Monthly Archives: February 2010

Prescription Monitoring: We Have the Law, But Not the Money

“Doctor shopping,” has become a common practice among prescription drug addicts looking to get their next fix. The premise is simple: One doctor won’t write a prescription for oxycodone? Just try the next one.

Most states, including Washington, have decided the way to combat such a tactic is to put them on the books — create a system that tracks  prescriptions, who they go to, and how many pills go with them.

Opiate-based medications like OxyContin can work wonders for pain. But they can also be abused and have nasty consequences — severe addiction and even death. So establishing a program to keep an eye on frequent users was what the Legislature had in mind in trying to curb such drug use.

The bottom line: we have the law here, but the legislature didn’t fund it, according to Lisa Salmi of the state’s Department of Health.

Salmi says the Legislature passed a bill that created the program in 2007. They gave it $683,000, which hired a program manager. But the Legislature declined to fund it further, Salmi said, and the program maanger was laid off, the program stalled.

She said the program would cost $605,500 to implement, and then $562,000 a year to run.

Monitoring programs have taken off around the country, she said. Forty states either have legislation pending or passed. Thirty-three of them have programs up and running.

The Department of Health has set up a Web site that talks about prescription drug abuse, which you can view here.

Followup: Kitsap Prosecutor Dismissed from Jury Duty

Though he made it before a judge during the process, Kitsap County Prosecutor Russell Hauge won’t be sitting on a jury anytime soon.

I reported earlier this week that he’d been called to serve, just like everyone else. He made it to the voir dire process in a criminal case before Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Leila Mills, but that was where it ended.

He was asked this question: Could he presume the defendant innocent since the charging documents were filed in his name. (All official documents out of of Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office, including charging documents, include his name).

“I said no,” Hauge said, and he was dismissed.

Hold Me Closer, Tiny Camera

Technology — from GPS tracking to Tasers — has been rapidly changing law enforcement.

But wait til you take a look at this new gizmo.

It’s a tiny camera, attached to an officer’s ear, that keeps video of daily interactions on the beat. And it’s not a piece of technology in the far off future — it’s being tested right now.

Here’s the story, by USA Today’s Jeff Martin:

“The camera system, sold by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International, is being tested this month by officers in Fort Smith, Cincinnati, San Jose and Aberdeen, S.D.”

The benefits of such cameras seem obvious. They could be effective in a trial as rock solid evidence (how could a defense attorney argue his client didn’t do something when the video shows he did?). Such cameras could also settle quickly claims of misconduct by police.

How soon will they come to a law enforcement officer’s ear near you? The short answer: don’t hold your breath.

“Ok, Lets see here,” said Dean Byrd of the Mason County Sheriff’s Office. “$5,700 for 50 officers. Thats about $285,000 in hard times when Commissioners seem to be coming to us for reductions so the County’s budget can be balanced.”

“No,” he said, “I don’t think we are going to buy them.”

“They are pretty cool,” added Al Townsend, chief of the Port Orchard Police Department. “We actually had one for a while about a year ago that we tested out.”

But, agreeing with Byrd, it comes down to dollars and cents, Townsend said.

” … Right now it’s clearly the cash issue,” Townsend said. “So none so far, but maybe in the future.”

In Mason County, the first step comes far before such technology, Byrd said.

“We still don’t have cameras or computers in most of our cars,” Byrd said. “We can only dream.”

Even the Kitsap County Prosecutor Gets Called for Jury Duty

Ahh, jury duty. There’s nothing quite like getting that summons in the mail, an invitation to fulfill our civic duty to fairly to impartially weigh the evidence in cases involving our peers in society.

And no one is immune to the task. Not even elected prosecutors.

Kitsap County Prosecutor Russell Hauge received his summons recently, and is on call this week for his chance to get on a panel.

“I’ll call in Sunday night just like everyone else,” Hauge said.

Granted, the odds are slim to none that any judge, especially in a criminal case, would allow the sitting prosecutor on a jury. The conflicts seem steep (for instance, he’d be watching a deputy prosecutor — who answers to him —  try a case).

But even presidents get called for jury duty. George W. Bush was in 2005 and Barack Obama just this year. They too have an armada of reasons why serving on a jury just probably isn’t going to happen.

How far Hauge gets in the process remains to be seen.

“It’s up to the judge,” he said.

Why Weren’t Suspects Charged in Nursing Home Nude Photos Case?

Much has been written about the allegations that three employees at the Kitsap Health and Rehabilitation Center took naked photos of residents there. While prosecutors were frank about the behavior being “stupid,” they said they couldn’t find a crime.

