BULLETIN: West Seattle Rotary Club announces totem-pole agreement

(12/14/09 WSB photo after the stolen Rotary Viewpoint Park totem pole was brought back to Seattle)
We are at the regular weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of West Seattle, where an agreement has just been announced regarding the theft of the totem pole last November 30th (as first reported here a few days later) from Rotary Viewpoint Park (on 35th south of the stadium).

According to a statement provided by the club, the suspected thief “has agreed to pay approximately $3,200 in restitution to the Parks Department for the cost of recovering the stolen pole. He has also made payment of $17,745 to the Rotary Club of West Seattle Service Foundation. These funds will afford professional restoration to be completed on the pole, work that was needed at the time of its removal. Because Rotary has been put in a position where it can now fund restoration of the totem pole we do not wish to pursue a criminal charge against the man responsible for its disappearance. We have informed the Prosecutor’s Office of our inclination. We are currently working with Seattle Parks on a stewardship agreement so that the Pole can be restored by skilled artisans in a timely manner. We look forward to updating the community as this progresses so we can set a date for the Pole and Park’s re-dedication. Our thanks go to the Prosecutor’s Office and Parks Department for their continued commitment to resolving this issue.” As we reported last week, there is particular urgency for the Rotary – one of the men who sleuthed the case, Ken Wise, is terminally ill and hopes to see the pole reinstalled before he dies.

(Video added 4:11 pm, Josh Sutton making the announcement at today’s Rotary meeting)
12:45 PM UPDATE: Josh Sutton has just made the announcement at the Rotary meeting and showed the $17K check. He is making a special thanks to Ken, who just got a special announcement. Sutton said, “For us it’s not about who’s responsible, but about moving forward. This isn’t about people who take things – this is about people who give things. Our task is now to get this pole back … put this baby back where she belongs … when Ken can see it. So that’s our next step.” Sutton says there also is an opportunity for the community to give, for the re-dedication. More details ahead on that. We also will be checking with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for their side of this, as well as to see if the suspect will be charged in the theft of the Renton pole found along with the West Seattle pole.

2:23 PM: Dan Donohoe, media liaison for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, has responded to our two questions:

We take into consideration input from the victim. In this case, the Rotary did not want to pursue criminal charges since the responsible party has now agreed to pay for a complete restoration of the totem pole. Regarding the Renton case, it is still under review. However, it is unlikely that we would be able to file any charges in the Renton case due to evidentiary issues.

The Renton pole was stolen from a Fred Meyer store that didn’t know it was stolen until it was found with the West Seattle pole in Oregon (here’s our story from last December).

82 Replies to "BULLETIN: West Seattle Rotary Club announces totem-pole agreement"

  • FullTilt May 11, 2010 (12:41 pm)

    Good to know you wont get charged with felony theft in Seattle if you have enough money.

  • Cheryl May 11, 2010 (12:53 pm)

    Seriously? Ugh. That’s just wrong on so many levels. But it *is* the Rotary’s pole, and clearly the city of Seattle doesn’t think it has enough to prosecute this jerk for stealing it, so I guess they gotta do what they gotta do. Still sucks that he won’t be taken to jail for a LONG time for what he did.

  • Westie May 11, 2010 (12:59 pm)

    Very disappointed. Very. I want the local West Seattle resident who brashly stole community property to be punished more than financially. I want his record branded so others know what he is. Saying I’m sorry and handing over money (that might be from other stolen property) isn’t enough. I’m happy to donate $100 to Rotary, and I’m sure there’s thousands more like me, if it means the Rotary isn’t obligated to a thief’s funds.

  • ScottA May 11, 2010 (1:01 pm)

    This is so wrong. The name needs to be public. There’s going to be an opportunity to donate money? I wouldn’t want my money mixed in with this crook’s. My dad’s a Rotarian and it’s a great organization. This is a scar.

  • JennyB May 11, 2010 (1:16 pm)

    My family and I will be at the rededication ceremony to celebrate the totem pole’s return!

  • Kat May 11, 2010 (1:30 pm)

    Can you imagine if a young, poor, racial minority was responsible for this? I think the Rotary would be leading the charge to the Prosecutor’s office rather than falling all over themselves for a big check. So gross.

  • pam May 11, 2010 (1:36 pm)

    I’m baffled by the Rotary’s decision not to press charges. I understand they want the pole back in place and have been given the funding to do so, but really, no theft charges? Is there another entity that’s in a position to prosecute the guy for his crimes and do they intend to do so? For example, was that parks land it was stolen from and if that’s the case, will parks press charges?

    Stunned and baffled. Really.

