Monthly Archives: September 2008

New Roof Installation will Close Bremerton Court

Bremerton’s Municipal Court will close during the week of Oct. 6-10 for a roof replacement, according to court administrator Theresa Ewing.

The Pacific Avenue court, which handles all misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor crimes in Bremerton’s city limits, will delay its caseload for a week. The exception, Ewing said Monday, is for arraignments and initial court appearances, which will be held instead at Kitsap County District Court during that week.

The court has been subject to recent scrutiny by Bremerton’s city auditor, Gary W. Nystul. In a recent report, he said the city had not acted on a $13 million bond passed by voters to improve both the police department and the city’s court.

The plan was to house both cops and the court at Sixth Street and Pacific Avenue. But the police eventually got the old credit union building at 1025 Burwell Street, while the court didn’t get much in the way of improvements, Nystul said.

I guess, in that way, a roof’s a start.

Take a Trip to the Past (or Drive to the Courthouse)

I am often amazed at the antiquity with which our criminal justice system functions.

Dictating reports by telephone. Continuously running fax machines. Even dot matrix printers. From my view, a trip to the courthouse can sometimes be a fairly anachronistic experience.

That’s not to say it’s the fault of anyone working in the criminal justice system. And even in the time I’ve been at the Kitsap Sun, vasts improvements have been made. (I haven’t seen the tiny holes that line the sides of paper required for dot matrix printing in some time, for instance.)

My suspicion is that the volumes of data — year after year of chunky case files and criminal histories — has been hard, to compile digitally. Couple that with the official, constitutionally sacred nature of this data — each page must be scanned — and you’ve got a remarkably cumbersome process. But the Kitsap County Clerk’s Office, the storer of all superior court cases, seems to be accomplishing this monumental task, slowly but surely.

It’s ironic that in a system where information can be a law enforcer’s most important tool, that criminal justice often lags in said technologies. It’s only been about a decade, from what I’ve heard, that all law enforcement in Kitsap County has joined a shared information network called “I/Leads.” Most every cop in Kitsap County has finally gotten an MCT, or mobile computer terminal, which allows them to access information such as car registrations.

One area of old-fashioned police work I still can’t grasp is the idea of dictating a report over the phone to be typed later. Seems to me that everyone would save a lot of time by typing on the first go around, which more and more of our cops around here do. I can’t imagine the idea, for instance, of writing a story for the pages of the Kitsap Sun but first talking it into a phone to be transcribed.

Some of the work in criminal justice seems to require certain antiquity. When an officer signs a statement of probable cause for someone’s arrest, for instance, they need a signature on a tangible page. That means lots of faxing each day between law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office. Perhaps a “digital” signature will one day be accepted, a move that would save reams of paper.

You’re Worse Off Texting than Driving Drunk, Study Says

Here’s a battle of two evils only the good people at the Great Britain-based Transport Research Laboratory could come up with: texting while driving versus driving under the influence. Which is worse?

Turns out, researchers found texting is more dangerous than driving drunk. (That’s not to say either is good, we should keep in mind.)

I guess it’s really not rocket science. A person texting may be sober, but they’re not even looking at the road. In fact, they’re not even thinking about the road.

I suppose the researcher’s thinking is a drunkard is at least attempting to steer the car in the right direction (not that it always works out).

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ll sleep better at night knowing this study’s in the books.

How Frequent Are Ye, Gun-Toting Washingtonian?

As often happens in this business, other newspapers are examining the same trends we are. And as big as our country is, I’m often reminded that our little Kitsap corner of this universe is more like, say, Kenosha County, Wisconsin than we realize.

In this case, it’s Florida that shares something in common with Washington, its farthest away lower-48 counterpart. The St. Petersburg Times reported Monday that concealed pistol licenses in the last three years are up 50 percent.

You’ll recall that Washington’s CPL permit applications are up 43 percent. It looks from the Florida story as if the reason for the respective spikes are similar, with one notable exception: we don’t have the influx of hurricanes that might lead one to think about the idea of lawlessness following such a disaster.

There’s one thing the Times did in their story that I wished I’d done in mine: the probability that a Washingtonian has a CPL. The Florida, they reported the number to be one in 35.

Doing the math — 258,000 CPL holders in Washington, population 6.3 million — I find that in our state, the number is about one in 25.

Protest Planned Against Border Patrol Checkpoints

Apparently not everyone is thrilled at the idea of U.S. border patrol checkpoints on the Olympic Peninsula.

A group called the “Stop the Checkpoints Committee” will host a rally at the Port Angeles federal building, followed by a March.

The border patrol has been holding checkpoints around the Olympic Peninsula — including two just on the other side of the Hood Canal Bridge — looking for illegal immigrants, terrorists and other threats to national security.

The border patrol says it’s using a federal law that authorizes the checkpoints “a reasonable distance” from the U.S. border. That distance has been determined to be 100 miles.

The flyer claims the rally is to “DEFEND immigrant workers and their families,” and also says: “NO Police State on the Olympic Peninsula.” The protest will begin at 1 p.m. in downtown Port Angeles.

Another Death Row Appeal Denied for Bremerton Murderer

Another lost appeal is in the books in the case of Jonathan Lee Gentry.

The Seattle Times’ Mike Carter is reporting that attorneys for the 52-year-old — convicted of killing 12-year-old Cassie Holden with a rock at Gold Mountain Golf Course in 1988 — will appeal again.

