Checking on West Seattle’s stolen totem pole, five months later

(WSB photo from December 2009)
Five months ago today, we broke the news that the totem pole at West Seattle Rotary Viewpoint Park had been stolen. In the following days and weeks, we followed the story through the investigation, the first arrest, the discovery of the pole in Oregon a week later along with another stolen pole from Renton, and the poles’ return to Seattle, where the Parks Department took possession of the one from West Seattle:

(WSB photo from December 2009)
The next chapter’s taken a while, so we haven’t had an update for some time. However, since our inbox indicates many are wondering – here’s what’s going on. First, regarding the theft itself: Prosecutors have yet to file charges against the 69-year-old suspect, who was arrested twice in December, the second time in connection with the second stolen pole. We checked today with King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office spokesperson Dan Donohoe – which we have done many times in the past few months – and here’s his reply:

It is still under review and investigation. Seeking some additional information, and we’ll let you know when we have a charging decision.

(WSB policy note: We evaluate every case separately, but our baseline policy is to not identify suspects until and unless they are charged. If you are just catching up on this story, the alleged motive for the theft was detailed in the law-enforcement document we transcribed for this late December report.) Meantime, the Rotary Club of West Seattle – which gave Viewpoint Park and the totem pole to the city in 1976 – is awaiting the outcome of this part of the case. But there’s some urgency, explains Josh Sutton from Rotary, who had two updates when we checked with him today – first:

Our club had decided in January that we would await outcome from thief/prosecutor on next steps for the pole. We are reconsidering our options, as this has taken much too long.

He then went on to add that one of the Rotarians who cracked the case is fighting for his life: “On a more personal note to our club, Ken Wise, longtime Rotarian, has received word that his cancer is terminal, potentially end of summer.” Ken is one of the men in this photo we took near Lake Sawyer, when we went along as he and fellow Rotarian Duane Ruud accompanied the tow-truck driver who took the pole away the night it was stolen – believing the removal had been authorized – back to where he’d dropped it off:

(WSB photo from December 2009)
Josh goes on to say, “Ken has made it clear he wants the pole put back before he passes. Our club is working hard to see what we can do to make that possible.”

27 Replies to "Checking on West Seattle's stolen totem pole, five months later"

  • Mookie May 3, 2010 (3:48 pm)

    Five months to bring charges??! I’ve got some free time if the prosecutors need some help seeking that additional information…

  • KT May 3, 2010 (4:01 pm)

    Five months after the theft and this is all the Prosecutor could say…”It is still under review and investigation. Seeking some additional information, and we’ll let you know when we have a charging decision”. Don’t call us, we’ll call you. If that isn’t a blow off I don’t know what is. Thirty years of law enforcement experience allows me to say this is hardly an example of efficient criminal justice. I am not impressed with the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

    • WSB May 3, 2010 (4:34 pm)

      KT – That’s what they HAVE TO say. I deal with the prosecutor’s office all the time and can tell you it’s not a “blowoff.” Dan is the media liaison and he is one of the most responsive PIO’s out there. They just will not release details of what’s going on until something is decided. (To be clear, I am commenting on the fact that’s all he could tell me, not whether it’s good/bad/otherwise that it’s taken this long …) TR

  • JanS May 3, 2010 (4:33 pm)

    I do believe that 5 months is certainly enough time. They have to guy dead to rights, he told them where the poles were, they have the evidence…what more do they need, for goodness sake. He took the damned things illegally for his own use..’nuff said…

    and interesting that it wasn’t the cops who found all this was citizens themselves. I think Ken deserves to have his wish, pronto !

  • Alki Area May 3, 2010 (4:40 pm)

    This is why people hate government. 5 months to even debate CHARGING this guy with a crime. Are you SERIOUS. Dude, he was seen taking the pole. It was found at his house. The city didn’t “give” it to him, ie. he stole it. What the HELL else do you need? If the police find a hole at Safeway where the BECU ATM used to be, then “find” it at my house…er…I get charged with theft.

    I understand this doesn’t take a day, or even a week. But 5 MONTHS to even CHARGE the guy, much less take him to court and convict him and sentence him on such a SILLY simple obvious case (caught with the stolen property). What the hell!? This NOT a complicated legal issue involving CSI DNA evidence or thousands of pages of legal documents and challenges…it’s a DUMB SIMPLE OBVIOUS CAUGHT RED HANDED THEFT. What’s the problem?

  • brizone May 3, 2010 (4:50 pm)

    Incredible that such a simple case could take so long to even approach charges. What’s the statute of limitations on such a thing?

    Who’s reviewing it? What more information could they possibly need?

    Dan the Media Liason’s past performance not withstanding, the way in which the prosecutor’s office is dragging their feet on this is indeed a blowoff of the community at large.

  • foy boy May 3, 2010 (5:02 pm)

    just put the dang thing back up. If they need anymore info off the pole they Know where it is. This is a direct reflection on our new county chief Mr Dow. He is the one in charge. You asked for it and we got it.

  • Westie May 3, 2010 (5:58 pm)

    By the way, thanks to Ken Wise for his effort. Appreciate you, Ken, for taking the time to be involved. I don’t know you, but West Seattle thank you and the rest of the Rotarians.

  • WestSeattleMom May 3, 2010 (6:02 pm)

    I wish the prosecutors office would throw us a bone and just give us some better info on this case. It feels like this case might fall off the radar and get dropped, which would be disappointing given the thief’s selfish motives.

  • Cheryl May 3, 2010 (7:11 pm)

    I’m so very sorry to hear that Ken Wise is not doing well, prayers and thoughts go out to him and his family.
    I also hope for HIS sake, if nothing else, this ridiculous thief and the issue of returning the Totem to West Seattle is resolved quickly and to HIS (and the Rotary Clubs satisfaction).

