ORIGINAL 1:57 PM REPORT: We’re at the King County Courthouse, in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Chris Washington, who is scheduled shortly to sentence the three teenagers found guilty in connection with last year’s High Point attack that seriously injured Southwest Precinct Officer Jason McKissack one year ago (here’s the report on the verdict a month ago; here’s one of our reports from last year). A 17-year-old boy was found guilty of assault; a 17-year-old boy and 18-year-old girl were found guilty of obstruction of a law-enforcement officer. Five police officers are here in the courtroom so far to observe, in uniform; your editor here is one of two reporters present so far. We’ll publish the sentences (and any other information from this hearing) as soon as they are announced.
2:08 PM UPDATE: Officer McKissack, who is still on leave, is here as well – almost one year exactly after the attack (6/17/08). The three defendants have all arrived — all three in blue jeans, the two boys in white T-shirts, the girl in a gray sweatshirt – with six lawyers at the table with them (some of whom would be prosecutors, of course).
2:45 PM UPDATE: The first two sentences have been announced: For the girl, no detention; 75 hours of community service; 1 year of probation. She spoke briefly to the court, saying she didn’t believe she deserved detention time – but no words of apology. For the older boy (guilty of obstruction), no additional detention (he had already served 59 days, according to his lawyer), 150 hours of community service, 12 months of probation. He told the judge he knew what happened was wrong and what happened to the officer was wrong, but he wanted to say that he was not an evil person. Meantime, the officer’s wife and another relative have both addressed the court, with emotion in one case, emotion and fury in another.
3:29 PM UPDATE: The 17-year-old boy found guilty of third-degree assault has just been sentenced: No additional jail time (he apparently served 30 days electronic monitoring), 1 year probation, 150 hours of community service. This after a lengthy legal argument over the state’s request for an exceptional sentence. There is one more step in this case – a restitution hearing requested by prosecutors.
3:44 PM UPDATE: After a little more than an hour and a half, the hearing just concluded, as lawyers wrapped up paperwork and details. All three of the teenagers addressed the court, though none expressed remorse for what happened. Officer McKissack did not testify; in addition to his wife and another relative who spoke, one of the uniformed officers who were in attendance rose to address the judge before the sentencing ended. Here is our transcription of most of what he said:
We’re sending the wrong message – people have to be held accountable for their actions … I’ve been on the streets for 13 years … We’re getting into more fights, we’re getting assaulted more. At our precinct alone, we’ve had suspects bite officers twice in the past month, and I believe one was a juvenile. … We’re sending the wrong message. People have to understand – now, if you just hit, kick spit on officers, you’re not going to get any significant time … We’re not out there to be punching bags … (But people are) very comfortable, as if they know that minor assault on officers is not going to be held acountable. An assault on an officer is an assault on society. (But) an officer should not have to be stabbed, or have bones broken, for someone to be held accountable … This makes it hard for us out there. For those who [unlike testimony indicated, regarding these three] may truly be bad kids, the word is going to get out … and we have to go out and deal with them
A few more details to come, including the legal sparring between the prosecution and the defense – and ultimately, the judge sided with the defense, suggesting that if it wanted the case sentenced like second-degree assault, why wasn’t it charged as second-degree assault? – and what the officer’s family members told the judge … and the defendants. (By the way, the only other journalist in court with us was from the Seattle Times, and she may have some additional reaction, as she followed the police contingent out of the courtroom while the proceedings were down to the final details, which we stayed for – we’ll add the link to their story when we see it.) ADDED 10:48 PM: More details from the hearing — read on:
Early in this afternoon’s hearing, the prosecutor announced the state was seeking “manifest injustice” for the 17-year-old boy convicted of third-degree assault, in order to ask for a sentence of at least 30 weeks of detention. This was explained a bit later. But first:
-A woman who described herself as a “mentor” of the 17-year-old girl (convicted of obstruction of a law enforcement officer) said she had known her for 10 years and described her as a “bright, high-achieving young woman” trying to get into community college, “sometimes a little rambunctious … Most people make mistakes. This might be larger than others, but from here, she can move on.”