That spurred Pierce County Councilwoman Joyce McDonald to write Kitsap County Prosecutor Russell Hauge, and ask, specifically, why voyeurism charges weren’t filed. She claimed in her letter that she wrote the law itself in her former job as a state legislator. “I would recommend that your deputy take a good look at the law which has been in effect for the past decade,” she wrote. “The law clearly states it applies when video or photographs are taken without permission anywhere there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. I would think that the residents of the nursing home and their families had that expectation of privacy.”

Hauge said he’s received a few letters and wanted to write a response to them. Rather than go through it myself, I will leave it for you to read.

“The case identified (by the case number) is how we refer to the allegations of mistreatment of patients at the Kitsap Health and Rehabilitation Center.  The press coverage and the communications generated by that coverage have given a number of different names to the case.  They all refer to the same central transaction: photos of vulnerable adult patients taken by caregivers.  We have declined to file criminal charges against the caregivers who took part in this abuse.

This decision has caused considerable genuine concern.  Abuse of loved ones by those entrusted with their care is the stuff of nightmares.  By all reports, it’s clear a wrong was done.   If a crime was committed, this office is the only agency that can pursue punishment.  The public is right to ask whether we are doing our jobs.

I have reviewed all the reports on this case.  The Bremerton Police Department did a fine job collecting all the available information.  It’s my conclusion that we cannot seek a criminal penalty for the wrong that was done here.  Here’s why.

First, we have very little direct evidence.  Photos were taken of more than one patient in some state of undress.  The pictures were taken with cell phones.  We know the pictures were shared among some of the employees of the Center, but all have long since been deleted.  From the statements taken, it is not clear how many patients were victimized, perhaps two or three.  It looks like the patients are not aware they had been photographed.  There is no evidence that any of the pictures were retained in any format.  There is no suggestion that the electronic images were shared beyond a small circle at the Center.

The lack of actual photographs does not in itself prevent prosecution.  Statements of those who took the pictures or had seen them could be used to prove the crime of Voyeurism, a Class C Felony punishable by up to five years in prison.  However, to convict a person of that crime, we would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person took the pictures or viewed them ╲for the purposes of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of any person. RCW 9A.44.105 (2).  That is the language used by the legislature to define the crime.  And unless we can prove the conduct fits squarely within that definition, no crime has been committed.

Most of the employees who saw these pictures were revolted.  Someone reported the violation to the Centerâ•˙s management, and they responded by immediately calling in law enforcement and the appropriate regulatory agency.  We have evidence that three persons, now former employees of the Center, willfully took or shared the photographs.  However, we have no evidence that any of the three — two women and one man — took or shared the pictures to arouse or gratify sexual desires.  They used the pictures to mock the vulnerable people in their care.
Their conduct is abhorrent, but fits no definition of any crime.  That is, their conduct does not meet the standard set by the legislature for punishment by a loss of liberty.  In a number of statutes the legislature has made it clear that this conduct can be the basis of termination, the loss of a professional license, and a civil action for damages by those injured.  (See, for example, RCW 70.02 concerning medical records privacy and RCW 18.130 concerning the regulation of health care professions.)  But we can’t fine them or lock them up.  They are not within the reach of the authority of this office.

All of us who work in this office do so because we want to see justice done.  But our role is limited.  We will review every allegation that a crime may have been committed.  In many cases, that is all we can do.  If the legislature has not mandated imprisonment for the conduct, we can go no further.  We use all of our tools — our investigators, our education, and our imaginations — to find a way to respond, but sometimes we hit a wall.  That is what happened in this case.  We have asked ourselves the same question raised by the many thoughtful and concerned citizens: Can’t we do something to these people?  Unfortunately, and to our great disappointment, the answer is no.”

Local Legislator’s Bill Would Stiffen Penalty for Scanner-Monitoring Criminals

Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, is pushing a bill aimed at punishing criminals who used police scanners to aid in their nefarious acts.

House Bill 2595 would create an aggravating factor — and thus a judge could go beyond the standard sentencing range — for folks who listened to police radio scanners “as a means to facilitate a crime.”

“This bill sends a clear message to criminals. It says that using the police scanner as a way to help you commit your crime will not be tolerated,” Rolfes said. “These communications are intended for public safety and notification, not to serve as a tool to be exploited for criminal activity.”

Rolfes’ bill passed the house unanimously Friday and now moves to the Senate for a vote.