  • andrea May 11, 2010 (1:41 pm)

    I agree with what Kat said…this is just plain old WRONG. Apparently money can buy your freedom.

  • Josh May 11, 2010 (1:41 pm)

    Wow. A few of you are pretty quick to judge our Rotary Club. It was made clear to us pretty early that this guy would not have any jail time if charged/found guilty. The prosecutors have been open that the legal world does not view this as heinous of a crime as we do. Our club has since focused on taking care of a community treasure and restoring it to it’s rightful place in our community.

  • morcaffeineplease May 11, 2010 (1:48 pm)

    What this person did is an affront to all West Seattle residents. I understand that the Rotary wants to expedite this matter and move on, but the North Admiral resident who is responsible for this theft(and who knows how many other totems he’s responsible for?)needs to have charges filed against him, and justice must be served.
    If the Prosecutor’s Office does not bring charges against this person, I will have lost all faith in “the system”. Status and wealth will have won over justice and accountability. Sad. Really sad.

  • Kat May 11, 2010 (1:49 pm)

    @ Josh – how would you feel if someone stole something important from you, got caught, and tried to write you a check to “make it go away?” Wouldn’t you be absolutely insulted? Wouldn’t you feel violated?

    If someone can get criminally prosecuted for stealing a pack of gum from the corner store, they should be prosecuted for stealing artwork and transporting it across state lines.

    Further, even IF the courts couldn’t prosecute, taking dirty hush money from a thief is a terrible example to set for the people and children of this community.

  • WS Steve May 11, 2010 (1:55 pm)

    Thanks to “three strikes” people have gone to jail for life for lesser crimes than this one. I understand the financial motivation for dropping charges here, but this individual needs to have a big, black mark on his record so that should he ever pull something like this again the courts can treat him appropriately. Leniency in a case of brazen disregard for the law such as this is a really bad idea.

  • Josh May 11, 2010 (2:02 pm)

    @ Kat – I will speak for myself to say I felt violated by this theft. I also was disappointed to hear this was not a theft viewed as a felony. I was also frustrated that this man would pay only a small fine and do no jail time if found guilty. I have put my personal feelings aside to see how we can make some good out of a lot of bad. Our community will get a revitalized viewpoint and pole. We will get to thank people like Ken Wise, a longtime West Seattle Rotarian who sleuthed out the Pole’s disappearance and is now battling terminal cancer.

  • Kat May 11, 2010 (2:06 pm)

    @ Josh – Thank you for saying that, and I’m so glad that you’ll be able to honor Mr. Wise. However, please understand that this sends a very specific message that I can’t get behind. All the best, I hope that money ends up doing a lot of good, and that the Rotary won’t have to be in this position again in the future.

  • mark May 11, 2010 (2:06 pm)

    Checkbook justice. It just stinks. The community deserves its day in court.

  • WSMom May 11, 2010 (2:11 pm)

    What about the pole that he stole from the Renton Fred Meyer…is he paying to have that crime swept under the table as well???

    I think the Rotary should create a plaque with the thief’s name and photo on it and place it next to the “restored” pole giving him thanks for his “donation”.

    • WSB May 11, 2010 (2:16 pm)

      We have a message out to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office seeking comment on both the Renton theft and also if this is indeed the last word in the case of the West Seattle totem pole. – TR

  • Tim May 11, 2010 (2:17 pm)

    So quick we are to brandish the guilty. Justice being served doesn’t have to come in the form of jail-time or public unveiling. It’s called justice for a reason.
    I can’t think of anything more just than the guilty agreeing to make restitution — what he is paying is a hell of a lot more than he would have to pay in fines.
    Sorry, but I just feel you people making these comments need to get with the program– jails are overcrowded, mistakes were made and restitution was offered, leave it alone, move along, nothing to see here… :)

  • Richard Summers May 11, 2010 (2:20 pm)

    Whaaaa, prosperous white people from Seattle used to go to villages in South East Alaska and steal poles while the men were out fishing all the time. Look it up. Thats why a native burned down the first pole that used to be in pioneer square. And as a HAIDA Indian I have to say that that pole right there is definitely not made by one of the originators of the NorthWest coast totem pole meaning a Haida, a Tlingit or a Tsimsian. But all that said no stealing it was not right and what kinda guy with enough money to drop 17,000 would just steal one? You can probably work out a deal with an artist to just make you one.

  • Negative Message Sent May 11, 2010 (2:22 pm)

    What has happened to upholding the principles of the INTENT and PURPOSE of law? Huh? Are these basic responsibilities too much for the Rotary Club? Really?

