West Seattle Crime Watch followup: Donald Plute charged in pickup theft/car-ramming case

August 16, 2013 at 4:36 pm | In Crime, West Seattle news | 36 Comments

(August 6th photos by WSB co-publisher Patrick Sand)
Donald Maxwell Plute is now charged in connection with the pickup theft and car-ramming incident that unfolded across the peninsula a week and a half ago. And his bail in this case alone will start at $250,000 – if police can find and arrest him.

Plute is the 23-year-old Top Hat man who was let out of jail the day after his arrest last week as first reported here, because District Court Judge Johanna Bender didn’t find “probable cause” to hold him. Compounding matters at the time, a warrant for his arrest was issued the same day, related to another case, but somehow it wasn’t brought to the judge’s attention. The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office told WSB at the time that charges still might be filed – and today, indeed, they have been.

Plute is now charged with first-degree robbery, two counts of second-degree assault, and attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle. As we reported during and after it all happened on August 6th, the pickup truck he is accused of stealing from outside Cactus on Alki was pursued by an Audi containing two men including the pickup’s owner. While calling 911, they followed the pickup to Upper Alki, where it reverse-rammed the car, then took off. It was spotted again in Morgan Junction, where a police car pursuing it was also reverse-rammed on southbound California just south of Fauntleroy. The pickup was ditched nearby in Gatewood and Plute was arrested hiding under a deck at a nearby home.

The charging document filed today says that evidence developed since last week includes fingerprints from a phone that was in the pickup when it was stolen, as well as witness identification of Plute. The documents also say Plute has had five warrants out for his arrest in the past three years, with convictions including hit-and-run and another case of attempting to elude police; his record goes back to age 15, with juvenile convictions including theft, assault, car prowl, and possession of a stolen vehicle. The charging documents tell the tale of many citizen witnesses who spotted the suspect on the run in Gatewood and also note that the damage to the police car alone will cost more than $11,000 to fix. Again, Plute is now charged, but is not in custody; if and when he’s arrested, $260,000 in warrants are out for him.

ADDED 1:38 AM: Went back through our photo archives and found a full-face photo we took at the arrest scene after Plute was taken out of a patrol car to be checked out by arriving firefighter/medics summoned when he complained of pain.

According to a close-up view on the Facebook page a commenter mentioned, the neck tattoo says “FEAR ME.”

36 Comments

  1. Johanna Bender is a #^%$@ idiot.

    Comment by Rob — 4:42 pm August 16, 2013 #

  2. Gotta love our judges. Geesh. Hope he doesn’t ram another car.

    Comment by Panda — 4:42 pm August 16, 2013 #

  3. ok judge, now what? no excuse for this guy being on the streets. can’t believe this crap sometimes.

    Comment by flimflam — 4:45 pm August 16, 2013 #

  4. “if police can find and arrest him…” Sigh. The wheels of justice turn slow, but at least they are turning. Just mad this clown is going to cost us taxpayers even MORE in the efforts to find and re-arrest him. Not too impressed with our judicial system on this one. But glad to see his days are numbered.

    Comment by chuck and sally's van man — 5:03 pm August 16, 2013 #

  5. Remember to write that judge’s name down….vote her out!

    Comment by Wyo — 5:28 pm August 16, 2013 #

  6. So, can we get a picture of this guy? How are we supposed to know what he looks like? Do the police want help from the public or are they doing this by themselves?

    Comment by TheOtherDude — 5:44 pm August 16, 2013 #

  7. Seattle is way too lax. This puck pot is taking up space and breathing our air. I am soooo sick of all of it.

    Comment by Gini Johnson — 5:59 pm August 16, 2013 #

  8. Hmmm, one would think that a judge would consider that such a person may have some outstanding issues before releasing him to the streets again. Where is the accountability? If I handled my job with such irresponsibility, I would be unemployed and rightly so. There is absolutely no excuse for such laziness when so much is at stake. That judge deserves to be fired, immediately. No excuses, no paycheck, no second chance. Grow up, it’s a responsibility not a free ride.

    Comment by WSRes — 6:22 pm August 16, 2013 #

  9. May not be just the Judge’s fault- looks like sloppy paperwork on an incident like this- maybe a reassessment of submitting reports in a more timely manner is in order so the Judge has all the information at hand?

    Comment by Gene — 6:37 pm August 16, 2013 #

  10. We have good judges, and some who are not so good.
    Johanna Bender is out, in my book.

    Comment by Genesee Hill — 6:47 pm August 16, 2013 #

  11. Instead of being so quick to blame the judge, I wonder if either the police or the prosecutor’s office failed in their duty to give the judge the required information.

