sum was seized when Deputy Rickerson requested Sum’s identification while implying that Sum was under investigation for car theft.

“As the State properly concedes, at that time, the deputy did not have a warrant, reasonable suspicion, or any other lawful authority to seize Sum,” wrote Justice Yu. “As a result, Sum was unlawfully seized, and the false name and birth date he gave to the deputy must be suppressed. We therefore reverse the Court of Appeals and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.”

My opinion? Good decision.

In an amicus brief, public defender and civil rights groups argued that law enforcement’s history of discriminating against people of color needs to be reflected in how the law is interpreted. The groups, including the King County Department of Public Defense and the ACLU of Washington, wrote the following:

“Centuries of violence and dehumanizing treatment of people of color have required BIPOC communities to develop survival strategies that demand over-compliance with law enforcement . . . For courts to continue to blind themselves to that reality when evaluating the freedom an individual would feel to unilaterally terminate a law enforcement contact is to further enshrine existing racial disparities into the legal system.”

Please review my Search & Seizure guide and  contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Ban Invasive Policing Technology

On November 2, 2021, Bellingham voters have an opportunity to vote on important initiatives affecting people’s liberty and freedom. Initiative No. 2021-02 concerns the use of facial recognition technology and predictive policing technology.

Face surveillance is the most dangerous of the many new technologies available to law enforcement. This measure would prohibit the City from the following:

  • Acquire or use facial recognition technology.
  • Prohibit the City from contracting with a third party to use facial recognition technology on its behalf.
  • Prohibit the use of predictive policing technology.
  • Prohibit the retention of unlawfully acquired data.
  • Prohibit the use of data, information, or evidence derived from the use of facial recognition technology or predictive policing technology in any legal proceeding.
  • Authorize private civil enforcement actions.

facial recognition system is a technology capable of matching a human face from a digital image or a video frame against a database of faces, typically employed to authenticate users through ID verification services, works by pinpointing and measuring facial features from a given image.

Facial recognition systems are employed throughout the world today by governments and private companies. Their effectiveness varies, and some systems have previously been scrapped because of their ineffectiveness. The use of facial recognition systems has also raised controversy, with claims that the systems violate citizens’ privacy, commonly make incorrect identifications, encourage gender norms and racial profiling, and do not protect important biometric data. These claims have led to the ban of facial recognition systems in several cities in the United States.

According to the ACLU, facial recognition systems are built on computer programs that analyze images of human faces for the purpose of identifying them. Unlike many other biometric systems, facial recognition can be used for general surveillance in combination with public video cameras, And it can be used in a passive way that doesn’t require the knowledge, consent, or participation of the subject.

The biggest danger is that this technology will be used for general, suspicionless surveillance systems. State motor vehicles agencies possess high-quality photographs of most citizens that are a natural source for face recognition programs and could easily be combined with public surveillance or other cameras in the construction of a comprehensive system of identification and tracking.

My opinion? Vote YES on Initiative 2021-02.

The technology itself can be racially biased. Groundbreaking research conducted by scholars Joy Buolamwini, Deb Raji, and Timnit Gebru snapped our collective attention to the fact that yes, algorithms can be racist. Buolamwini and Gebru’s 2018 research concluded that some facial analysis algorithms misclassified Black women nearly 35 percent of the time, while nearly always getting it right for white men. A subsequent study by Buolamwini and Raji at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology confirmed these problems persisted with Amazon’s software.

Please contact my office if you a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and experienced criminal defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

ACLU Sues DOL

Guide to Pinellas County Driving on Suspended License Charges

In a press release, the ACLU of Washington acknowledges filing a lawsuit on behalf of individuals who have had their driver’s licenses suspended by the Washington Department of Licensing (DOL) because they were unable to pay fines and fees for moving violations.

The complaint claims that Washington’s law authorizing automatic and mandatory license suspensions for failure to pay moving violation fines violates the state constitution’s rights to due process and equal protection. The lawsuit also alleges that license suspension for failure to pay a ticket is an unconstitutionally excessive punishment.

According to the ACLU’s press release, the plaintiffs in the case come from throughout Washington and have suffered a variety of negative consequences due to the loss of their license—consequences that individuals with an ability to pay traffic fines would not face. These include loss of employment and income; the inability to take children to school; and the inability to care for family members. These additional barriers compound the root problems that make it difficult for people with low or no income to pay fines and fees.