    Not a really great call, Rotarians. Just because the guy isn’t likely to spend anytime in jail, does NOT mean you do not press charges. It is the PRINCIPLE of the thing and the PURPOSE of leadership groups to uphold those principles. At least it use to be. Maybe I am too old-fashioned? Maybe Rotary Club’s mission is something I just don’t understand.

  • Jacob May 11, 2010 (2:24 pm)

    $21k is probably a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of money this guy has made of stolen art. This stinks.

  • WSMom May 11, 2010 (2:26 pm)

    I don’t know if this will do any good, but I’ve sent a letter to the prosecutor’s office.


    Dear Mr. Satterberg:

    I am a resident of West Seattle and I have been following the theft and return of the West Seattle Rotary Club Totem Pole and the Renton Fred Meyer Totem pole. I am disappointed that the thief who was caught pretty much red-handed seems to have the financial ability to buy his way out of trouble. This is a travesty and sends a terrible message to our community. This thief should be prosecuted so that the community can know his name and he can feel the shame associated with making a poor decision that harmed my community and the Renton community. Even if all he gets is a slap on the wrist and community service, so be it!

    Thank you for your consideration.

  • Kayleigh May 11, 2010 (2:52 pm)

    So it’s okay to steal stuff if you pay for it later? Srsly?

  • Amy Lee Derenthal May 11, 2010 (3:00 pm)

    Wow. As the current President of The Rotary Club of West Seattle I continue to be amazed at the support of the Totem Pole and what it means to the residents of West Seattle. I agree that we would have loved to see the thief serve time but that was not what was going to happen. He had a couple choices and the one he chose was to pay to have the Totem Pole restored and returned to it’s rightful place. We are going to celebrate this and honor Ken Wise at the same time. We could not let it drag out any longer. Thank you West Seattle for your support and your concern.

  • Born To Be Mild May 11, 2010 (3:00 pm)

    Sounds like the prosecutor was negotiating with the criminal and he wasn’t going to pay. When the citizens asked when the hanging was going to take place he paid up. Notice that the citizens weren’t allowed to participate?

    I’d really like to know where he lives. I supplement my income by picking up scrap metal.

  • PSL May 11, 2010 (3:00 pm)

    The thief will pay restitution and for the totem pole to be restored. The settlement fits with the traditional punishment for this type of crime.

    The original Alaskan Totem Pole in Pioneer Park was stolen by those who donated it in 1899, the City replaced the stolen totem with one that was honestly acquired.

  • Aaron May 11, 2010 (3:06 pm)

    Here are the guiding principles of Rotary International:

    1. The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service;
    2. High ethical standards in business and professions, the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations, and the dignifying of each Rotarian’s occupation as an opportunity to serve society;
    3. The application of the ideal of service in each Rotarian’s personal, business, and community life;
    4. The advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.

    Here is how they can be bastardized into justifying this behavior:

    1. By making the acquaintance of this thief they can take this as an opportunity to use him for servicing the Totem Pole.
    2. By using the high ethics of the golden rule (He Who Has the Gold Makes the Rules) the thief can be of service in restoring the Totem Pole.
    3. If you get caught by the community, use money from your “Business” to service the Totem Pole
    4. The Rotary Club understand that through goodwill (forgiveness) and peace (taking the money and not making waves) a fellowship of professionals (thieves) can unite to service the Totem Pole.

    Shame on West Seattle Rotary for accepting this graft – oops I mean gift.

  • marty May 11, 2010 (3:17 pm)

    I think we should respect the decisions made by the parties directly involved. The rest of you need to mind your own business.

  • John May 11, 2010 (3:30 pm)

    Very forward thinking approach.

  • marty May 11, 2010 (3:42 pm)

    Thanks John!! I didn’t say I agreed with it, I just think it is a decision to be made by parties involved, not by a public opinion poll.

  • Aaron May 11, 2010 (4:08 pm)

    Um…I hate to break it to you marty…The Seattle City Attorney is an elected office. So yeah, it is a public opinion poll.

  • s May 11, 2010 (4:09 pm)

    Was there a deal between Rotary and the thief whereby Rotary agreed to not press charges in exchange for the $17,000 check? Or did the thief write the check without any such commitment from Rotary? If the latter, why not accept the check and still press charges?
    I suspect the former but the statement was worded just loosely enough to make it ambiguous. Can someone from Rotary clarify?

  • marty May 11, 2010 (4:27 pm)

    Aaron: The decision has been made, live with it.

  • Dale May 11, 2010 (4:40 pm)

    I’m not sure who did this either but here’s a clue. Who signed the check? Whose bank account is this written out of?

    Please don’t tell us it was a criminal defense attorney trust account.

