by Sandy Malone and Christopher Berg
King County, WA - After KTTH's Jason Rantz ran a now-viral story about the King County prosecutor refusing to charge suspects for assaulting cops if they resist arrest, the prosecutor is disputing those claims.
However, Jason Rantz is standing by his story.
"Our office takes very seriously our obligation to hold offenders accountable who assault law enforcement officers,” a spokesperson for prosecutor Dan Satterberg told KING5.
“Despite the suggestion otherwise, our office has had no change in our filing and disposition standards related to these crimes," the spokesperson said.
The prosecutor's office said that the initial article from the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH was "inaccurate and misleading."
The disagreement stems from the handling of a particular case.
The alleged change in position on assaults on law enforcement officers in his county was revealed after Satterberg's office failed to charge a drunk woman who kicked an officer in the crotch, KTTH reported.
The 20-year-old suspect was wearing leather boots when she administered the kick.
She was arrested, but was ultimately not charged with assaulting the officer, according to KTTH.
Satterberg’s office told KTTH via email that they will only charge assault in the third degree (assault on a police officer), “if the assault can best be described as an intentional attack on the officer and the officer has an injury or experiences significant pain as a result of the assault.”
This brings up the problem with the prosecutor’s definition of “intentional,” and King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht called him out on it.
“From my reading of the deputy’s report, I would say it would seem like it was an intentional kick at the deputy,” Sheriff Johanknecht said. “And that I truly believe him when he says he was in pain about that. You know there’s all kinds of things that come into play here, as you know, as to filing guidelines and all those other things … but I believe the deputy was hurt, not enough to, thank goodness, be hospitalized. But a lot of pain.”
But the prosecutor’s office pointed to the fact they believed the suspect was inebriated at the time of the incident.
“Certainly, the suspect’s mental state did not diminish the pain the officer involved experienced as a result of her actions, but it does affect our ability to prove an intentional assault,” a spokesman for Satterberg’s office told KTTH.
The spokesman pointed to the charging guidelines and said the prosecutor’s office was following the standards.
“That [standard] is wrong on so many levels and makes it open season on LEO’s. It’s infuriating,” one deputy told KTTH.
The sheriff said she doesn’t think the policy is well-known to the public.
“I think the general public would be surprised by how the filing standards describe that from the prosecutor’s office,” Sheriff Johanknecht told KTTH. “Again, to be clear, I’m not trying to be critical of Mr. Satterberg’s office. I’m just coming from the law enforcement slant of this… you know, we do go out of the way in training to try to avoid physical contact with people… There are just times when you have to place your hands on people and when they resist, it is very frustrating. Very frustrating for me, very frustrating for my deputies.”
She said more law enforcement officers will be injured if a suspect knows that they won’t be charged with assault when they resist arrest.
The sheriff said the county prosecutor needed “to rethink this” and expressed a desire to work with Satterberg to come to a consensus.
Sheriff Johanknecht hoped “there’s opportunity to compromise on some of these things since every law enforcement agency deals with this more regularly each and every day.”
After the story went viral, the prosecutor released their charging guidelines, according to KING5:
Assault in the third degree against a law enforcement officer under RCW 9A.36.031(1) subsection (a) or (g) or a firefighter or other employee of a fire department under 9A.36.030(1)(e) shall normally be filed if the assault can be best described as an intentional attack on the officer and one of the following exist:
(a) The officer has an injury or experiences significant pain as a result of the assault;
(b) The officer is taken or forced to the ground;
(c) The defendant bites the officer, spits in the officer's face or throws urine or bodily fluid on the officer;
(d) A substantial effort is required to stop the assault;
(e) The suspect attempts to get the officer’s firearm; or
(f) The suspect uses any object, not amounting to a deadly weapon, to assault the officer.
Assaults against officers involving deadly weapons or where substantial bodily harm results should normally be filed as assault in the second degree.
Assaults against officers that are best described as either resisting or mere unwanted touching should be filed as resisting or assault in the fourth degree.
The spokesman for Satterberg's office noted that in the past 18 months, they prosecuted 367 felony assault cases where officers have been victims, or 85 percent of the cases referred to them.
(NOTE: Satterberg's office has previously filed felony assault charges on an intoxicated suspect who spit on me during an arrest and only let him plea to a misdemeanor after I agreed. However, the assault could not reasonably be described as part of resisting arrest. -CB)
Jason Rantz insists that the response from the prosecutor's office doesn't actually contradict his story that assault charges aren't filed when the suspect is resisting arrest.
"So they’re either arguing a point I’m not addressing, or they’re directly contradicting an earlier statement to me, from their office, that said: 'For Assault in the Third Degree, we have the standard that we will not file ‘when an assault can best be described as resisting’ to ensure that we are charging those assaults that are the result of an intentional and targeted strike by a suspect on a law enforcement officer, and not merely a resistance to arrest where a suspect may lack the mental state to intentionally strike another.'"
Rantz also says that Sheriff Johanknecht hasn't changed her position.
“I believe the report we discussed and the deputy’s statement made it clear that he spent an extended time trying to de-escalate the situation, showing compassion and concern for the female,” Sheriff Johanknecht told Rantz. “When the female learned she was going to be sent to the hospital for a mental health review, she intentionally kicked the deputy causing him extreme pain. Her kicks were neither random nor accidental.”
Rantz accuses the prosecutor of performing "transparent damage control" after their policy upset the public.