A Seattle Municipal Court judge said the City Attorney’s Office had a “complete disregard for public safety” in the plea deal it offered a suspect accused of threatening an African American man.
The suspect, 35-year-old Steven Jay Watts, is a repeat offender, and a witness, Keoke Silvano, recorded some of his behavior on cell phone video during the incident on Seattle’s Beacon Hill.
In the police report, the victim, whom KIRO 7 is not naming, said Watts “came at him in an aggressive fighting posture and lunged at him with his fists balled up."
The victim said Watts called him "the n-word multiple times" and he "believed he was going to be assaulted and was in fear for his safety."
Cell phone video shows Watts yelling the n-word. At one point he moves toward two men who are telling him to leave the neighborhood, shouting, “We built these streets! White men built these streets!”
Watts was charged with harassment and obstructing an officer.
The City Attorney’s office agreed to a plea deal that would include a guilty plea on obstructing only. It would give Watts only 20 days in jail, including 10 days already served, along with a non-contact order for the victim and mental health and chemical dependency treatment.
But Senior Presiding Seattle Municipal Judge Kimi Kondo refused to take that agreement, calling it “incredible.”
“I’ve been dealing with Mr. Watts and these were hate crimes,” she said. “He's not an appropriate candidate for probation at all. And I think that the city is just being remiss and there's a complete disregard for public safety with this city recommendation.”
Kondo sentenced Watts to 120 days in jail and encouraged him to continue his treatment.
Over the past three months, as KIRO7 investigated the case, reporter Linzi Sheldon asked City Attorney Pete Holmes multiple times for an interview, but he refused.
His office sent an email saying they “strongly disagree with the judge's statement.”
It went on to say: “To prove a Harassment charge, one needs to prove that a person threatened to cause bodily injury to a specific person. Our prosecutor spoke with the victim and witnesses and none reported that they felt threatened by Mr. Watts’ comments. So there was not enough proof to pursue charges in that vein."
Silvano said he felt threatened, especially when Watts came toward him.
“There was times where I thought he was actually going to hit me,” he said.
The city attorney's office also stated, “We felt community safety and Mr. Watts’ rehabilitation would be best served by mandating that he continue mental health treatment to address his behavioral issues."
But Judge Kondo pointed out in a statement that Watts hasn't followed his previous treatment requirements, writing, “this defendant had two tracking probation cases where prior treatment non-compliance was an issue."
And Kondo, who is an experienced mental health court judge, added that "criminal behavior that escalates rapidly presents a clear danger to the public as well as to the safety of court staff."
Silvano hopes Watts finds it in himself to seek treatment.
“Do you hope in some way this longer sentence was a wake-up call for him?” reporter Linzi Sheldon asked.
“I hope so,” Silvano said. “I definitely hope so. I would hope that this was a wake-up call a couple arrests ago, but that commitment is definitely dependent on him.”
The city attorney's office said it does not have the authority to prosecute hate crimes, which are called malicious harassment cases. It says only the county can do that, though the city council is considering changing that.
As for Steven Jay Watts, he was released from jail on September 12th with credit for good behavior.
So far he has no new criminal cases in Washington state.
See video of Judge Kondo's comments below and the cell phone video taken earlier this year by Silvano.
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