The release from jail by a King County judge of four armed carjacking and robbery suspects has caused an uproar from Des Moines Police Chief Ken Thomas and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Thomas said in a Wednesday, Nov. 2 press release that he is “extremely disappointed with this decision to release dangerous, armed, violent criminals back into the community with seemingly no consequence.”
“During a time when violent gun crime is on the rise in King County, this lack of serious consideration to keep these most dangerous criminals in custody is a travesty,” said Thomas, a former Kent Police chief. ”It is the top priority of law enforcement to help keep our community safe. These actions taken by prosecutors and judges undermine that mission. The two victims in this case were not taken seriously by our criminal justice system.”
In response to the Des Moines press release, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office issued a media release that prosecutors wanted each of the suspects held in detention.
“King County prosecutors share the police chief’s concerns about the release of armed carjacking suspects, which is why we argued for suspects in this case to be held in detention,” said Casey McNerthney, spokesman for the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. “Unfortunately, multiple suspects were released over prosecutors’ objection.”
At about 11:48 p.m. Oct. 29, a Des Moines Police officer was flagged down by two men in the area of South 216th Street and Pacific Highway South, according to a Nov. 2 Des Moines Police press release. The two said they had been approached by four to five males armed with handguns and demanded that they lay down in the middle of the street.
One man indicated a suspect pointed a handgun at his head, charged a bullet into the chamber and then ordered him to hand over his personal possessions, according to police. The man said he complied because he was in fear for his life. The suspects then stole the other man’s vehicle after pointing guns at him.
Des Moines Police officers immediately broadcast the situation and descriptions to area law enforcement. Within about 20 minutes, officers from Federal Way Police Department located the stolen vehicle in the area of 32000 Pacific Highway South. Officers observed five suspects flee the vehicle on foot and gave chase. One adult male and three juvenile males were captured. Officer’s recovered a handgun that reportedly matched the description provided by the victims.
The 18-year-old man was booked into the King County jail on 72-hour investigative hold for first-degree robbery. The three juveniles, ages 17, 17 and 16, were booked into King County Juvenile Detention Center on 72-hour investigative holds for first-degree robbery.
“(Tuesday, Nov. 1), we learned the four suspects were released from custody within the 72-hour hold, prior to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office or judges receiving the entire case,” according to the Des Moines Police press release. “Two 17-year-olds were released on electronic home monitoring. One 16-year-old was released to parents and an 18-year-old was released on personal recognizance.”
Two of the teens are from Des Moines, one from Seattle and other one is transient, according to Des Moines Police.
The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office released the following information about the case:
• Prosecutors appreciate the work of Des Moines Police to make these arrests and get us the case information we presented to judges in our arguments for detention.
• King County prosecutors argued that the adult suspect should be held on $100,000 bail because of the danger to the community, but he was released by a judge over prosecutors’ objection.
• Two of the other suspects were released over the objection of King County prosecutors, who argued that they should be held in juvenile detention.
• The juvenile probation counselor recommended that the fourth suspect, a 16-year-old, be released to his family. King County prosecutors argued for electronic home detention.
The documents submitted by police for the court appearances of all four suspects checked “no” in the “law enforcement object to release” section, according to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
“Defense was aware of this, and it was considered by judges as a counterpoint against prosecutors’ argument to hold suspects in secure detention,” McNerthney said. “We have previously shared with police the importance of this section and objecting to release.”
A Des Moines Police spokesman has not yet responded to an email from the Kent Reporter about why the officers didn’t check the objecting to release box.
McNerthney said none of these cases were sent by prosecutors to diversion programs and that prosecutors did not decline the cases.
The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office argued on Oct. 31 that the 18-year-old should be held on $100,000 bail because he’s a danger to the community.
“We also sought probable cause for two counts of robbery in the first degree,” McNerthney said. “If a judge agreed, the suspect would be held for 72 hours while police investigators worked on the documents required by law for a felony charging decision. A judge released (the man) from custody over the objection of King County prosecutors.”
McNerthney said police did not object to his release in the first appearance document. That was considered by the judge as a counterpoint against prosecutors’ argument to hold the suspect in secure detention.
McNerthney said even though the man was released by a judge over prosecutors’ objection, prosecutors can still file charges with the additional documents sent by police on Oct. 31.
The second suspect was a 17-year-old. Police did not object to his release in the first appearance document, McNerthney said.
“The teen’s family was present, and the juvenile probational counselor wanted the teen released to his parents,” McNerthney said. “King County prosecutors argued for the teen to be held in detention, and he was released on electronic home monitoring over prosecutors’ objections. Prosecutors received additional documents from police Tuesday after the first appearance and expect a charging decision Wednesday.”
The third suspect is another 17-year-old. Police did not object to his release on the first appearance document. King County prosecutors argued that the 17-year-old be held in detention. He was released over prosecutors’ objection to electronic home monitoring, which is what a juvenile probation counselor requested, McNerthney said.
The fourth suspect is a 16-year-old. Police did not object to his release on the first appearance document. The juvenile probation counselor on the case wanted the teen released to his family. Prosecutors argued for electronic home monitoring, which the judge ordered.
Formal charges filed
Prosecutors received additional documents from police Nov. 1 after the first appearance and filed formal charges Nov. 2 against three of the juveniles. All three were charged with first-degree robbery, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Names of judges
The first appearance judge in the adult case was King County District Court Judge Gregg Hirakawa, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Judge Nelson Lee handled the Juvenile Court first appearance hearings.
Though prosecutors objected to release, Judge Lee noted that police did not object in the first appearance documents submitted.