SEATTLE — Yes, you can buy pot. You can smoke pot. You can possess pot here in the Evergreen State. You just can’t do those things in public, smelling up parks and annoying pedestrians. If you’re caught, the police will write you a ticket.
Especially if you’re black. Or homeless. And have the bad judgment to light up in the downtown core. And the bad luck to come upon one police officer in particular.
City Hall has been in a state of uproar since the first set of arrest statistics was released after the legalization of marijuana. From Jan. 1 to June 30, officers wrote 82 tickets to people consuming marijuana in public, according to the Seattle Police Department report, which was published last week.
The first analysis showed that 37 percent of all tickets were issued to African-Americans, an ethnic group that makes up only 8 percent of Seattle’s population. Nearly 50 percent went to men and women who listed homeless shelters, transitional housing and even a vacant lot as their address.
Needless to say, elected officials in this progressive outpost were appalled by the racial and socioeconomic disparity.
And then Chief Kathleen O’Toole, Seattle’s new top cop, weighed in with even more alarming information.
“When reviewing data captured for this report, SPD staff discovered that … approximately 80 percent of marijuana tickets were issued by one officer,” O’Toole wrote on the department’s website Wednesday evening, saying that the officer’s actions have been reported to the Office of Professional Accountability and are under investigation.
Snarky personal notes
City officials will not name the officer, who has been reassigned and is off patrol duty during the investigation. But the Seattle Times, citing unnamed sources, identified him as Randy Jokela, who has been with the department since 1990.
Not only did Jokela allegedly write 80 percent of the tickets for pot infractions, he also added snarky personal comments to some of the citations, O’Toole said.
“Some notes requested the attention of City Attorney Peter Holmes and were addressed to ‘Petey Holmes,’ ” O’Toole wrote. “In another instance, the officer indicated he flipped a coin when contemplating which subject to cite. In another note, the officer refers to Washington’s voter-enacted changes to marijuana laws as ‘silly.’ “
Holmes was a sponsor of Initiative 502, passed by voters in 2012 legalizing marijuana, and he pushed for public consumption to be an infraction under city law.
“This isn’t about fining people; it’s about getting people to stop smoking marijuana in public, especially in crowded areas and places where families and children congregate,” Holmes said in a statement Thursday.
“At the same time, City Council wisely recognized that even civil infractions can be issued in a racially disproportionate manner, much like the War on Drugs itself,” Holmes said. “That is why we have a reporting requirement to receive early indicators of any disproportionate enforcement.”
Holmes, whose office would not confirm the officer’s identity, said that he would leave it to the Police Department to “sort out the facts about the officer’s conduct.” But he decried the “disproportionality” of the citations and the fact that most were issued in the city’s downtown.
“I support enforcing the law,” Holmes said. “I support warning people before ticketing them and only issuing a ticket if the warning doesn’t work, and I support spreading enforcement efforts equitably across the city.”