“Washington’s law authorizing automatic and mandatory license suspensions not only violates basic fairness for people with low or no income, it violates the state constitution,” said ACLU of Washington Staff Attorney Lisa Nowlin.

“Ability to pay must be considered when suspending a license, because no one should suffer additional penalties for a moving violation because of poverty.” ~Lisa Nowlin, ACLU Staff Attorney

“The American legal system is founded on the principle that everyone, regardless of means, is treated the same under the law. Washington’s license suspension laws violate that principle,” said Donald Scaramastra, cooperating attorney from Foster Garvey, PC.

My opinion? It’s about darn time . . .

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Nearly 1,000 Inmates To Be Released In Washington State

Virginia begins releasing new data about COVID-19 in prisons

Apparently, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that Washington state intends to release up to 950 inmates confined in Washington state prisons — a reduction of about 6 percent, based on 2019 inmate numbers — to stop a potential widespread outbreak of COVID-19 in the prison.

Inslee and the Washington State Department of Corrections released their emergency plan to keep inmates safe from COVID-19 on Monday, after a back-and-forth of lawsuit responses between the state and Columbia Legal Services.

Columbia Legal Services had filed a petition in April, with the Washington Supreme Court on behalf of incarcerated petitioners. It called for the prompt release of thousands of prisoners to prevent the further spread of Covid-19 behind bars.

As of April 10, 2020, the department has tested 237 inmates and has had 179 negative results, 8 positive results. Fifty test results are pending. According to the department of corrections, the people tested have been isolated. As of April 10, 161 inmates remain in isolation. Another 912 others are in quarantine.

Jaime Hawk, of the ACLU’s Washington Campaign for Smart Justice, called the plan a helpful first step, but said it doesn’t remove the dangers of Covid-19 for incarcerated people in Washington state.

“We urge the governor and the Department of Corrections to do more to reduce state prison populations, which is the only way to follow the advice of public health experts and keep those living and working in our correctional facilities safe.”  ~Jaime Hawk, ACLU

The state’s plan will target people for release who are:

• Non-violent inmates, both vulnerable and non-vulnerable, who have a release date within 75 days.

• Non-violent inmates and vulnerable inmates who have a release date in 2 to 6 months. They will be released through a re-entry planning process.

• Non-violent inmates and vulnerable inmates who have a release date in 6 to 8 months, with an approved release plan.

• Non-violent inmates who were jailed for lower level supervision violations

• Non-violent inmates who are already on work release and can be freed through the secretary’s furlough authority.

Please read my Legal Guides titled Making Bail and Quash Your Bench Warrant and contact my office if you, a friend of family member find themselves stuck in jail or prison during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

End ICE Courthouse Arrests

Image result for ice arrests at courthouse"

Excellent article in Crosscut by  Lilly Fowler describes how the Washington state Legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit federal immigration agents without a warrant from making arrests within one mile of a courthouse.

If signed, the legislation – SB 6522 – would also require judicial warrants to be reviewed by a court before being used. And federal immigration agents would have to check in with local court staff before entering a courthouse. A website monitored by the state Administrative Office of the Courts would track all arrests made at courthouses.

Finally, the bill would prohibit court staff, including prosecutors, from sharing information with federal immigration officials. A recent report from the University of Washington Center for Human Rights revealed that county prosecutors have been sharing information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol agents to facilitate the arrests of undocumented immigrants at state and local courthouses.

As reported by Ms. Fowler, the outcry over immigrants being arrested at courthouses by plainclothes ICE and Border Patrol officials has been persistent. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the federal government last month in an attempt to stop such arrests, and the state Supreme Court is looking at rules that would bar the apprehensions.

At a hearing on the bill last week before the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee, legislators heard testimony in Spanish from a man named Carlos. He told lawmakers he and his wife recently visited the courthouse in Ephrata, Grant County, to renew his car’s license plates. While his wife waited in the vehicle, Carlos stood in line inside the courthouse and noticed a man staring at him.

As Carlos exited the courthouse, another man with a gun approached him, introduced himself as a federal immigration official and, in Spanish, said, “Soy la migra” (or “I am ICE/Border Patrol”). Carlos was promptly arrested. Although he was eventually released by the ICE agent, the experience left him shaken and terrified.