    Comment by community member — 6:55 pm August 16, 2013 #

  12. Surreal.

    Comment by Tbone — 7:42 pm August 16, 2013 #

  13. Yes!! This POS has been in our apt complex numerous times prowling cars, stealing a bike and 4 cars broken into this summer. I know who he is and am pretty sure where he lives, think I’ll give Seattle P.D. a call about him. Got everyone here watching for him, and we know you shaved your head Mr. Plute, no ponytail anymore, but we will spot you!!

    Comment by tophat topcat — 7:53 pm August 16, 2013 #

  14. I’m no crime expert, but it seems this is the sort of guy who should not be on the streets. Sometimes it seems like SPD just gives us law-abiding folks a lukewarm thumbs-up and a “Good luck with that” as the criminals continually wreak their drug-fueled havoc in our neighborhoods.

    Comment by Wanda Ray — 8:15 pm August 16, 2013 #

  15. Community member has it right, its very possible that there is sloppy paperwork in this case/cases that allowed for the person to be released. Don’t always blame the judge, if the paperwork is not correct, then they have to follow what is presented.

    Comment by coffee — 8:17 pm August 16, 2013 #

  16. Is this him?

    Donald Plute, lives in Burien, from White Center. Trashy lookin’ dude, so likely him.

    https://www.facebook.com/206whiteboy206

    Comment by David — 8:20 pm August 16, 2013 #

  17. Regarding paperwork: I’d love to post it in detail if I could find a way to redact the names of witnesses and others that we don’t publish. The documents were downloaded as images so I can’t cut and paste. There are very detailed timelines. Some of the evidence was not obtained until after the probable-cause hearing the day after this happened. The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office believed they’d laid out probable cause; the judge thought otherwise. As for whether “this is the sort of guy that should not be on the streets” and blaming police for him being on the streets – the record shows they’ve arrested him time and time and time again. But it’s obviously a complicated picture as to why those arrests didn’t result in more time behind bars. I’d have to look at each individual case, as paperwork is available, and even that wouldn’t tell the whole story without having been in courtrooms, etc. One thing I can say after several years of covering this kind of thing – he is not the first “frequent flyer” we have wound up following through the system – while thefts, burglaries, etc., are the most common types of crimes, because they are not violent, they don’t carry a heavy penalty. If you believe they should – and we’ve written this before – you need to talk to legislators, because they are the ones who in the end pass the laws that include sentences. But then there comes a cost – the cost of incarcerating people for long periods, of incarcerating more people for longer periods. I could go on … maybe one of our commenters/readers with a background in all this cares to elaborate … I have a couple more stories waiting to be written – TR

    Comment by WSB — 8:31 pm August 16, 2013 #

  18. Thanks for the thoughtful perspective, WSB.

    Comment by Jeff — 9:27 pm August 16, 2013 #

  19. Immediately release all non-violent first time drug offenders. Suddenly we’d have some spare cash to put hard criminals (like this guy) away for good.

    Comment by B — 10:23 pm August 16, 2013 #

  20. The judge made a bad call and risked public safety.

    Comment by Another Jeff — 10:26 pm August 16, 2013 #

  21. Bender is a good judge. I’ve appeared in front of her as defense counsel and she rarely makes a bad call, she knows the law, and would not put people at risk if she really thought the State presented sufficient probable cause. But she will not bend the rules, regardless of which side is making the argument. It’s called being impartial, and it is what we expect all judges to be. It is very easy to be critical after the fact. I never respond to these posts, but there seems to be a rush of opinions and personal jabs lately (particularly about the judges and our criminal courts) without much information or thought. Thanks WSB for filling in some blanks, and reminding everyone that it is much easier to sit at your laptop and complain than actually doing something to figure out why things are the way they are.

    Comment by JLA — 11:32 pm August 16, 2013 #

  22. You yahoos let losers out of jail and they go right back to their way of life! time after time after time after time …

    Comment by lord help us — 11:35 pm August 16, 2013 #

  23. JLA it is difficult for a layman to understand how someone who was caught stealing a pickup and doing all that damage could be out probably causing more problems. Somebody is at fault.

    Comment by dsa — 1:20 am August 17, 2013 #

  24. Turns out we did get a photo of his face when photographing the arrest scene last week and saved it in case he was charged. I’ve added it above. – TR

    Comment by WSB — 1:45 am August 17, 2013 #

  25. What a POS. And the judge saw no probable cause to hold him?

    I’d say stealing a vehicle (which is supposedly a class B felony in Washington State)http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=9A.56.065

    Complete disregard for public safety by ramming a car

    Fleeing from the police and then assault on a police officer by ramming their car is probable cause to hold the person.