Her lawyer called the case “an absolute isolated incident” and said the girl had never before been in the criminal justice system. She then spoke briefly on her own behalf, saying she didn’t think she should be given a detention sentence, adding that she had done volunteer work at The Mount, Southwest Community Center and Delridge Community Center, more than 200 hours beyond the 60 required for her to have received her high-school diploma.
After she spoke, Judge Washington started to pronounce his sentence, saying that he was not going to give her detention time, but “what I’m trying to find (for community service) is something that will be a constant reminder to you of what happened.” At that point, the prosecutor said he would like to have the judge hear from Officer McKissack’s wife before any sentencings were announced, and the judge granted that request.
She addressed both the judge and the defendants – here is our transcription (not word for word, but the best we could do at the time):
(Addressing the older boy) This started because of your stupid behavior … the officer responded out of care. He believed you were in peril and going to die. Because of him, you’re alive. (Addressing the girl), this continued because of you. You put your hands on (the officer) … nothing in the situation indicated assaulting a police officer was the right thing to do. You could have called 911. (Addressing the boy convicted of assault), this continued because of you. From the onset, there was nothing but harm in your heart … The three of you have shown you have no desire to be contributing members of society … This was a seasoned officer, a 9-year veteran, in peak physical condition, well respected … You have cost King County taxpayers at least 50 thousand dollars, as well as lost wages for us .. You compromised the safety of citizens in the neighborhood, your own family and friends … You each chose to independently attack a uniformed police officer. You each chose to continue to attack him. The irrevocable damage he has suffered this past year … Have you ever given your life to something? … What would it be worth to you? … If you each were punished (equal to) the time he has suffered, I’d suggest one year in jail for each of you. And working one year with people with head trauma, so you have an idea of the damage you have caused … It’s time to be responsible and accountable for your actions. I appreciate those who have enlisted their lives (to protect) … The Bible says, ‘blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Sons of God.’ You’re alive today because of the quick response of my husband.”
What was described as a letter from the couple’s daughter also was submitted, but not read aloud.
The judge resumed the sentence he had begun to announce, including probation for a year “but not interfering with college,” and 75 hours of community service. He indicated he thought that was more punishment than detention would have been, saying being locked up was “mostly boring and I don’t think it’s all that much punishment …”
Next, on to the 18-year-old who’d been found guilty of obstruction of justice. His lawyer said he’d had a rough life – his mother and grandparents died at a young age, his aunt had cared for him – and noted he’s about to start summer school, and has a summer job with a government agency, doing computer projects. (It was also mentioned here that he had no criminal history – but barely an hour later, it was revealed he’d been arrested for alleged residential burglary a month before trial.)
What he then said to the judge: “I feel like I realize what happened … I am responsible for all my actions. People try to judge me, but nobody here knows me, knows what I’ve been through. I know what I did was wrong, and what happened to the officer was wrong, but nobody should make me look like an evil person. It was a mistake. Only God can judge you.”
“I serve as a weak imitation of God, but I have to judge you,” the judge observed, before turning over the floor to the prosecution.
“We didn’t say he was an evil person – but what happened June 17, 2008, involved evil, egregious, outrageous acts … that were (his) doing, because of out-of-control behavior that led to that sequence of acts.” The prosecutor said the 18-year-old was intoxicated and should get drug/alcohol evaluation.
At that point, the prosecution asked that another relative of Officer McKissack be allowed to speak. She started to face the defendants, and the judge suggested she address him instead, at which point she said, “I want to burn their faces in my mind,” continuing:
I was so angry at these kids … Why are we treating them as if this is minor? They have changed a family, and a man who was a good man, who was trying to help … This isn’t just ‘not doing the dishes’ … this is criminal … this was attempted murder, that these kids tried to kill my nephew-in-law. I am livid they are getting slapped on the hand. They could have killed him. It’s just by the grace of God they didn’t.
