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Friday, February 8, 2008

DOJ Investigation of King County Jail "Still Active"

**Bumped** (The January deadline has passed and still no word. Last I heard from the DOJ, at the end of January, the investigation was still active. We presume it is still active.)

In November of 2007 the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division issued a scathing report about the unconstitutional conditions and treatment occurring at the King County Jail (KCCF) located in downtown Seattle, Washington. While this facility is managed by King County, it is used to house pre-trial detainees for the Seattle Police Department and other area law enforcement agencies.

The DOJ gave King County until January to address the constitutional rights violations it identified as part of it's investigation which included failures to provide medical treatment to detainees, physical abuse of detainees, sexual abuse of detainees, and a lack of adequate self-harm prevention at the jail. King County responded by agreeing that such conditions exist at the jail but that such conditions were not violations of the US Constitution and the rights guaranteed to US citizens therein.

In our effort to keep track of this case, we sent requests to the US DOJ to clarify the process and to give us an update on what they thought of King County's disturbing response to their investigation, especially since the supposed deadline for King County to address these issues expires tomorrow.

DOJ representatives responded by saying that the investigation is still active and because of this they are limited in what they may discuss. They gave some background on what to expect by stating that:

"...after we issue an investigative report concluding that unconstitutional conditions exist at a facility, we work with the jurisdiction to reach an agreement on remedying the deficiencies we have identified.

If we reach an agreement, that document is posted on our website and becomes a public document.

If, after diligent efforts, we are unable to reach an agreement, then our statute permits the Department of Justice to initiate a lawsuit seeking to compel the jurisdiction to remedy the deficiencies. Any such lawsuit would also be posted on our website and become a public document."

However, when asked for some clarification as to whether there was an enforcement or oversight mechanism that ensured that the jurisdiction followed their agreement if one was reached the DOJ representative didn't answer in time for this article.

Clearly, it appears as thought the county and DOJ are still negotiating terms that would bring the facility into compliance with the Civil Rights for Institutionalized Persons Act, however it is disturbing that there might not be an oversight mechanism that ensures the county complies with its agreement, especially in light of its disturbing public response to the grievous violations.

Given some evidence of collusion between the SPD and KCCF to intentionally withhold medical treatment for some prisoners and the Seattle police force's reluctance to negotiate on oversight reforms sparked by several misconduct cases last year, the prospect of the intentional mistreatment of detainees in Seattle would appear plausible. If such is the case then it's clear, when combined with King County's disregard for the constitutionally protected rights of the accused, that there is ample reason to suspect that the county will not hold up its side of the bargain if they do reach an agreement with the DOJ.

Because of these reasons, there must be some sort of oversight implemented for the King County Jail to ensure it protects the rights of the US citizens it detains in compliance with the US Constitution, federal laws, and international bans on cruel and unusual punishment.

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