    His tattoo says “fear me”? Please, give me a break. Why does stupid keep breeding?

    Comment by Eric — 2:23 am August 17, 2013 #

  26. no explanation will make it a reasonable outcome when dudes like this revolve in and out of jail in a matter of days for their continuous crimes.
    ——————————–

    all this paperwork BS is a pretty lame reason to have this guy out again…

    Comment by flimflam — 8:32 am August 17, 2013 #

  27. I guarantee he’s going to hurt someone else while he is on the run! I believe he and the judge should be held responsible for whatever happens. People need to start taking accountability for their actions just like the judge that turned him loose. In my eyes this makes the judge negligent and should be charged.

    Comment by kam — 12:56 pm August 17, 2013 #

  28. I agree with Eric. There was more than enough evidence for charges against this guy, even without looking at his history – as well as a current warrant. I can’t believe that our justice system is so broken that even these few simple pieces could not be put together in time for this guy to walk away.

    Comment by anonyme — 1:09 pm August 17, 2013 #

  29. Thanks, David, for posting the link to his Facebook page.
    This is truly one angry, troubled, hence, dangerous individual.
    Let’s all hope he’s captured soon.

    Comment by pupsarebest — 5:23 pm August 17, 2013 #

  30. Those kinds of tattoos are very common in the King County jail population.

    Comment by evergreen — 6:50 pm August 17, 2013 #

  31. As someone with, as Tracy says, “a background in all this,” I am sharing my thoughts for those who are convinced that Judge Bender’s decision to not detain this suspect was a “bad call” worthy of removing her from the bench. I have not seen the police reports that Tracy refers to, so I don’t know any more facts than anyone else here does. But I do know something about how the process works and why a judge might decide there was no probable cause to detain the suspect the day he was initially arrested. (Sorry this so long. I didn’t spend enough time on it to make it short.)
    .
    First, Plute was arrested after police found the stolen car and went looking for whoever had been driving it. The police obviously did not have a warrant to arrest Plute. Arrests made without a warrant are different from arrests made with a warrant. (That “paperwork BS” is the constitution.) When an arrest is warrantless, the law requires that the suspect be brought before a judge “as soon as practicable” to decide whether there is a legal basis to keep the person in jail until prosecutors decide whether to charge him and what with. They cannot just hold onto him until they are done investigating.
    .
    Before looking at how (and when) the charging decision is made, it’s worth knowing a little about the timing, because it has a big impact on what happens after a person is arrested. If the arrest was at, say, 11:00 AM, then the suspect will probably first appear in court at 2:30 PM in a courtroom in the King County Jail. This does not give the police much time to interview witnesses, do a line-up for identification by witnesses, gather fingerprints, and write up their reports. There’s just no way all this work will get done before a court hearing the same day as the arrest. By the time of the 2:30 hearing, the police will have submitted a basic police report and a statement called a “certificate of probable cause.” This is a key document that the judge will rely on to determine if there is a legal basis to keep the suspect in custody until formal charges are filed.
    .
    Keep in mind that this 2:30 hearing will not involve just this one arrest. The King County District Court handles over 10,000 initial hearings on felony warrantless arrests every year. That’s more than thirty a day, although the number appearing at any one hearing varies. Very likely, there will be one prosecutor representing the county and one public defender there to represent any suspect who does not have his own lawyer. These thankless individuals — the district court prosecutors and defenders — are expected to make thoughtful and accurate presentations to the court with little or no preparation time. The police officers involved in the arrest will not even be there. So everyone is relying on the documents. Considering the time pressure on everyone involved, starting with the police and ending with the lawyers in court, it should not be too hard to understand why a judge might be presented with an incomplete picture of the events.
    .
    This brings us back to the core purpose of the hearing, which is to determine whether the suspect should be held in jail while the police and prosecutors pull their evidence together and file felony charges. The longest a court can hold someone who has not been charged is 72 hours. But the court cannot hold a suspect at all unless it finds, based on the evidence submitted at this initial hearing, that there was probable cause to arrest the suspect. “Probable cause” means this: Officers have probable cause to make a warrantless arrest where the facts and circumstances within the officers’ knowledge are sufficient to support a belief by a person of reasonable caution that a felony has been committed and that the person arrested committed the felony. In determining whether an arresting officer’s belief was reasonable, the court, in theory, considers all the facts within the officer’s knowledge at the time of the arrest. In reality, all the judge has is the certificate of probable cause and a police report.
    .
    So why would Judge Bender have made the decision that there was no probable cause in this case? None of us can really know at this point, because we have not seen the police report and certificate of probable cause. So when people say there was “so much evidence against this guy” I have to ask: how does anyone here know what evidence was presented to the judge? In fact, the one thing that leaps out of the reports on WSB and the SPD blotter is that Plute was not caught “stealing a vehicle,” as many people seem to believe. He was caught somewhere in the vicinity of a stolen truck. The officers believe he is the one who stole it. The question is what evidence, at the time of that first hearing, was presented to the judge?
    .
    My own guess or speculation is that the police report and certificate of probabe cause did not provide the judge with sufficient facts to connect Plute to the stolen pickup. I have only seen the reports here on WSB and the SPD blotter, and they seem to say this: The officers lost contact with the stolen pickup truck after the police car was rammed. Sometime later, the officers found the stolen truck parked on a street, but the driver had left the scene. The officers searched around the area to see if they could find the driver. Nothing in the SPD blotter or the WSB had a description of the driver the day this happened; they described only the truck. I don’t know if the officers had a description of the driver, but in my experience, if they did, it would have been in their report and they would have been able to say they found a suspect who matched the description, or else that they recognized him from when the car was rammed.
    .
    The officers then say they found a guy under the deck of someone’s home. The officers say he was “hiding.” Hiding is a purposeful act, and without the facts that explain why the officers concluded he was hiding, it is impossible to evaluate the statement. The legal term for this is “conclusory,” meaning the police report offers a conclusion (he was “hiding”) without offering the facts to support it (such as, he was crouched behind a barbecue or he was on the ground under some bushes).
    .
    We also don’t know how much information concerning the suspect’s criminal history was given to the judge, except that we know for sure that she was not told about a warrant being issued for Plute’s arrest in another case. It was the prosecutor’s responsibility to provide that information (not that I necessarily fault the prosecutor either for not knowing). The fact that the suspect has a criminal record, by itself, is not evidence that he stole the truck.
    .
    Finally, it’s important to understand, I think, that Judge Bender’s probable cause decision has nothing to do with whether Plute is in fact guilty of the crimes he is now charged with. The police continued investigating the whole time after he was initially arrested, as they should, and by now no doubt they have all the evidence they need to prosecute him and take the case to trial. Judge Bender’s ruling was not a comment on his innocence or guilt — it was a decision, based on the limited evidence that was available to her at that time, that Plute should not be held while the police and prosecutors continued their investigation and made a charging decision.
    .
    Johanna Bender was appointed to the District Court bench in 2012. She will stand for election, but I don’t know how soon. Rather than judge her performance based on a single decision that you don’t agree with, you could pay attention to the several thousand other decisions she will have made by the time she is up for election. I don’t have any reason at this point to believe she made a mistake, but even if I did, I would want to know a lot more about her before I decided she should not be on the bench.