As she started to walk back to the spectator area, she looked at them and muttered loudly, “Hope you burn in hell,” which the judge scolded her for: “That’s inappropriate.”
She replied, “I’m sorry, sir,” and sat down.
The judge then addressed the 18-year-old defendant, saying he didn’t think his actions were intentional, “but the biggest problem is that you weren’t thinking … friends were trying to get you to stop and you went about what you did. I don’t think you made conscious decisions. … I read (that) your life has had challenges, you were born into a family that wasn’t there for you, but you’re old enough to figure out that’s just the way things are. No amount of self-pity is going to change that. Seems to me you have the brains and personality to be productive.”
That defendant got 150 hours of community service, 12 months of probation, alcohol evaluation, with the judge chiding, “Alcohol is a poison.” He was sentenced to 30 days in detention, but he’d previously served more than that, so that meant no additional time in lockup.
Finally came the legal argument over the sentencing of the final defendant, the 17-year-old who kicked Officer McKissack in the head – more than once – and was found guilty of third-degree assault.
Describing the standard sentencing range as “woefully inadequate,” the prosecutor explained that the state was seeking “manifest injustice,” akin to an exceptional sentence in adult court. This was warranted, he said, by the attempt to inflict serious bodily injury, among other things.
At this point, the judge asked why the state hadn’t sought second-degree assault charges, since that was the sort of sentence they were seeking against this defendant. He also took issue with “manifest injustice” being recommended “so late in the process … it seems that only after being successful in the case did the state ramp up, vs. having the gumption to charge Assault 2.”
In response, the prosecutor used a phrase he used several times afterward – saying the state hadn’t wanted to seek that charge because of “doors the defense wanted to open” that the state didn’t want to see opened. (This was never elaborated on.)
The judge declared it put him in a “difficult situation.” The prosecutor insisted they’d given enough notice of their intent to seek this, something the defense lawyer took vigorous exception to. The prosecutor reiterated that with a kick in the face, “it was pretty clear the respondent’s intent was to do some damage … in this case he caused significant damage to Officer McKissack’s brain.” He also argued the officer was “vulnerable at the time of the assault” – saying that was clear because he’d been unable to block the kicks to his head, “being attacked by what was essentially a mob.”
A woman whom we believe identified herself as the defendant’s mother (she spoke softly, facing the judge 15 or so feet away, and it was hard to hear) spoke briefly then, saying they were “churchgoing people.”
Then his lawyer took over and vigorously attacked the prosecution argument, saying they didn’t know before the trial that sentencing recommendations would be based on alleged infliction of bodily injury, alleging his side was “kept intentionally in the dark by the state,” accusing prosecutors of “seeking tactical advantage” with that action.
To the judge, he said, “They’re here bemoaning the fact they didn’t charge Assault 2 because they didn’t think they could prove it, but they ask you to impose sentencing commensurate to a case they chose not to prove.” He also noted his client was “peaceful” at the start of the incident, trying to restrain the older boy. He said his client had “almost a complete absence of criminal history,” aside from a “diversion” more than 3 years ago.
The boy spoke fleetingly, saying only, “I am a good kid … whatever happened to the officer and his family, I mean no harm.”
Reiterating his case, the prosecutor noted again, “this was all the more egregious because it was done to a uniformed police officer.” When the judge once more questioned why the state hadn’t pursued a more serious charge, the prosecutor replied, “The state has some regrets, but this is what we’re left with.”
Eventually, after saying again that it was a “difficult decision,” Judge Washington announced he would stay within the standard sentencing range, especially considering prosecutors did not seek the tougher charge. Addressing the third and final defendant, he said, “You made a very bad decision,” and then the judge observed, “We did see a brutal truth (in trial testimony) … law enforcement is viewed by different members of the public in a different manner. … Everyone was watching the same event but it was as if they were watching two different scenarios.”
And his sentence for the third suspect: 1 year probation, 150 hours of community service, 30 days of incarceration (which had already been served). Plus, an anger-management class: “You DID overreact,” he chided the defendant.
A date is to be set next for a restitution hearing.