Enoka Herat, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said the state would not be the first to protect its court system. In November, the Oregon Supreme Court barred warrantless arrests at courthousesCaliforniaNew York and New Jersey have also sought similar protections for immigrants. In Massachusetts, a federal judge barred courthouse arrests while a lawsuit makes its way through the court system.

My opinion?

Let’s hope SB 6522 gains support and passes. The bill  isn’t about hampering the work of law enforcement. It’s about but ensuring the public can use courts to pay fines, serve as witnesses, seek protection orders and pursue other matters related to the justice system, without the fear of unexpected encounters with law enforcement.  Equal access to courts is something both Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree upon.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Unlawful Search Of Electronic Devices at Airports

icon of a border agent examining digital devices

Good news. In a major victory for privacy rights at the border, a federal court in Boston ruled that suspicion less searches of travelers’ electronic devices by federal agents at airports and other U.S. ports of entry are unconstitutional.
The ruling came in a lawsuit, Alasaad v. McAleenan, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and ACLU of Massachusetts, on behalf of 11 travelers whose smartphones and laptops were searched without individualized suspicion at U.S. ports of entry.
“This ruling significantly advances Fourth Amendment protections for millions of international travelers who enter the United States every year,” said Esha Bhandari, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “By putting an end to the government’s ability to conduct suspicionless fishing expeditions, the court reaffirms that the border is not a lawless place and that we don’t lose our privacy rights when we travel.”
“This is a great day for travelers who now can cross the international border without fear that the government will, in the absence of any suspicion, ransack the extraordinarily sensitive information we all carry in our electronic devices,” said Sophia Cope, EFF Senior Staff Attorney.
The district court order puts an end to Customs and Border Control (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) asserted authority to search and seize travelers’ devices for purposes far afield from the enforcement of immigration and customs laws. Border officers must now demonstrate individualized suspicion of illegal contraband before they can search a traveler’s device.
The number of electronic device searches at U.S. ports of entry has increased significantly. Last year, CBP conducted more than 33,000 searches, almost four times the number from just three years prior.
International travelers returning to the United States have reported numerous cases of abusive searches in recent months. While searching through the phone of Zainab Merchant, a plaintiff in the Alasaad case, a border agent knowingly rifled through privileged attorney-client communications. An immigration officer at Boston Logan Airport reportedly searched an incoming Harvard freshman’s cell phone and laptop, reprimanded the student for friends’ social media postings expressing views critical of the U.S. government, and denied the student entry into the country following the search.
Good decision!
Please read my Search and Seizure Legal Guide contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges because law enforcement officers conducted a questionably unlawful search. Hiring competent counsel is the first and best step toward getting justice.

Whatcom County Jail Settles ACLU Lawsuit

Whatcom County Jail to provide medications to inmates to treat opioid  addiction

A settlement agreement has been proposed in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union last year against the Whatcom County Jail and the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, according to a press release sent Tuesday from ACLU’s Washington chapter.

Filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, the ACLU’s lawsuit, Kortlever v. Whatcom County et. al, challenged Whatcom County’s refusal to provide people access to MAT even though it provides other clinically appropriate medications to inmates. Singling out a group of people because of their disability and denying them access to medical services to which they would otherwise be entitled is prohibited under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Whatcom County’s willingness to change its policies means that the court will not have to decide whether the previous policy was unlawful.

The lawsuit, filed in June 2018, alleged the jail had a policy for giving medication, such as buprenorphine (Suboxone or Subutex) or methadone, to pregnant women suffering from opioid use disorder, but had no policy for non-pregnant individuals, essentially forcing them to go into withdrawal once they were booked, according to court records.

Under the settlement, the Whatcom County Jail now will provide people in the jail with medication-assisted treatment (MAT) services to treat opioid use disorder, according to a press release sent Tuesday from the sheriff’s office.

Opioid use disorder is classified as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and also is a recognized substance use disorder. A person qualifies as having opioid use disorder if they meet two or more criteria that reflect impaired health function over a 12-month period. The disorder is a chronic condition and is often accompanied by changes to brain chemistry, the ACLU release stated.

Please read my Legal Guide titled, Making Bail and  contact my office if you, a friend or family member are in jail and face criminal charges. Being incarcerated brings a considerable strain on family, mental health, employment and quality of life. A competent defense attorney can argue a motion to release the defendant or reduce bail.