  • Jacob May 11, 2010 (4:44 pm)

    I don’t think there was a reasonable expectation that this person would serve time in jail. However, I don’t think its unreasonable to think that he might have gotten a bunch of community service, have his name shamed in public record, and still be forced to pay restitution as a result of the Rotary pressing charges.

    Yes, a decision has been made. I’m just disappointed this is the option Rotary went with.

  • rawkergrrrl May 11, 2010 (4:55 pm)

    This sounds like a great opportunity for a “thank you” T-Shirt with the thief’s face and name plastered on it. Repayment is required from him but so is public acknowledgement of his bad behavior. For me that would be so much better than wasting tax payer money putting this creep on trail or in jail.

  • Westie May 11, 2010 (5:04 pm)

    What if 5 years from now he steals another pole? If he’s arrested then, with no criminal record, and a checkbook he’ll pay his way out of that one too. Maybe he stole a pole 5 years ago, but paid his way out of punishment for it too? It’s not at all about jail time, it’s about establishing a record of criminal behavior.

    As it stands now, when the pole is back in it’s place, will remind me and many other WS residents of the thief that could buy his way out of trouble with the WS Rotary.

  • lenguamor May 11, 2010 (5:05 pm)

    Lesson learned: be rich and white.
    Too bad some of us can never aspire to half that equation.

  • kg May 11, 2010 (5:15 pm)

    I think the message is “be rich and any color”, but hey good on ya for race baiting.

  • RIch May 11, 2010 (5:28 pm)

    Being Rich and any color is good but will not get you out of half the situations being rich and white will, if race baiting is stating the truth then yes I guess they were race baiting.

    Also, poster PSL did you even read that link you posted? It doesnt tell the whole story but it tells a lot of it. Rich white folks from Seattle went and stole a pole from a fishing village that only had one old lady in it at the time. They chopped the 60 foot pole down “like a log” and cut it in half, also broke the beak off the raven. Afterward they shipped it down to Seattle and had a big ceremony posting it up in Pioneer square. An angry Indian burned it down later and it was replaced with one that is there now.

  • Meghan May 11, 2010 (5:35 pm)

    Did any of you think there was ever any justice in our justice system? Rich white people always get lesser (if any) punishments than poor people, especially those of color. It’s been that way since our country was founded. Doesn’t make it right; just makes it so.

  • Mary T Sheely May 11, 2010 (6:48 pm)

    Is that park not public property? Wouldn’t the city press charges?

  • ltfd May 11, 2010 (6:54 pm)

    Well, in the afterlife perhaps he will be the recipient of a nice, “over-sized”, splintery pole; it should be placed into a-hole.

  • David May 11, 2010 (7:15 pm)

    lenguamor: Nowhere does it say what the thief’s race is. The very fact that you’re assuming that he’s white makes you a racist yourself.

  • bleebah May 11, 2010 (7:23 pm)

    Jeesh — this doesn’t make sense… there must be something more to the story — maybe somebody in the Rotary Club told this yahoo he could take the pole in the first place, that it was free to any person who could remove it? What the heck, I think it must have been a Rotary member who took it. If not, let us understand this decision, because undoubtedly this guy has stolen from others and NOT made restitution, so Rotary is not helping the community at large in this decision not to prosecute. Oh well… weirdness for sure.

  • ScottA May 11, 2010 (7:30 pm)

    re: “public property” – exactly my thought Mary T.

    I wouldn’t really care about this deal if the totel was stolen off Rotary property but I think we’re talking about a significant feature of a city park. Imagine how many other past thefts might be solved if his name were public and how much less likely he’d be to steal again. And no, I’d never expect him to go to jail or even get a significant fine but community service and a record is appropriate.

    • WSB May 11, 2010 (7:38 pm)

      Re: The Parks Department, they’re the only key party I did *not* get reaction from today but am pursuing it for tomorrow – TR

  • madashell May 11, 2010 (8:24 pm)

    Y’knew this kinda “deal” was going to happen when so much time passed and there were no charges announced. This totally sucks. Meanwhile, some poor schmuck gets the life choked outa him by a CVS manager in Chicago for shoplifting toothpaste (no charges there either). Guess that’s a way bigger crime against society. This is a Horrible example to set for our children! Buy your way outa criminal acts. Are these our values? No wonder so many people don’t give a damn anymore.

  • Josh May 11, 2010 (8:50 pm)

    @ Aaron,

    I invite you to visit a West Seattle Rotary meeting so you can see 60-70 of your neighbors band together to make sure hundreds of local kids in need have school supplies when they go to school and new clothes for the Holidays. Your local Rotarians volunteer to plant trees, fund projects in Takaungu, Kenya so women & children have access to education and medical care, support higher education for kids from Sealth & West Seattle, and try to solve difficult problems facing our community.

