by Tacoma Weekly Staff
In 2017, the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office consolidated its felony and misdemeanor domestic violence prosecutors and victim advocates in one central location. This consolidated unit is the first of its kind in Washington and is housed inside the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center (CJFJC), which partners with law enforcement and other community advocates.
“Working together we can better protect and support victims,” said Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. “By providing resources and services to victims of domestic violence and their children in one safe location, the result is an effective, coordinated response to prevent domestic violence from escalating.”
Domestic violence crimes happen within families, marriages, dating relationships and households. Crimes include assault, violation of protection orders, harassment, and property damage. The one thing these crimes have in common is they evoke fear and anxiety in victims, especially children. The CJFJC is a one-stop-shop approach to expedite justice and ease fears.
At the CJFJC, victims can meet with prosecutors, victim advocates, and law enforcement officers. Even in non-criminal matters, victims can meet with community victim advocates and receive the individual assistance they need to develop a safety plan, get protection orders, housing, and legal and mental health counselling.
By offering these services in a single, safe location, the CJFJC reduces the barriers that, historically, have kept victims from getting help. Together, prosecutors, victim advocates and other CJFJC partners employ a “coordinated community response” to domestic violence and thereby help them lead safer lives.
Career Criminals Off Our Streets
High Priority Offender Program Reduces Crime
By Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, first published in The Tacoma Weekly
He began his criminal career with a burglary in 2000. Before he turned 40, he racked up 16 felony convictions. Though he was versatile – stealing cars, committing identify theft and dabbling in drugs – burglary remained his crime of choice.
This year he went on a short crime spree, which included yet another burglary. Our new data-driven system identified him as a High Priority Offender (HPO) based on his conduct and history. He was charged, convicted and recently sentenced to several years in prison.
This was our 500th HPO case.
Your Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office is focusing resources on the small percentage of criminals who are committing a large percentage of the crimes. Some call them career criminals; we call them high priority offenders.
In almost every context, it’s a small group of bad actors causing most of the problems. This is certainly true in the world of criminal justice. That’s not new; that’s common sense. What is new is how our office uses data and technology to identify the worst offenders – the career criminals – and get them off our streets.
As part of our ongoing effort to keep our community safe, we began the HPO program in 2015. We studied similar data-driven programs on the East Coast, particularly in New York, and adapted the techniques for Pierce County. Consistent with the crime-fighting innovation we have demonstrated with our Elder Abuse Unit and gang sweeps, we are the first on the West Coast to implement this program.
The HPO program is based on three elements of criminality: rate, persistence and dangerousness. As a result, the focus is on those offenders who most impact our community.
Investigator Gene Miller, a former Tacoma Police Department detective, manages the data. As your prosecutor, I worked with Detective Miller on homicide cases and on the Tacoma Mall shooting. I have high confidence in him and in our program. We are not only reducing crime in our community, we are reducing bias in the system, because data is objective.
My confidence and enthusiasm for the program are shared by our partners in law enforcement. Using data to focus resources and improve public safety is cost-effective and forward-thinking.
High priority offenders average 11 prior felony convictions and more than three prior trips to prison. After conviction as a HPO, the individual serves a sentence that is nearly four times greater than the average sentence in Washington. And when you send a career criminal to prison, you prevent dozens of future crimes.
Why do we need this program when Washington has a three-strikes law? Because not all felonies are strikes. In fact, only “most serious offenses” are strikes. HPO applies to burglaries and other crimes that do not qualify as strike offenses, but still impact victims and our community.
Our future plan is to build on the success of this program by instituting a notification system. We want high priority offenders to know they have been identified. Our goal is to end their criminal careers. They can go to prison, or they can change careers. Either way, our community is safer.
Pierce County is booming. Population is up, crime is down. In fact, Felony crimes are down 18% since I became your Prosecutor. While crime is going up in Seattle and in Washington State, crime is going down in Pierce County. HPO program is one of the reasons.
Keeping Our Elders Safe
Keeping Our Elders Safe
by Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, first published in The Tacoma Weekly
Mr. Villegas’ life savings began to dwindle under the control of his daughter. He was 81-years-old with dementia and early Alzheimer’s. Frugal, he lived on a modest income. His savings was nearly $200,000, primarily from the sale of his home, but his daughter drained his account to almost nothing over the course of a few years.
Without money, Mr. Villegas could not afford the assisted living he needed. Luckily, Mr. Villegas’ son Robert became aware of the situation and intervened. Mr. Villegas’ daughter went to prison for the theft and Mr. Villegas moved in with his son, where he was properly cared for.
In 2011, we formed an Elder Abuse Unit to protect elders and vigorously prosecute those who take advantage of vulnerable adults. We recognized that as our population ages, there are more elders who need more protection. Since then, our office has been a leader in the prosecution and prevention of elder abuse, whether it’s financial exploitation, physical abuse, or neglect.
Just as we have been leaders in reducing gang violence, prosecuting “cold cases,” and removing career criminals from our streets with data-driven prosecution, we have been leaders in protecting elders with a specialized team.
In 2016, we won a grant from the Department of Justice of nearly $400,000 — we were one of only nine counties in the country to receive this award. The funds are being used to coordinate a comprehensive approach to protecting elders and other vulnerable adults.
Initially, our Elder Abuse Unit was a one-woman team with Deputy Prosecutor Erika Nohavec. Yes, as Erika sometimes joked, there can be an “I” in team when it’s a one-woman team. Our team subsequently expanded to include two deputy prosecutors, two victim advocates, and a legal assistant. The Pierce County Council recognized the vital work we are doing and provided the additional staff.
One major component of this comprehensive approach was the formation of the Coordinated Community Response Team. This group includes prosecutors, law enforcement departments, the Attorney General’s Office, Adult Protective Services, the Korean Women’s Association, and other stakeholders.
Our vision is to create a safe community for vulnerable adults. Our mission is to effectively respond to the needs of older victims, hold abusers accountable, identify and bridge the gaps in services available to victims, and improve coordination between service providers through multidisciplinary collaboration. This collaboration also helps us hold offenders accountable. Working with multiple agencies, our office successfully prosecuted a caregiver in 2016 for a shocking case of neglect.
Mr. Carter was found nonresponsive in his bed and was rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital. Several large and deep pressure ulcers were discovered on his backside, the worst of which was 8×13 inches and went down to the bone.
His paid caregiver packed the wounds with paper towels and Neosporin. This led to a serious infection, which ultimately killed Mr. Carter. Doctors and nurses said it was worst example of neglect they had seen in their careers. This was the first murder conviction in Washington premised on a failure to seek necessary medical care for a vulnerable adult.
We prosecute and we prevent. Raising awareness and educating people on how to protect themselves, their friends, and their family members is part of how we reduce crimes against the vulnerable and keep them safe. If you know of a group that would benefit from hearing from us, please let us know.