Cities Can’t Criminalize Homelessness

Image result for police arrest homeless

Great article by   of Curbed describes how the Ninth Circuit’s Martin v. City of Boise, held that city law enforcement cannot  criminalize homelessness . They cannot arrest or punish people for sleeping on public property unless they provide adequate and relatively accessible indoor accommodations.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The Martin case, which originated in 2009 when six residents sued the city, argued that laws against sleeping in public and qualifying that action as Disorderly Conduct were unconstitutional, specifically discussed reasonable and accessible spots for everyone. That means having beds accessible for the disabled and for pregnant women and families. An important argument in the Martin case concerned faith-based services that required those staying there to pray in a certain manner. Judges declared spots that coerced religious observation were not accessible to all.

The April 1 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers nine states in the western U.S. including California and Washington, rejects a petition to challenge a September ruling on the case. The 2-1 decision by a panel of three judges means that the earlier decision by the court stands, an affirmation of the theory that criminalizing people for camping of sleeping in public without any place to go is illegal.

“The government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”

~Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

The ruling means unless there is enough shelter space for the homeless population of a city such as Seattle or San Francisco, city officials can’t enforce anti-vagrancy laws or prohibitions against camping in public parks or sidewalks. The court can’t force cities to build adequate shelter space or homeless housing, but it can make it unconstitutional for them to criminalize homelessness until that burden has been met.

Reporter Patrick Sisson wrote that Eve Garrow, a homelessness policy analyst and advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), expects that advocacy groups such as her own will soon engage in proactive public education campaigns to ensure municipalities are aware of the Martin decision and the group’s interpretation of the court ruling.

“I do believe if cities and counties continue to enforce in a way that’s now clearly unconstitutional, advocacy organizations will engage in litigation to protect the civil rights of these people,” she says.

The legal reasoning grew out of an interpretation of the Eighth Amendment and its prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, according to Ms. Garrow.

“You’re criminalizing someone for behavior that’s unavoidable,” she says. “Everyone has to sleep.” In effect, she says, municipal laws that ban sleeping in public are making it illegal to be poor.

Steve Berg, vice president of programs and policy for the National Alliance to End Homelessness, says the decision has gotten a lot of attention, and will hopefully accelerate the movement towards more supportive housing and services.

“There are still too many people in local governments who think the right answer to homelessness is arresting people,” he says.

Good decision, Ninth Circuit.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Policing for Profit

Image result for civil asset forfeiture

Excellent article by Steven Robert Allen , Director of Public Policy, ACLU of New Mexico discusses how a federal judge declared “Policing for Profit” – better known as “Civil Asset Forfeiture” – unconstitutional.

For those who don’t know, Civil Asset Forfeiture allows police to seize — and then keep or sell — any property they allege is involved in a crime. Owners need not ever be arrested or convicted of a crime for their cash, cars, or even real estate to be taken away permanently by the government.

“With civil asset forfeiture, police literally accuse your stuff of a crime, and you as the owner have to prove that your stuff is innocent.”  – Steven Robert Allen, ACLU

Here’s an example: In 2010 Stephen Skinner and his son Jonathan, both African-American, were on a road trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, for a vacation when they were pulled over by New Mexico State Police for going 5 mph over the speed limit. The trooper searched their rental car and found several thousand dollars in cash and coins in their luggage that the two men had set aside for gaming at the casinos. The trooper called Skinner, then in his late 50s, “boy” and released him with a warning that “it’s not over.”

And sure enough, it wasn’t.

As they passed through Albuquerque, police and federal agents pulled them over on a pretext once again, went straight to their luggage, and confiscated their cash with no justification other than the racist assumption that two black men traveling with a big wad of cash must have come by it illegally. Neither Stephen or Jonathan were ever actually accused of a crime, much less convicted. Yet now the cops had their vacation money, and this money grab was perfectly legal.

In his article, Mr. Allen writes that most people who have property seized in this manner give it up as lost. The cost of hiring an attorney to argue before a judge that your property is “innocent” or, in other words, was not criminally acquired or used in the commission of a crime, often exceeds the value of the property. This is big business for police departments across the United States, who rely on these seized assets to pad their budgets. The Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm, estimates that in 2014 alone the Department of Justice took in $4.5 billion in forfeited assets. The assets taken in annually by local and state police departments are doubtless even higher.