    When the totem pole went missing, Rotary members were hot on the trail, figuring out the sequence of events, parties involved, who the likely culprit was and reporting him to police. We have continued to work on a solution over these past five months that gets the pole taken care of by the man responsible for taking it.

    We have learned a lot about the limits of law in this situation, and faced some unappealing choices. Our decision may be something you disagree with, and it’s worth a conversation as to the greater good and how people are held responsible, legally, financially, in our civic community. We have had many of those conversations in our club as we struggled with this situation.

    Disagreements about this decision aside, your aspersions on our club members, our behavior and our intentions serve no greater good.

    I hope that you and others might join us as we weed the gardens of the viewpoint, plant anew and re-dedicate this pole. I would look forward to meeting and having an earnest discussion about this in person as we work together.

  • I. Nertia May 11, 2010 (8:52 pm)

    This stinks on so many levels. I understand that Rotary prefers to think only about the positive side of things. Sorry for being unwilling to go along with the happy talk. Perhaps this settlement is the best outcome for them and the pole, but as a negative person it doesn’t suit me at all.

    For one, we now have a known thief in our midst, who has gotten off easy. Will he have a criminal record? If not, it will be possible for him to move on to volunteering in our schools, churches, or any other places where trusted citizens are allowed and criminals are not allowed.

    A few years ago, a very pleasant woman right here in Seattle was charged with embezzling from her church, where she was a bookkeeper or something similar. After her arrest, the church decided not to press charges, and to handle it internally. Because the woman did not have a criminal record she could not be removed from her day job, which was in the finance dept. of Seattle Public Schools. She was moved to another position where she would not be handling $. What do you think that was? She was put in classrooms with kids, I believe as a substitute. Thanks to the church’s justice, she was not a convicted felon, so she could not be fired, only moved around.

    This totem pole deal is nothing to cheer about. Even if it was put back in its unrestored condition, that would be a first step toward justice. The Rotary Club is not the only injured party, since it’s my understanding they donated the totem pole to the community. Restitution should only be the first step.

    I’d like to know that the thief will have a criminal record so that he will be prevented from legally being a trusted member of the community. I’d also like to know his name, should I or any friend accidentally have business dealings with him. I believe we need to be protected from this thief.

  • 35this35mph May 11, 2010 (9:22 pm)

    Yeah, this is a poor outcome. Rotary was not the victim in this crime. Seattle parks (i.e. citizens/taxpayers) was. The Rotarians had a symbolic role as the original donators, but they did *donate* the pole. Restitution prior to trial or pleading guilty is simply buying your way out. Trial or pleading guilty are matters of public record. That is the crux of this matter. The “PERP” gets out of doing the “PERP WALK.” It’s not restitution without admission or finding of guilt! The perp walk is our modern equivalent of the less humane but very effective 1. Spending time in the public square in stocks. 2. A Scarlet letter. 3. Tarring and feathering.

  • bridge to somewhere May 11, 2010 (9:33 pm)

    It is sometimes hard to accept, but sometimes victims make decisions that are best for them. And you know what? The Club was a victim. And they have been way more involved in this drama than any of us. So I am OK with their decision, and I am personally thankful they worked so hard to get this mystery solved and the pole restored. We sometimes miss the forest for the trees–let’s not forget the Rotary Club is full of great people who are incredibly focused on community service, and moreover, they were the victims here . . .

  • bridge to somewhere May 11, 2010 (9:33 pm)

    It is sometimes hard to accept, but sometimes victims make decisions that are best for them. And you know what? The Club was a victim. And they have been way more involved in this drama than any of us. So I am OK with their decision, and I am personally thankful they worked so hard to get this mystery solved and the pole restored. We sometimes miss the forest for the trees–let’s not forget the Rotary Club is full of great people who are incredibly focused on community service, and moreover, they were the victims here . . .

  • dsa May 11, 2010 (9:52 pm)

    Rotary had said that they presented totem to the city, meaning Seattle residents. But now they seem to be able to claim ownership and have negotiated a deal with the prosecutor and thief.

    So just who does own totem?

  • AnotherIdiotInWS May 11, 2010 (9:53 pm)

    Uh, this is not an affront to all West Seattle citizens. I couldn’t give two poops about this pole, but I am a little upset that all this effort to find the crook has gone to waste. If I am not mistaken, no one even noticed the thing was missing until WSB brought it up.

    (tic toc) Ok, I’m not upset anymore. Now, I’m all better. For all of you so bent out of shape over a piece of wood, you can do it, too. Take a deep breath, now let’s all move on.

