SPD takes aim at pot-buying City Attorney

by: Casey McNerthney, KIRO 7 STAFF Updated:

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Quick Facts: 

  • Seattle City Attorney bought legal marijuana on Tuesday.
  • Holmes' possession questioned in regards to city's "drug-free" policy.
  • Some Seattle police officers upset, saying it shows poor leadership.
  • Drawing posted at police precint depicts city attorney stoned with Cheetos.

On Tuesday, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes was among the first people to buy legal marijuana – and that move showed poor leadership, some Seattle police officers told KIRO 7.

Shortly afterward, a drawing depicting a stoned city attorney smoking a joint at his desk was posted at the West Precinct in an area where only officers can go.

“Dude, I totally rolled this with an assault on an officer report … hehe ... whoa,” the drawing read. Holmes appears to have a pack of Cheetos and a police report on his desk. A lava lamp is behind him and his eyes are bloodshot.

Asked about the drawing, Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb said: “We have very good artists on this department.”

“This is going to represent some people’s perspective, but not everybody’s,” he said.

On Wednesday – the day after Holmes made news saying he bought one gram of pot for posterity and one “for personal enjoyment” – a memo went to city employees reminding them city buildings are still a “drug-free workplace.”

The memo said violations of the city's drug-free workplace policy may subject an employee to disciplinary actions. It also said that marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law and possession on city premises must be prohibited.

That also raised questions of what Seattle’s city attorney did with the marijuana he bought.

“When he returned to City Hall at 1 p.m. for his afternoon meetings, Pete brought the marijuana he had purchased at Cannabis City with him and secured it in his office,” his spokeswoman, Kimberly Mills, said in a statement. “The packages remained there, unopened, until he drove home, dropped them off, and then headed out to the South Precinct Community Walk.”

The statement also said Holmes was at the legal pot shop for “a milestone in transitioning from the illegal marijuana market to the highly regulated and taxed system approved by Washington voters in 2012.”

No charges for simple possession cases

For years, Holmes has not been filing charges for simple marijuana possession, and in 2003, Seattle voters passed an initiative making the investigation, arrest and prosecution of marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority when the drug was intended for adult personal use.

He’s also been a celebrated speaker at Hempfest, the world’s largest pro-pot rally that brings an estimated 300,000 people to Seattle’s Myrtle Edwards Park during the third weekend of August.

That’s why even before the 2012 passage of Initiative 502, the voter-approved initiative that legalized marijuana in Washington, it was not uncommon to see people on downtown streets with a lit joint.

That’s also in part why tension between several rank-and-file police officers and the Seattle city attorney remains high.

Whitcomb said that city attorney was instrumental in the passage of I-502.

“It’s completely understandable that he would want to celebrate the historic opening of Seattle’s first legal retail marijuana store,” Whitcomb said.

Asked about officers who have expressed concerns about Holmes being a poor role model, Whitcomb said that might be their opinion.

“I think you can find tension in any organization,” Whitcomb said. “I’m sure [Holmes] is 21 and, as the city’s topmost lawyer, will act according to law.”

Officer assault charges led to tension

The Seattle Police Officers Guild was highly critical of Holmes for filing an assault charge against Officer Garth Haynes in 2010. Haynes was acquitted by a jury. But the man Haynes stepped on after a bar brawl agreed to a $75,000 settlement with the city – which made no admission of wrongdoing. Haynes attorney said he had been the victim of an attack before the 2010 stomping incident, which was caught on a patrol car dash-cam outside BalMar in Ballard.

The Police Guild also was critical of Holmes for filing an assault charge against Officer James Lee, who kicked a man inside a downtown mini mart after he fled from the scene of an officer assault. That suspect, D'Vontaveous Hoston, was charged with first-degree robbery but later acquitted in King County Superior Court.

Holmes initially said the use of force was not reasonable under the circumstances. But the fourth-degree assault charge against Lee was dropped in November 2011 after Holmes said an independent expert determined that the officer's use of force against a suspect in Belltown "was reasonable and within the teachings of the Criminal Justice Training Commission (albeit not the best tactic available)."

Hoston filed a $450,000 claim against the city for the use-of-force case, and before the settlement was convicted of felony unlawful gun possession.

After Hoston received a $42,000 settlement from the city he was arrested on a warrant for firing a gun that police said nearly hit a mother and her child.

Each of those use-of-force cases were filed before federal investigators determined some officers' use of excessive force violated federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

The Justice Department found cases where people arrested for minor offenses experienced confrontations that escalated unnecessarily. That DOJ investigation came after the ACLU and 34 other organizations asked that department practices be investigated.

Memo about ‘drug-free workplace’

The memo sent to Seattle city employees said city employees could be subject to a fit-for-duty medical examination whenever their behavior, speech or appearance caused a supervisor to suspect a performance problem.

“Under federal law,” the memo read, “marijuana remains a Schedule I (illegal) drug, and the City must prohibit the unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensing, possession or use of a controlled substance on City premises or while conducting City business on or off of City premises.”

Whitcomb said the drawing was not representative of the department’s overall perception of Holmes.

“We have a great partnership between Seattle police and the city attorney,” Whitcomb said, “and are currently working on a number of initiatives together.”

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