The following article is based on a reader's email and was published with his permission.
Updated 04/19/09 11:21 - fixed link to NAACP retaliation story.
Updated 05/17/09 22:20 - added new information concerning deputy Schrimpsher's background.
NOTE: Story Update 01/14/10 - Prosecutors file to dismiss conviction against Simmons after motion to vacate is filed.
Early in 2005, James E Simmons III flew into Seattle to work as a consultant. With several years-worth of experience in information technology security and regulatory compliance, his skills were highly valued, sometimes bringing in over $90 an hour on each contract gig.
James says that he first ran into trouble one night in 2005 when he was returning home from a jazz club and asked a Seattle police officer where he could catch a cab. The officers didn’t answer him, but instead questioned him about a cigarette he was holding and jumped out of the cruiser after James replied that it was nothing and dropped it.
The officers claimed that the cigarette was a joint and that it contained crumbs of crack when they arrested and held him for four days, which cost him his contract gig. However, when the case went to trial a year and a half later, the charges were dismissed when the two officers who arrested him didn’t bother to show up at court and because of a lack of actual evidence other than the word of the arresting officers.
Fortunately, that time, even though he was arrested, he was able to continue working in the IT field since the case was dismissed. But, unfortunately, he returned to Seattle again for another contract job… and something even worse happened.
According to James, he was waiting at a bus stop when King County Sheriff’s Deputy James Schrimpsher accused him of selling crack. In Schrimpsher’s report, Schrimpsher claims he had seen Simmons sell from two different bus stops while he was working the Metro Transit patrol and when he attempted to detain Simmons at the second bus stop that he had bitten his arm during arrest so Simmons was charged with assaulting an officer and possession with intent to distribute.
However, Simmons claims that Schrimpsher fabricated his account of seeing Simmons deal at two locations because the first location Schrimpsher cited in his report didn’t even have a bus stop, at least according to an investigator hired for his defense who went to photograph the locations mentioned in Schrimpsher's report.
Simmons also claims that he never bit Schrimpsher and that this was a cover story for when Simmons was stomped on until his collar bone broke and then tasered until he defecated, and then tasered again in, what Simmons claims, was an apparent attempt to humiliate him by forcing him to defecate himself again. Simmons also says that the evidence used against him was never found on his person, but happened to be in the cruiser already when he was thrown in by Schrimpsher.
When the case went to trial, Simmons was found not guilty of assaulting an officer but was still convicted to 12 months on charges of possession with intent based on deputy Schrimpsher’s testimony, despite the contradictions raised by defense investigators.
Of course, Simmons' allegations may seem questionable until we consider Simmons’ background as a gainfully employed IT professional who made good money… why would he be dealing crack cocaine without the need to do so and with the risks being so huge?
Simmons further claims that the only reason officers singled him out is because he is black and was well-dressed. While his claims that he was framed because of his race might cause some to be skeptical, consider that the number of complaints of racial profiling have been rising in Seattle and that police haven't been above retaliating against people who have reported racial profiling incidents either.
If that's not enough to give a bit of credibility to James Simmons' story, consider this as well…
Late in 2007, King County Sheriff Sue Rahr took disciplinary action against two officers for dishonesty in relation to a drug bust the two performed in December of 2006, while working on a Metro Transit detail. One of the deputies resigned and the other deputy, James Schrimpsher, was fired in December 2007.
When officers are disciplined on grounds of dishonesty, especially when it relates to arrests or prosecution efforts, that officer is placed on a Brady list which is distributed to defense and prosecuting attorneys to inform them that the officer’s testimony should not be considered reliable.
This is why, in general, when officers get in trouble on allegations of dishonesty or perjury, the cases which depended on their testimony are supposed to be reviewed to determine if any relied entirely on their word and if there were any reasonable claims of impropriety.
When King County deputy Schrimpsher was terminated, prosecutors claimed that they performed just such a review, but it only turned up one ongoing case that they subsequently dismissed. But was that really the only case that should have been dismissed or overturned?
If that wasn't enough, also consider that Schrimpsher, during his time with the Phelps County Sheriff's Department in Missouri as a Detective he apparently cost the county a case against a suspected drug dealer due to his mishandling of evidence, at least according to this court document filed in October of 2004.
So it seems that Schrimpsher not only has a questionable history handling drug evidence, but also has skipped between at least two departments with his last jump from Phelps County to King County resulting in a rather steep drop in rank.
Simmons says that he is now unemployed and homeless because of the conviction, which makes it impossible for him to find work in the IT field in which he was once a hot commodity. He’s since turned to alcoholism because of the trauma being beaten and convicted have caused. Even still, now he wants to try and do something about what happened to him, but has been unable to find an attorney who would take his case on a pro-bono basis, since he’s now homeless and unemployable.
It would seem to me, independent of whether Simmons’ claims are factual or not, that the firing of Schrimpsher on grounds of dishonesty would merit his case being seriously reviewed in order to determine whether this was another case of dishonesty on Schrimpsher’s part or not.
The fact that Simmons did have so much to lose adds to the credibility of his claims, as well as the fact that, before the arrests, he had a security clearance as well.
With all of these factors in his favor there would seem to be enough probable cause to, at the very least, ask some very serious questions about the case against Simmons... a case which he claims was based on nothing more than the word of a cop that racially profiled him, lied about his reasons for beating him, and who was later fired for allegations of dishonesty in another drug bust case.
If you would like to contact James Simmons or have information that could help him, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll pass the information along to him. He's still desperately looking for an attorney to help him clear his name so he can take back the life he once had.