    • WSB May 11, 2010 (10:35 pm)

      AIIW @9:53 pm – For historical accuracy’s sake, the timeline was: People saw the removal operation the night of the 30th but nobody (even a police officer) realized it was unauthorized. A few days later, we got a note from a reader whose son noticed the pole gone as they drove down 35th. We subsequently checked with the Parks Department, which subsequently investigated, confirmed the pole was gone, checked internally to be sure someone hadn’t removed it for maintenance and not told anyone, finally concluded it was stolen and reported it to police. While we were checking on all this, Ken and Duane of the Rotary Club also had noticed it missing and were following a trail themselves, somewhat in parallel, although they went a lot further – two days after our first story, on Saturday 12/5, the day of the Rotary Shopping Spree for Kids, a huge charity drive the club spearheads, we tagged along as they got the tow truck driver (who they had traced) to show them where he had “dropped off” the pole.

  • Dave Webber May 11, 2010 (10:17 pm)

    Physicians (and others) heal thyselves. WS Rotary can suggest to the prosecutors but it’s the prosecutor’s call whether to prosecute an obvious crime. If Uncle Kenny is OK with this then I’m OK (for the record, I’m ex-WS Rotary from about 25 years ago). Seattle, you’ve got way bigger problems to get judgmental about before you get in a wad over this one. Aloha from Honolulu.

  • Aaron May 11, 2010 (10:19 pm)

    To Josh and any other West Seattle Rotarians,

    I am the son of a Rotarian, but not a West Seattle Rotarian.
    I have spent time volunteering with the Rotarians cleaning up highway litter, worked at fairs to raise money for assorted causes, participated in basketball tournaments to raise money for Boys & Girls Club, baked pancakes for special needs kids and the list goes on.
    I have nearly a dozen brothers & sisters from Rotary’s international exchange program.
    I’ve been to dozens of meetings over the years.
    I’ve never had anything but respect for Rotary International- until now.
    This churns my stomach & I hope that other Rotary clubs take the West Seattle chapter to task for this behavior.
    I’ve wanted to be a Rotarian since I was a kid. Today I don’t.

  • Diana May 11, 2010 (10:51 pm)

    I hope our Rotary has listened to our community. Clearly this was a difficult decision for you. You do good things and we honor and support you. Deciding not to prosecute a thief goes against all you stand for. Ethics. A thief is a thief, criminal behaviour is criminal and no matter what the punishment is, minimal or maximum, someone needs to be held accountable. Writing a check should not be a “Get out of jail free” card. The Statue of Liberty Plaza Project on Alki is a wonderful example of the community coming together to raise funds for a restoration project. In a similar vein this could have been an alternative. Prosecute the thief who is known to you, reach out to the community and ask for their support to restore the totem. Abide by your principles. I feel confident you could have quickly raised the funds necessary to do the restoration work. Poor decision Rotary, poor decision.

  • bettytheyeti May 12, 2010 (3:47 am)

    I’m okay with Rotary decision . . . to a point. I believe the thief should be identified. No jail time, restitution, ok, but not anonymity. Good comments about someone with that kind of money having the ability to buy a totem pole for his garage. Did he make it selling stolen totem poles? Please!

  • John Hudson May 12, 2010 (8:09 am)

    Wow! What a fascinating story. Unfortunately the stealing of totempoles is nothing new. Sure happy to see they were recovered though.
    I am a Tsimshian artist who grew up in Seattle. In fact my father restored the “Seattle” totem pole in Pioneer Square back in 1973. The story behind that pole is also quite fascinating. That totem pole was originally stolen from Alaska by members of the Seattle chamber of commerce!
    I imagine that the restoration project might be already in motion. If not, I would be very interested in restoring the totempole or helping.
    I am very qualified to do the work. Does anyone know who I could contact to ask about this?


    • WSB May 12, 2010 (8:11 am)

      John, I believe the Rotary is already working with Artech, But certainly you could contact them to check – there’s info on their website:

  • T-Rex May 12, 2010 (8:13 am)

    WOW, 60 comments on someone stealing a Totem Pole?

  • Joan May 12, 2010 (8:29 am)

    What will it take to get the thief’s name? A petition filed in court? Public Disclosure request? Because thousands of us want it.

  • I. Nertia May 12, 2010 (8:45 am)

    Is the Rotary Club announcement the last word on this? I’m waiting to hear the final prosecutor’s office deal. Restitution is often part of a guilty plea to stay out of jail. I want to know that this person will have a criminal record in addition to restitution.

    Also, to anyone who thinks this is much ado about nothing (60 comments on someone stealing a totem pole), auto theft is considered a serious crime, and horse thieves used to be hanged. The numerous comments are evidence that many in the community care about the community and its jointly-owned landmarks. That’s a good thing. If you paid an artist today to make a similar pole, I’m sure the cost would be comparable to that of a new car.