In 2015, the ACLU of New Mexico, in collaboration with the Institute for Justice, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the Rio Grande Foundation, helped pass a bill that abolished civil asset forfeiture, requiring police to obtain a criminal conviction in court before they can take a person’s property. The bill also requires that any forfeited assets must go into a state general fund to reduce the profit motive inherent in this law enforcement practice. The bill passed unanimously, and New Mexico now has the strongest protections against civil asset forfeiture in the nation.

One person, Arlene Harjo, finally filed a lawsuit against the department with the help of the Institute for Justice, and, last week, she won. A federal judge handed down a landmark ruling that Albuquerque’s vehicle seizure program violates residents’ constitutional rights by taking their property before they’ve been convicted of a crime.

“This is a major moment in the fight against the unjust practice of civil asset forfeiture,” writes Allen. “Not only will New Mexico law enforcement agencies be forced to comply with our state prohibition against the practice, but this victory establishes an important legal precedent that victims of civil asset forfeiture can use to fight back nationwide.”

And indeed, the problem is not just in New Mexico. In 2015, the ACLU sued an Arizona county attorney and county sheriff challenging that state’s civil asset forfeiture laws, which create perverse and unconstitutional incentives for law enforcement to build multimillion-dollar slush funds that they get to control.

My opinion? This is excellent work from the ACLU and a wonderful decision from the federal courts. More than anything, this ruling out of New Mexico is a powerful reminder that brave individuals can still take a stand against systems of injustice, crack their foundations, and bring them tumbling to the ground. All it takes is a few people like Stephen Skinner and Arlene Harjo who say, “Enough. Not today. No more.”

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

ACLU Sues Whatcom County Jail

Image result for sue whatcom county jail

Excellent article by Denver Pratt of the Bellingham Herald says the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)  filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Wednesday against the Whatcom County Jail and the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office for allegedly denying inmates with opioid use disorder access to medication.

The lawsuit filed in Seattle in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington alleges the jail’s policy of refusing to provide access to medication assisted treatment to treat opioid addiction violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Pratt reports that Opioid Use Disorder is classified as a disability under the ADA, and is also a recognized substance use disorder. A person qualifies as having opioid use disorder if they meet two or more criteria that reflect impaired health function over a 12-month period.

The lawsuit alleges that the jail has a policy for giving medication, such as buprenorphine (Suboxone or Subutex), or methadone, to pregnant women suffering from opioid use disorder, but has no policy for non-pregnant individuals, forcing them to go into withdrawal once they’re booked.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of two inmates who were receiving medication assisted treatment before they became incarcerated. However, the ACLU is seeking class-action status for all non-pregnant people incarcerated who have Opioid Use Disorder.

“Defendants’ policy and practice of denying medications to treat opioid use disorder to non-pregnant individuals is both dangerous and discriminatory,” according to the complaint filed in the case.” It singles out a particularly vulnerable group of disabled people, forces them to suffer unnecessarily from painful opioid withdrawal, and subjects them to an increased risk of relapse and overdose death.”

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said Thursday he believed several other jails in Washington state are under scrutiny by the ACLU for opioid treatment. He said the county had not been served with the lawsuit yet as of Thursday afternoon, but noted the ACLU has 20 days to do so.

Elfo said the 2019 opening of a new 32-bed crisis triage center for people suffering from mental health and substance use disorders will provide an alternative to taking people who use opioids to jail, and give them access to treatment.

“This is something that’s been asked for for 20 years. I’m glad it’s something that’s finally on the horizon,” he said.

The project will expand the current Crisis Triage Center and will be on Division Street in Bellingham. It will cost up to an estimated $9.5 million.

My opinion?

First, kudos to Ms. Pratt for her excellent and timely reporting.

Second, lawsuits like this reveal the pressing need for Whatcom County to construct a new jail. A larger facility with upgraded services would not only better serve the needs of the incarcerated defendants, but also the jail staff and police officers who work there on a daily basis.

I’ve heard the arguments against a new jail. Clearly – and unfortunately – the community has voted down numerous proposals. What most people don’t understand, however, is that the current jail is decrepit, unsafe and virtually inhumane. As a result, we see riots and suicides happen at the jail with unsettling frequency.

Good luck to the ACLU. Hopefully, they’ll be instrumental toward making positive changes happen for the inmates and hardworking jail staff here in Whatcom County.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.