Community News, Case News, DREAM & Staff News
STATEMENT BY THE OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON ON THE KILLING OF GEORGE FLOYD
And so many more.
It is a tragically familiar pattern—a Black man, woman, or child senselessly killed by police. Desperate pleas of “I can’t breathe” ignored. Communities left in anguish by the loss of life and the absence of accountability. Law enforcement responding with unwarranted violence toward grieving communities as they come together, arms and voices raised, demanding change. This must stop.
We join those in Seattle, Tacoma and cities and towns across the country who are demanding that all human beings be treated with respect and dignity, and that Black Lives Matter.
We, in the Pacific Northwest, pride ourselves on our progressive ideals and commitment to social justice. This stated commitment to equality means nothing absent concrete action. People of color are suffering under systems of oppressions that deny their humanity and refuse them protection under the law. We see this oppression in the demographics of those incarcerated. We see it in the way law enforcement polices communities of color. We see it in the way men and women of color are treated throughout the criminal legal system.
Our criminal legal system has operated as a tool of oppression fueled by the myth of white supremacy. It is a system that controls and further marginalizes people of color. It is a system that must be forced to change. We call on law enforcement to stop racial profiling. We call on law enforcement to discontinue and disavow the use of excessive force. We call on law enforcement to stop using brutal tactics on peaceful protesters—including tear gas, “flash-bang” grenades, pepper spray, rubber bullets, tasers, and batons.
We call on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to recommit to its stated mission of holding police accountable for abuses of power. We call on both the DOJ and the United States Attorney’s Office to publicly recognize the damaging impacts institutionalized discrimination, mass incarceration, and white supremacy have on people and communities of color. We ask that they acknowledge that racism, bias, and targeted policing have created a culture of violence, oppression, and inequality within the criminal legal system.
We call on ourselves to recognize that as individuals we each have our own personal work to do as well. As a defense community, although we strive to fight to bring equality, dignity, and compassion to our courts, we need to do more. We must aggressively call out racism and injustice wherever and whenever we encounter them. We must challenge those longstanding legal practices and traditions that perpetuate discrimination and inequality.
Working for this community is both a privilege and an honor. We recognize that with that privilege comes a duty to fight against racism, white supremacy, and inequality in all forms. It is our sincere hope that individuals, organizations, and institutions in Seattle, Tacoma, the Pacific Northwest and beyond will join us as we meet this responsibility with determination.
We can do better. We must do better.
--Throughout the month of June, FPD staff and family have been participating in community protests and marches for Black Lives Matter. Below are some photos from these events:
The passage of the First Step Act in December 2018 expanded compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1), allowing our clients to file compassionate release motions to reduce sentences based on “extraordinary and compelling reasons” directly with their sentencing courts. This past month, with continued advocacy by the whole office, the district court has joined the majority of courts across the nation that recognize the COVID-19 pandemic should inform the requisite analysis – either in terms of whether extraordinary and compelling reasons exist because of the heightened risk to the most vulnerable federal prisoners to COVID-19 (the elderly and chronically ill) or, if the person qualifies, whether relief is warranted based on the § 3553(a) factors. This past month, four clients from our office and CJA were granted relief with the COVID-19 pandemic in mind. Below are summaries from three of those cases:
Devon Parramore was incarcerated for drug-related offenses at SeaTac FDC in the fall of 2018. He began experiencing vision loss within a month of entering the prison. He repeatedly asked to see an optometrist, as there was a family history of glaucoma, and he was worried he was beginning to develop this serious medical condition. BOP did not make arrangements for an optometrist to visit him until months later. He was then sentenced and designated to Terminal Island (TI) in January of 2019.
At TI, his vision deteriorated. He lost sight in one eye, and multiple medical staff members recommended immediate referrals to ophthalmologists so that he could be evaluated for emergency surgery because he was in danger of going blind. Many of those requests were underlined and starred. As of February 2020, nothing had happened. On February 19, 2020, medical personnel wrote that he could not get an immediate referral, and he should be considered for early release. The referral never happened.
Then, COVID-19 hit. Devon contracted COVID and was placed in repeated quarantines. He could not make a request for Compassionate Release because he did not have access to paper and pen. His fiancée contacted me to tell me he had asked to have this motion brought.
I notified the government, which obtained the necessary medical records, and upon seeing the 2/19 notation, I sent that documentation both to the TI warden and the government asking that he be released. The warden did not respond before the matter was decided—and denied the request. The government took the position that it was not unreasonable that BOP had not referred him to the specialist because the COVID crisis stopped everything. Keep in mind that the client’s release date was 7/22 and I filed my motion on May 19th.
Devon was overcome to learn that Judge Martinez had granted his motion, despite the fact that it had not been 30 days since I had submitted my request to the warden for release. The next day, Devon called me from the light rail to let me know that he had just returned home. He borrowed a stranger’s cell phone so that he could call me. Devon is getting medical care set up this week. He still has enough vision remaining to navigate the world, and he is hopeful that surgery will preserve what vision he has left. Congrats to Devon and to CJA panel attorney Amy Muth for the amazing work!