    • WSB May 12, 2010 (9:13 am)

      I added comment from the prosecuting attorney’s office to the story yesterday afternoon.

  • I. Nertia May 12, 2010 (9:53 am)

    Here’s what I just wrote to Ian Goodhew at King County Prosecutor’s Office:

    Ian Goodhew
    Deputy Chief of Staff
    King County Prosecutor’s Office



    I have tried to reach you by phone with no success. I am one of many in the community who have been following this case. It’s my understanding that Seattle Rotary has decided not to press for criminal charges. While that’s kind of them, the stolen property does not belong to them. It was given to the community many years ago. I assume it belongs to the city, parks dept, and general public. Many of us want criminal charges filed in addition to restitution. I do not believe they are the sole party in this case and as such should not have the right to decide not to press charges.

    The thief deserves to have a criminal record that will prevent him from being a trusted member of the community. A criminal record would help protect the community from this individual in the future.

    I am posting this to the West Seattle Blog. I encourage you to read other comments there:


  • moxilot May 12, 2010 (10:01 am)

    I don’t understand why people are foaming at the mouths for their version of justice, when the Rotary truly got what was better in the end than what our crummy legal system would have stuck him with.

    Do all of you really think a $1000 fine and 40 hours of community service would have been a better solution* simply out of principle? I understand the Rotary’s decision to take the $17+k in order to restore the pole. It’s RESTORING the pole… not just returning it to it’s previous place and condition before being stolen. I agree that the perp’s name should be made public. Rich people can buy their way out of a lot of things the rest of us can’t… but it shouldn’t provide anonymity.

    *WSB can you help us identify what the penalty would have been if the Rotary would have pressed charges and won?

    • WSB May 12, 2010 (10:05 am)

      Moxi – I am continuing to do research on this today and hope to have another followup. That would include Parks Department comment, which I requested early today.

  • madashell May 12, 2010 (10:12 am)

    Didn’t the stolen property cross state lines? Don’t the Feds have something to say here? Didn’t this guy lie to the cops? Isn’t that obstruction of justice? He should have his crimes in the record so we can decide if he can volunteer at my child’s school, or be the treasurer of a soccer league.

  • WM May 12, 2010 (11:01 am)

    I’ve wondered about the fact that it crossed state lines, too. I think the punishment fits the crime, but wonder if he can take his “donation” as a tax deduction. That wouldn’t be right at all. And his name needs to be made public for the shame factor.

  • WM May 12, 2010 (12:42 pm)

    Someone has posted his name and some info on Twitter.

  • I. Nertia May 12, 2010 (1:22 pm)

    Here’s Ian Goodhew’s response. My reply is at bottom. I hope others will contact him as well.

    Thank you for your inquiry. Both the Seattle Parks Department and the West Seattle Rotary have informed our office that they are satisfied with the restitution paid and the money given to the Rotary to restore the pole to a much better condition than it was in before the theft.

    As a result, they don’t wish to pursue a criminal prosecution. We have agreed not to pursue a prosecution. We have done so because a prosecution would have only resulted in a misdemeanor theft conviction in which a first time offender has the right to request and receive a deferred sentence, which means that the guilty finding is deferred and then dismissed after a short period of time. This is a legal option that all first time offenders have the right to request under Washington state law. A deferred sentence allows individuals to clear their record as first time offenders. Thus, the idea that a prosecution and conviction would have somehow resulted in some long term branding of the offender was highly unlikely. In addition, the pole would have remained in the condition it was in at the time of its theft.

    Such a prosecution would not have required the offender in this case to pay for restoration of the pole, only restitution for returning it to its location, and even then it would have been required over an extended period of time, not payment at one time, which allows for a quick return and restoration.

    Because the two parties that suffered an actual monetary loss in this case have been restored to a position better than they were before, and because prosecution would not have resulted in any type of permanent conviction, we have declined to file a criminal charge. The Prosecutors Office ultimately makes the decision whether to file criminal charges or not but state statute allows the specific victims of a crime to have input. We have made our decision and that decision is final. We make thousands of filing decisions each year on criminal cases, from serious violent crimes to non-violent property crimes. We believe our decision in this matter is appropriate considering the agreement that was reached.


    Ian Goodhew
    King County Prosecutor’s Office
    My reply:

    Thank you for your reply. I think it is to your benefit and the benefit of your dept. to explain your process and decision to the general public who have been following this story and consider this theft of public property as a theft of their property. As a public agency, I think you owe the public this communication.