    Come on Seattle Prosecutors office… let’s get this thing done already!

  • ScottA May 3, 2010 (8:20 pm)

    The delay in charging makes me think the suspect’s lawyers are hard at work avoiding charges and he’s probably somewhat prominent/well-off. Reeks of bias in the prosecutor’s office even though I don’t like to think that.

  • ellenater May 3, 2010 (9:27 pm)

    What can we do to get the pole back for Ken?

    We LOVE the pole, btw. We had driven by it a bunch of times and had just made our first picnic pilgrimage right before it was stolen. We need the pole back. This is insane!

    • WSB May 3, 2010 (10:04 pm)

      Ellenater – we should know in a couple days, after the Rotarians decide their game plan, if there is anything the public can do, and we’ll certainly help get that info out here – so stand by … TR

  • dsa May 3, 2010 (10:26 pm)

    Could the prosecutors office be having jurisdictional problems with the fact that the pole(s) crossed the state line?

  • Mike F May 3, 2010 (11:52 pm)

    Ken Wise is one of the folks who made West Seattle a great place to live and work… sorry to hear he’s ailing so seriously. Definitely need to get that pole back up!

  • Lola May 4, 2010 (7:12 am)

    I hope they can get the pole back up for Ken’s sake. If they found out who took it and where he had hidden it what else do they need? Justice at it’s finest.

    I tried this morning to call the non-emergency # to report a crazy driver on the WS Freeway and had to call a different #. Called that # and was told by a recording that they did not open till 7:00 AM. No wonder nobody reports stuff you can’t get through to anybody to report it to.

    • WSB May 4, 2010 (7:14 am)

      Lola – if it is a crazy driver happening right now, CALL 911. That’s what I always do. The rule is “if it’s happening now, call 911.” And yes, I know, for every time we repeat that police say that all the time, somebody will comment here that they called 911 and it took someone x time to respond. Please don’t let that dissuade you. A crazy driver is an emergency happening now. They do dispatch on that, I hear it on the scanner all the time. – TR

  • Jeff May 4, 2010 (7:55 am)

    Probably they are trying to settle for damages or something, so that Rotary and the city don’t have to pay for repairs.

  • I. Nertia May 4, 2010 (8:12 am)

    Is there someone at the prosecutor’s office we can contact to express our displeasure with how much time has passed without charges being filed? Name and email address would be appreciated.

    • WSB May 4, 2010 (8:54 am)

      Inertia- click the linked “King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office” in the story. That will take you to KCPAO page, which has contact info on it. I’d recommend addressing KCPAO Dan Satterberg himself.

  • gr May 4, 2010 (8:56 am)

    Sorry to hear about Ken’s health. This makes it even more urgent. West Seattle already did all the work prosecutors get going.

  • I. Nertia May 4, 2010 (3:23 pm)

    Here is a copy of the letter I wrote to the KC Prosecutor’s office. I will also be forwarding a copy to Dow Constantine.


    I am a West Seattle resident. Back in December, a valuable community landmark was stolen in broad daylight during a well-orchestrated theft involving the use of heavy equipment (trucks and a crane). The totem pole was donated to the city and community in 1976 by the Rotary Club of West Seattle, where it has stood in Viewpoint Park since 1976. This landmark stood at a prominent road intersection where it was seen by thousands of people each day until its theft.

    Many of us have been following the story on the West Seattle Blog and waiting for the legal process to proceed. Unfortunately, to many of us five months seems like an excessive period of time between the initial arrest of the suspect and the beginning of the legal process. Considering the fact that private citizens, Rotary Club members, quickly did the detective work and handed the evidence to law enforcement officials, many of us feel invested in seeing the wheels of justice proceed in a timely manner. When citizens take bold steps to assist law enforcement, they want to believe that law enforcement will follow through.

    Like many others in my community, I am looking forward to seeing the legal process move forward sooner than later.

    Should you need more info about the case I am writing about you can read about it at:

    I am looking forward to your response, which I will be sharing with the community.

  • dsa May 4, 2010 (6:26 pm)

    I hope that wakes them up Nertia, good job. At least we deserve a decent excuse what the delay is.

  • ellenater May 4, 2010 (10:53 pm)

    Thanks for the info. and all of your hard work, TR. I’ll be checking for updates. :)

  • I. Nertia May 5, 2010 (5:02 pm)

    Here’s a reply I received today:
    Thank you for contacting the King County Prosecutor’s Office regarding the police investigation into the theft of the West Seattle Rotary totem pole from Viewpoint Park. As you know, the Seattle Police Department investigated the theft as soon as it was discovered with the help of members of the West Seattle Rotary and other members of the community. The Seattle Police Department worked with the King County Prosecutor’s Office to identify the person responsible for the theft and to recover the totem pole intact.

    Since that time the Prosecutor’s Office has been working with the police department on the case and with various parties in order to ensure that the Rotary, the City of Seattle and the community are made whole. There are many different aspects to a criminal investigation. We are attempting to address all of the concerns involved. During this process we have been in constant contact with the leadership of the West Seattle Rotary. The leadership has been supportive of our approach. We hope to have the matter resolved soon. We will continue to work towards that end.


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

  • ellenater May 5, 2010 (10:24 pm)

    I like that response. It seems like your concerns were taken seriously. Doesn’t seem like a blow off at all.

  • lenguamor May 6, 2010 (3:06 am)

    It’s obvious that the perp is connected. That is why he has not even been charged, despite the preponderance of evidence against him.
    The criminal justice system in Seattle is a damned joke.

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