A FPD client was granted compassionate release by the Honorable John C. Coughenour. The Federal Defender’s office took on representation of the client, who had served 21 years of a 44-year sentence for bank robbery and related charges, after he had filed a pro se motion for compassionate release. The client had significant health issues and was a model prisoner, receiving letters of commendation from the Bureau of Prisons for his volunteer work caring for suicidal and mentally ill fellow inmates. His original sentence, driven by mandatory sentencing provisions that have since been ameliorated by Congress, was very severe and unfair. Now, after filing additional pleadings and records on his behalf, the FPD is delighted to announce that the client has been reunited with his family, and he is in good health and looking forward to finding a rewarding job. Congrats to our client and all who worked on his release!
81 year old Paul Tetzlaff was not eligible for compassionate release because he was sentenced before the Sentencing Guidelines went into effect. An examiner with the Parole Commission advised FPD Mike Filipovic that if he sent the Parole Commission a letter identifying Mr. Tetzlaff’s present medical conditions, his plan for release and a statement as to why expedited parole should be granted the request would be reviewed. FPD Tacoma Investigator Stacey Brownstein put together a release plan with photos, maps and witness statements. Within a week of submitting the letter and the release plan to the Commission, parole was granted and two weeks later Paul was on a bus from Terre Haute, Indiana to Eastern California where he is now living in the shadow of Yosemite National Park. Congrats to Paul! Here he is reuniting with his friend in California!
CJA panel attorney Bob Goldsmith was successful in getting his client released under 3145c and details the following:
In Feb 2020, my Black client had pled to a 924(c) gun charge and an attempted possession of 4 kilos of cocaine in a reverse sting case, where he showed up with some money and jewelry for the cocaine. He was arrested at the scene with a loaded gun next to his driver's seat. Previously, he had sold 3 firearms to undercover agents, all on video, (counts dropped as part of plea) and had arranged to have the undercover agents 'destroy' a vehicle from a hit and run of a child in Tacoma. As part of the deal, Pierce County prosecutors agreed not to prosecute my client for that offense. My client had fired his first attorney and I took the case last fall after a minimum 8-year deal was rejected. After a lot of negotiations, we got a five-year minimum with a no cap offer and client took it.
My client had been detained from the get go and two attempts at funeral furloughs were also denied but no motion to review detention had been filed by his 1st atty. His criminal history dates back 25 years but so much is old that he is a level IV history. But no Class A's in his history. We moved for release under 3142(j) temporary release or under the automatic review of 3142--neither of which were sound. The government argued strongly about the lack of authority to release and that he was a danger, and his previous criminal record, but agreed that under 3145(c), there was a slender reed. Judge Lasnik rode that subsection.
As to the bases, I argued that due to (1) his significant family obligations (17-year-old daughter attempted suicide); (2) FDC SeaTac's failure to properly address his continuing blood in the urine issue--we had a letter from his family doctor from before his arrest recommending that he go to a urologist; (3) that his sentencing had been postponed 6 months to Sept 25, 2020, if then, because he stood on his right to an in person hearing, and that release would mitigate that indefinite wait. (4) his domestic violence cases were 11 and 16 years old and the victim who is still in the picture spoke on his behalf and her mother, with whom my client was going to reside, also spoke favorably. My client wrote an eloquent letter and then honestly admitted at the video hearing that his family issues were more important than his health.
The Assistant US Attorney absolutely crushed me with her legal/factual argument--the high burden a plea creates and that his history was replete with gun charges, and domestic violence along with failures to comply with sentence and failure to appear (FTA) for court hearings.
And lo and behold: Judge Lasnik released him because these are "extraordinary times." Judge Lasnik mentioned he had just been meeting with Judge Martinez and Judge Jones who had related various personal and family tussles with prejudiced cops. He felt that Black people, who had been living in a racist society, often did not get treated by the courts fairly all the time, and had many economic issues to deal with which often took priority over courts, so he could understand the FTA's so not give it too much weight. Congrats to Bob and his client!
Seattle Paralegal Charlotte Ponikvar substantially contributed to a successful early termination of supervision petition. This not a new feat for Charlotte who regularly secures early termination for many of the Federal Defenders’ clients. The termination of supervision is a significant event for our clients because it frees them for the last restraints of their criminal conviction. Some of these supervision conditions are onerous and demand much of the clients’ time, energy, and freedom. This particular client who was freed from restraint was a client who was placed on a lifetime term of supervision. The client had served 3 years of prison time and been placed on home confinement for another 2 years to boot, independent of the supervision requirement. Over the last decade, the client, who has been marginalized as a result of his conviction, has secured employment and experienced professional growth even in the face of a pandemic that has crippled the economy. Charlotte articulated his journey from conviction to success in a fashion that persuaded the court to relieve the client of the stress and burden of supervision. The client can now move on with his life. Congrats to Charlotte, amazing work!
Two DREAM participants graduated in June. Both were charged as part of large drug conspiracies and faced significant penalties given the alleged drug quantities, with guideline ranges of 57-71 months and 70-87 months. For both participants, their struggles with addiction began when they were children. They have both faced numerous hurdles, including trauma, physical pain, homelessness, and depression. But they both showed enormous determination and, with support from their communities and the DREAM program, were able to achieve both stability and sobriety. We will miss both of our graduates and wish them all the best.
Meet our Seattle Based Summer Legal Externs and Undergrad Interns!