    Will the name of the thief be available to the public? This would be beneficial, should we find ourselves in a business dealing with him, or see him wandering around our property. I understand that under the law he will not be considered a thief, but he still meets the dictionary definition.

    I suggest you post your explanation at the West Seattle Blog.

    • WSB May 12, 2010 (1:53 pm)

      Thanks, I. Nertia. When I get Parks’ response this afternoon I will post this in a story as well – one other person has sent us basically the same thing that they received via e-mail … TR

  • AnotherIdiotInWS May 12, 2010 (5:16 pm)

    Ah, so if “the law” won’t prosecute the alleged “thief,” then some of YOU will. Yeah, that’s going to be fun for all of us.
    Please, stop chasing after something that doesn’t mean anything. If you want to make a difference in your community by taking the law into YOUR hands, try sitting at the Junction and stop the drug deals. Let’s see how far you “brave” people looking for a name will be then!

  • dawsonct May 12, 2010 (7:52 pm)

    Drug dealing in the Jct? You have quite the imagination.

    Unfortunately, since there will never be any trial or conviction, even calling this person, who is not guilty under our system of justice, in quotes, a thief, is taking it too far.

    See kids, in America wealth allows you to do anything, even live above other Americans, untouchable be their laws and justice, even the principles of economics don’t apply if you have enough wealth.

    Nice to know this guy can continue on with his profession, unmolested by any record of his activities. At least if his name were out there for the public, those in the arts community would know him and be forewarned if they ever dealt with him.
    Pretty damned sad.

  • 35this35mph May 12, 2010 (8:05 pm)

    We’ve got enough folks looking at the crimes on the street corners! Just read the flap about thugs at the 35th & Morgan convenience store that followed the stabbing in High Point which was not related at all! Suggesting that this crime is not worthy of public outrage is absurd! Is it because the anonymous perpetrator is wealthy enough to hire a tow truck, transport two stolen Totem Poles across state lines and plotted to set them up as trophies in his garage? I fail to see the rationale.

  • 35this35mph May 12, 2010 (8:16 pm)

    The other flaw in the prosecuting attorney’s rationale is that if they decide not to prosecute a first time offender because he or she will be able to defer their sentence… When will they ever become a second time offender? See what I’m saying? No prosecution = no offense = no first time = no second time…

  • madashell May 13, 2010 (8:57 am)

    That’s a load of hooey. No conviction, no charges, heck, there probably wasn’t even a crime. Maybe we collectively dreamed the whole episode while high on some plant extract. In fact, I don’t think there ever was a totem pole there in the first place, it was just a very sickly tree. And we all know it’s okay to cut down trees on public land and drag them home to decorate our garages at Christmas.

  • WSMom May 13, 2010 (10:27 am)

    After reading the prosecutor’s letter, I personally am in agreement with the decisions made by the Rotary and the city. Although the thief was not charged, he was arrested, and my understanding is that arrests are taken into consideration if he ever were to go before a judge for another crime of this nature. Although I’m the first to admit that I’ve been VERY curious as to this man’s identity, in the end it doesn’t really matter. I don’t know any wealthy 70 year old men, so I doubt our paths would cross where I’d have an opportunity to point my finger and say to him “bad decision, very bad”. I imagine his friends and family know what he’s done, that alone must be so embarrassing.

    I’m glad that the totem will be restored (hopefully) in a timely manner. I have missed seeing it as I drive down 35th.

  • AnotherIdiotInWS May 13, 2010 (2:04 pm)

    Hey Dawson,
    You don’t think drugs are being purchased along the Junction? You live under a rock or prefer to be blind. I will try to keep my imagination to a minimum.
    There is an article in the WSB preceeding this one as you scroll down. Try reading it.

  • Anthony May 22, 2010 (11:17 pm)

    From what I can see of both the West Seattle and Renton Totem Poles, they were in poor condition and would have most likely only have lasted another decade. Regarding the existing condition of the totem poles, one earlier article stated “There were bugs falling out of it in the police evidence room, and they wanted it out of there.”

    It was noted from the person whom acquired the totem poles that he was going to exhibit the totem poles indoors thus they would be protected from our harsh North West weather.

    Important to note, if the poles are again restored, they will need to be re-restored approximately every five years until they decay beyond restoration. This will prove to be costly. I think we would all agree that the money should be used to assist the community such as school supplies cloths to name a few. I cannot picture a child going hungry while money is spent restoring a totem pole.

    I suggest that both totem poles be sold to the gentleman that acquired the totem poles. The money could be used to purchase another piece of art work that will not decay. Left over money can be used by the Rotary to service the community.

    I know that the Rotary will eventually make the right choice.

    Regards, Anthony

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