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September 12, 2014 at 2:10 PM

Chief O’Toole to seek dismissal of pot tickets written by single officer

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole has asked city attorneys to seek the dismissal of  all of the citations issued by a bicycle officer who wrote 80 percent of the tickets during the first half of this year for using marijuana in public.

The request to the City Attorney’s Office is based on a conclusion the 66 citations were written as part of a personal agenda on the part of Officer Randy Jokela, O’Toole said Friday.

On many of the tickets, Jokela referred to City Attorney Pete Holmes, a strong advocate of pot legalization, as “Petey Holmes.”

The tickets were written for the “wrong reasons,” O’Toole said.

In addition to the references to Holmes, Jokela wrote on one ticket that he used a coin toss to decide which of two men to issue a ticket and on another described voter-enacted changes in marijuana laws as “silly.”

O’Toole has sent a letter to the City Attorney’s Office requesting that it petition the Municipal Court to vacate and dismiss the tickets written by Jokela between Jan. 1 and July 30, Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a department spokesman, said Friday.

O’Toole is taking the action based on facts that emerged during an internal investigation by the department’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), Whitcomb said.

Police officials are also moving to resolve possible disciplinary aspects of the investigation, with Jokela facing a potential three-day suspension without pay and a reprimand stemming from three misconduct findings, according to two police sources with knowledge of the matter.

Jokela’s sergeant, Ryan Long, is facing a potential one-day suspension without pay and a reprimand related to his supervision of Jokela, according to the sources.

Jokela and Long have shown contrition and both have clean disciplinary records, one of the sources said.

Both have the right to meet with O’Toole to contest the preliminary findings, but there is a possibility they might accept the punishment as reasonable, according to a third police source with knowledge of the matter.

Whitcomb said he couldn’t discuss the disciplinary process because it has not concluded.

O’Toole announced July 30 that the OPA was investigating the matter.

The OPA recently finished its investigation and forwarded the results to O’Toole. Details of the OPA’s sustained misconduct findings were not immediately available.

Jokela, 52, who joined the department in 1990 and is known on the street as “Officer Joker,” wrote 66 of 83 tickets during the first half of the year, often adding a notation requesting the attention of “Petey Holmes.”

Holmes supported Initiative 502, which legalized pot in 2012 but barred public use.

His office does not screen tickets written for public marijuana use, which are filed directly by officers in Seattle Municipal Court.  If a ticket is contested, an infractions attorney from his office becomes involved.

Holmes sponsored a city ordinance passed last year that gave police the authority to write $27 tickets for using pot in public. In making public consumption an infraction, the City Council action called for police to give warnings whenever possible before issuing fines and to study enforcement.

Jokela’s actions came to the attention of Police Department staff while reviewing data captured for its first semiannual report on enforcement delivered to the council in July.

Jokela works as a bicycle officer in the West Precinct, which includes the downtown business district, the Chinatown International District, Queen Anne, South Lake Union and other neighborhoods.

He was reassigned to administrative duties at the time O’Toole revealed the internal investigation, but was later returned to regular duties while the inquiry continues.

O’Toole has previously said she allowed Jokela to return to duties after he sincerely apologized to her and because she needs officers on the street. She said she made the decision in consultation with the department official who oversees internal investigations, who agreed the officer could be returned to his regular duties.

Jokela carried out a “silly political agenda” of the kind that won’t be tolerated in the department, O’Toole has said.

The marijuana-enforcement report, delivered to the City Council July 23, found that 99 percent of all public-use tickets were issued for infractions in the West Precinct, primarily in Victor Steinbrueck Park, Westlake Park, Occidental Park and downtown streets.

The report referred to 82 tickets issued in the first half of the year, one fewer than the number cited by the Police Department when it disclosed the internal investigation.

Just 6 percent of the fines had been paid at the time the report was released.

Blacks were disproportionately cited, with 37 percent of the tickets, the report said. Blacks account for 8 percent of the Seattle population, according to 2010 census figures; 50 percent of the tickets went to whites, who represent 70 percent of city residents.

O’Toole has said she has not seen any evidence that Jokela’s action were racially motivated.

The report showed 41 percent of all people who received tickets lived in low-income housing, shelters, motels, or vacant lots.

O’Toole, who was sworn in as police chief June 23, has said she was not told that one officer had written the overwhelming majority of the tickets when she was first briefed on the report before the department delivered it to the council.

The report was made public without that information, calling into question its validity and raising questions about why O’Toole wasn’t informed of Jokela’s actions.

O’Toole said she was not provided the information until July 29, the day before she publicly disclosed the internal investigation into the officer’s conduct.

The OPA is continuing to look into the circumstances surrounding the release of the report.

Comments | More in General news, Government, The Blotter | Topics: Kathleen O'Toole, marijuana tickets, Seattle Police Department


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