    Comment by waterworld — 7:27 pm August 17, 2013 #

  32. Johanna Bender has a Facebook page. I messaged her and expressed my confusion, providing a link to this article. She has not responded. I don’t really know if it is proper or even ethical for her to respond, but if she checked he FB messages she knows about this.

    Comment by yacman — 11:09 pm August 17, 2013 #

  33. Tracy – Copy and paste the charging document images into a publisher document and then put black text boxes over the names and save as a .pdf!

    Comment by BD — 11:14 pm August 17, 2013 #

  34. He purposefully rammed a public servant’s vehicle. Honestly Waterworld, that’s an attempt to kill a police officer and you don’t think that’s enough legally to hold him? Please, I’ll keep my rant short on this. The system failed and it’s the judges fault 100% that it failed.

    Comment by Mike — 7:42 pm August 18, 2013 #

  35. Waterworld. I understand your explanation of the events, but there is almost no doubt that someone’s head should roll for this, whether it’s the judge or prosecutor.

    I’m almost certain (spoke with both the Audi driver and the Pickup owner) that they both saw the guy, and gave that description to police. They watched him jump in the truck when he first stole it, followed him, watched him ram them, and finally watched as he turned around and sped past them. Not a guarantee that they got a good look at his face, but a lot of opportunities.

    In addition, in the police car that was rammed, there’s a good chance that the officer got a description of him.

    Then, you throw in the fact that they found him hiding near the truck, you’d think probable cause would be a cake walk.

    Because probable cause was not found, it’s reasonable to think that someone made a big mistake. Maybe it wasn’t the judge, and maybe it was.

    Comment by John — 9:31 pm August 18, 2013 #

  36. As Waterworld said, all it would take to determine lack of probable cause is no information that the arrest was made based on a description either by the officer rammed or the two in audi following him. Yes it seems like a miscarriage, however, the man initially arrested could have been someone working on something underneath the porch for all the judge knew. Everything depends on what was in the paperwork submitted to the judge.

    Comment by Elisaid — 2:05 pm August 19, 2013 #

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