West Seattle illegal tree cutting: Criminal, civil action both possible, Councilmember Herbold reports

(March WSB photo by Christopher Boffoli)

If you’ve been wondering what’s going on with the investigation of the illegal Duwamish Head Greenbelt tree-cutting in East Admiral – City Councilmember Lisa Herbold confirms it’s continuing, and that criminal and civil action are both possible. From an update she published today:

… The Seattle Police Department is continuing its investigation to determine if there is probable cause for criminal prosecution and will prepare a case to submit to the King County Prosecutor. The King County Prosecutor has jurisdiction over criminal felony prosecutions. The Police Department has conducted interviews and distributed flyers in the adjacent neighborhood for any information or leads. Last month, the Parks Department removed blackberry bushes for evidence of any previous cutting beyond the recent example, but didn’t find any additional tree cutting.

Separately from this effort to prepare a potential criminal violation, the City Attorney’s Office is also working to pursue potential civil action. It is likely that the office will issue one or more demand letters in the next few months, asking potentially responsible parties to pay the City damages and fines. If the King County Prosecutor declines to prosecute, the City Attorney’s Office may – at that time – decide to pursue a criminal action. Responsible parties may (1) be required to pay the City damages, civil fines and penalties, including restoration work, and also (2) face criminal penalties. It appears that the City has between 18 and 30 months during which to timely file a court case.

The City Attorney’s Office and Seattle Police Department are reluctant to publicly disclose additional information or additional specifics on their timeline as they believe that doing so could limit the effectiveness of the investigation and any prosecution or civil actions. …

Herbold’s update continues with details of the laws that could apply, and potential penalties – read it in its entirety here.

18 Replies to "West Seattle illegal tree cutting: Criminal, civil action both possible, Councilmember Herbold reports"

  • ScubaFrog June 17, 2016 (5:15 pm)

    Fantastic.  Thanks for reporting on this WSB.   I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

  • Anonymous Coward June 17, 2016 (5:26 pm)

    Of course it was the contractor that performed the work… In order to actually prosecute the homeowners, someone will have to produce the contract between the homeowners and the contractors by which the homeowners specifically requested the contractor to perform the illegal cutting.  If it was a verbal contract or something vague like “trim the trees” or references the homeowners property by address, I’m struggling to see how the city could get a conviction… 

    • AMD June 17, 2016 (7:25 pm)

      The homeowners admitted they were complicit in a crime (trimming trees on public land) and that’s all they really need.  The law doesn’t give an out to people because the crime ended up being greater than the little bit they signed up for.

      If my math is right and they really throw the book at these folks, the fine could be in excess of two million dollars.

      I am curious about the wording in the code that states “an alternative criminal penalty” is available.  That kind of sounds like they get the fine OR the criminal charge, but not both (at least under those two sections of the municipal code).  If that is the case, I actually think the fines discussed in those sections would hurt way more than a couple of gross misdemeanors, especially SMC 25.09.320.

  • Tim June 17, 2016 (6:31 pm)

    Glad to see forward motion on this also hope it doesn’t fizz out. Felony charges are welcome. 

  • Alki resident June 17, 2016 (7:47 pm)

    Something tells me that is one block that won’t be requesting a permit for a block party.

  • Sna June 17, 2016 (8:00 pm)

    Even trimming park trees without a permit is illegal, I believe.

  • dsa June 17, 2016 (8:29 pm)

    No criminal charges is my guess.

  • Marty June 17, 2016 (9:14 pm)

    “The fine could be in excess of two million dollars”. Really? LOL! In a city that doesn’t even jail criminals? A few thousand at the most…

    • Overthere June 17, 2016 (9:31 pm)

      I’ll bet the total fine is $40,00 for all parties involved. The city does like to stick it to homeowners so it might me more. No criminal charges, how does the goverment benefit from that?

    • AMD June 17, 2016 (10:06 pm)

      I said “if they throw the book at these folks.”  I think it’s unlikely that they will go for the jugular, but if you read the dollar amounts attached to the statutes, that’s $1000 per day per tree, multiply that by 153 trees, plus $5000 per tree over 6″ in diameter, then add in “an amount reasonably determined to be equivalent to the economic benefit derived from the violation, … the resulting increase in market value of the property” (SMC 25.09.320), then triple it because RCW 64.12.030.

      That is indeed a very large number.

  • S June 17, 2016 (10:10 pm)

    Great, I hope there is continued follow-through and strong punishment to deter this from happening again. 

  • Claudia Weisz June 18, 2016 (6:07 am)

    This has been on my mind lately, too.  I hope the homeowners get more than just a slap on the hand.  Two million in fines still isn’t enough if that hillside slides in the next soaking wet winter.  

  • flimflam June 18, 2016 (6:32 am)

    why is this taking so long?

    • colleen June 18, 2016 (9:46 am)

      I suspect it’s because  the criminal(s) have enough money for a good lawyer and they don’t want their names made public.  

  • Xeno June 18, 2016 (9:59 pm)

    This looks to be 100K+ in fines… and I do NOT feel sorry for them at all. The perpetrators already sold their house so its obvious they did this on purpose to improve views.

  • LS June 19, 2016 (9:22 am)

    Hopefully, someone put a lien on that house pending the outcome of the legal process.

    • AMD June 19, 2016 (9:51 am)

      I think any fines would follow the perpetrator rather than staying with the home.

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