He’s been on death row since 1991 — the longest-serving member of the nefarious group.

A Western Washington federal judge found no reversible errors in the case. But Gentry’s lawyers vowed to appeal it to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Eight men are on death row in Washington. Find out more about them here.

No, You Can’t Write a Cop a Ticket for Talking on a Cell Phone

Our opinion editor, Jim Campbell, recently got a letter from Matthews Williams, of Shelton. Williams says this:

“I’m new here, arrived in January 2005, so I’m a bit confused.  I thought that the state legislature voted into law earlier this year that cell phone use must be hands free.

The reason I am confused is that today, September 15th, I noticed a Bremerton policeman on his cell phone while driving in traffic on Kitsap Way and a bit later on Austin Way.  I do understand that this is considered a secondary offence, meaning that he would have to be stoped for another infraction before he could be cited for this.

Since my car is not equipped with lights or a siren I would not have been able to make the traffic stop if he had committed an additional infraction.

Rather than going out and having my car equipped to facilitate traffic stops I have a better idea.  How about the duely appointed officers that are paid with our tax monies follow the rules like everyone is supposed to and set the right example.”

To answer Mr. Williams, I consulted the law, and found a quick answer: Remember that emergency vehicles — which include patrol cruisers — are exempt from it.

This passage says it all: ” … this section does not apply to a person operating: (a) An authorized emergency vehicle, or a tow truck responding to a disabled vehicle.”

More on the Man Who Called the Highway Woods Home

Last week, I felt privileged to be able to give our readers a look inside the life of Chris Christensen, a Vietnam Vet who lived in a wooded patch of land just off Highway 3 in Poulsbo.

This week, I’d like you to meet three more: Lori, Lisa and Lynn.

They are Chris’ sisters, who grew up with their 54-year-old oldest brother in a housing project in Schenectady, N.Y.

Each one sent me notes which will forever go to that little corner of my email inbox that never get deleted. I was taken aback that while dealing with their brother’s death, they wrote to say thanks for telling his story.

It is through the miracles of our modern times — the Internet, Google, et al — that our story found its way from that grove of cedars he called home to the corners of the country his sisters call theirs.

Chris hadn’t kept touch with his sisters, and they had no idea where he’d ended up. And while we told the final piece of this intriguing man’s life, they wrote me and spoke of all the times that led to it.

The four siblings grew up in a troubled home, Lori said. Their parents divorced. Their mother suffered from mental illness.

Chris was an altar boy. But at some point, his behavior began to change. His grades slipped and he started using alcohol and drugs. Also, “He began to challenge authority,” she wrote, “a habit he would keep throughout his lifetime.”

But they always cared for their brother.

“Ah, but he was so intelligent and when sober he was so, so funny,” she wrote.

He went off to Vietnam in 1972, Lori said. He came back with his addictions, and at some point, got into a bad motorcycle wreck that caused a skull fracture. It was reportedly not properly treated, Lori said.

It was then he began the life of a nomad — off everyone’s radar.

“He began to wander the country soon after with nothing but a backpack and his thumb,” Lori wrote.

He’d come to visit sometimes, Lori said. But his addictions and traumatic life experiences made him difficult to deal with. His independent streak would eventually lead him away.

“I can’t explain why Chris was angry with us yet loved us at the same time,” Lori said.

They’d heard he lived in Oklahoma, then went to Oregon. He’d hop in with truckers seeking company on long trips. They’d found out his attempts to find religion as a born-again Christian, only to leave the faith because “he’d feel they were trying to control his life,” Lori said.

When Chris moved to Washington sometime around a decade ago, Lisa, who’d tried desperately to keep up with him, lost track. Prior to that, when he was in Oregon, she could keep tabs from afar on him, thanks to a woman at a veteran’s affairs office in Oregon.

“She would’ve called me when money was needed to keep Chris in the hotel,” Lisa said. “She would’ve called when he got sick. He never had to know where the money was coming from.”

Chris’ mother passed away in 1997. She “suffered daily at the thought of him being out there ‘somewhere,'” Lynn told me. She added that Chris “always had a reason” not to come home.

In many ways, Chris’ way of life will always remain a mystery. But I’m thankful we got a snapshot of it. And proud I could tell the piece I knew to the ones who loved him.

“I couldn’t have asked for a greater gift than that glimpse you gave us into his world and for the peace we have knowing what the outcome was for my brother,” Lori wrote me.

I’ll never forget that.

Lawsuit: Plaintiff ‘Fell While Bowling’

It’s been awhile, I know, but I thought it’d be a good time to take a peek inside the civil realm of the Kitsap County Courthouse with a look at a lawsuit.

Here’s one filed Sept. 4. A couple was bowling on March 3, 2007, at a local bowling alley when the husband “fell while bowling,” and allegedly “sustained serious injuries.”

They’re seeking monetary damages to compensate the man for his medical bills, attorney’s fees, and other relief “the court deems just and equitable.”

In these days of our “litigious society,” as one Kitsap County deputy prosecutor once told me, this lawsuit presents, I think, an interesting issue for bowling alleys.

Bowling is a physical activity (not on par with, say, running or swimming). I’m pretty sure every time I’ve gone skiing, for example, I’ve had to sign a massive liability agreement. I don’t think I’ve had to when bowling.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, though. The lawsuit’s language is minimal (was he mid-stride in bowling? Did he slip on the wood below him?). I guess that’s an issue the parties will take up with the judge.