Protect Your Purses, People!

Take this advice for what you will.

As an informal observation from someone who reads the area’s police reports, I can tell you that if there’s one crime I’d bet is ballooning, it’s vehicle prowling. I have no data (yet) to back up this assumption, but we’ve been seeing waves of prowls in Bremerton, Silverdale, Port Orchard, Poulsbo and other Kitsap areas.

Keep in mind these thieves are opportunistic. If they see nothing inside worth taking, they’ll probably move on. That’s the biggest tip I can give you: don’t leave anything in a vehicle that can’t live without.

One library employee of the Sylvan Way branch was lucky last week. Bremerton Detective Sgt. Randy Plumb felt two women in the area were up to no good. Sure enough, he returned to the parking lot a short time after seeing them and a car’s window had been broken, the purse inside it gone.

Plumb tracked down the women on a hunch and arrested them at K-Mart. But rest assured our community doesn’t have crime fighters on every block, all the time. That’s the worst thing about prowling: it’s a hard crime to catch, and hard to prosecute.

Rather than thinking about prosecuting, we should focus on prevention. So no more purses, no more wallets, no more valuables left inside vehicles that don’t have to be. Remember the words of infamous bank robber Willie Sutton.

When asked why he robbed banks, he replied simply: “Because that’s where the money is.”

Chief’s Comments on Suquamish Shooting

Here’s Chief Mike Lasnier’s statement on the Suquamish shooting:

“Information has been previously released regarding the officer involved shooting incident that occurred in Suquamish last night.  All questions regarding the investigation, its status, or specific facts of the case should be referred to the Public Information Officer for the lead investigating agency, Deputy Scott Wilson of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office.

Following the incident, the Suquamish Police Department followed standard law enforcement protocol, and requested assistance from the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office, and the Washington State Patrol, to ensure a fair and objective investigation into the incident.  Both agencies responded without delay, and have provided assistance to our agency in this matter.  The Suquamish Police Department and its officers are cooperating fully with the investigation.  We are grateful to the Kitsap Sheriff’s Department and Washington State Patrol for their professional response and assistance in this matter.

At approximately 2130 on Saturday evening, officers were dispatched to a report of a disturbance with multiple shots fired on Newton Street in Suquamish.  Upon arriving in the area, officers cautiously approached the residence, and contacted subjects outside of the house.  One subject was a 34 year old career criminal with an extensive history of drug dealing, with 9 prior felony convictions for violent crimes, burglary, drug dealing and possession of drugs, as well as assault and intimidating witnesses.  He also has 12 prior misdemeanor convictions for multiple crimes, including displaying weapons with intent to intimidate.  He currently had a Felony “No Bail” “Caution” warrant for his arrest, for escape from the Washington State Department of Corrections on “community custody” for Drug Charges.  When challenged by 3 officers in full uniform, the offender fled towards his vehicle, and refused commands to stop or show his hands.  The offender entered a vehicle, started it, and rapidly accelerated towards the officers.  One officer was struck by the bumper of the vehicle, and another had his foot run over.  Both officers discharged their weapons, and the wanted, fleeing, dangerous felon was struck by gunfire.  A female passenger also received minor wounds from secondary projectiles.  The suspects fled the scene, went to a nearby residence to seek aid from friends, and got into a different vehicle to seek medical aid.  The suspects realized they needed immediate medical assistance, so they drove to the Suquamish Police Department to seek help.  Aid was obtained for them, and the male subject was flown to Harborview for the treatment of gunshot wounds, the Female passenger transported to Harrison Hospital in Bremerton.

Both officers struck by the suspect car were injured, and were transported by ambulance to Harrison Medical Center for treatment of their wounds.  Both were treated and later released.  After recovering from their injuries, the officers will be on administrative duties, which is standard procedure in incidents of this nature.  Both officers are veterans of the department with over 7 years of service each.

I am confident that the Officers of the Suquamish Police Department acted appropriately in this matter.  We welcome external review of this matter by County, State and Federal Authorities.  Upon completion of the external review, we will be conducting an internal shooting review, which is standard department policy.

I am confident that the choices made by our officers were professional, legal and justified, and that this confidence will be supported following a thorough and exhaustive professional and legal review. My officers had a duty and obligation to respond and act, and they did so with a great deal of courage and professionalism.  Anyone who attacks and attempts to murder police officers, whether with a gun, a knife, or the car used in this incident, should expect that any officer will respond in the same manner.

Additional information can be obtained from the lead investigation agency, the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department.