Minority drug cases challenged

By Gene Johnson

Associated Press

SEATTLE — Lawyers representing 19 people accused of dealing drugs are asking for the cases to be thrown out, pointing to a report by Harvard University researchers that found minorities are disproportionately targeted for drug arrests in the city.

The report, requested by the Seattle-King County Public Defender Association and released earlier this month, found that although blacks constitute only 6 percent to 7 percent of drug users in King County, they account for 57 percent of adult drug arrests.

In papers filed Thursday in King County Superior Court, lawyers for the 19 argued that the reason so many blacks are arrested is that Seattle police focus undercover drug patrols in minority neighborhoods while largely ignoring drug deals in predominantly white areas such as the University District.

The 19 defendants are all black or Latino or appear to be so, court papers said.

"If you only put police in very limited places, it’s a choice not to enforce the law in certain other places," public defender Lisa Daugaard, who is representing two of the defendants, said Wednesday evening.

At a court hearing Thursday, the defendants were awarded a consolidation motion, which will allow the 12 lawyers of record to work together, Daugaard said.

King County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones asked prosecutors and the defense lawyers to meet again next week.

So far, no one in these cases is accusing the police of deliberate discrimination, but simply saying the disparity existed, Daugaard said.

Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said Thursday he has met with minority groups to discuss the report. He said the report didn’t come as a surprise.

"The police department goes where we get complaints and where we receive information," Kerlikowske said. "The open-air drug markets, especially in the downtown area, have higher percentages of arrests that are minorities. But I don’t think it’s an issue of racial profiling or targeting. It’s an open-air drug issue."

The six-month Harvard report studied 3,000 arrests in 1999. It found that of the police department’s four precincts, the West Precinct received the fewest number of complaints about drugs, 12.5 percent, yet had the most drug arrests, 50 percent.

All 19 defendants were arrested in sting operations where police posed as drug buyers, and all were arrested in the West Precinct, which includes most of downtown, as well as the Queen Anne and Magnolia residential areas.

Daugaard said she also takes issue with police focusing on drug deals that take place in public. While those may be the easiest to stop, that’s no reason not to focus on deals that take place in apartments or homes in outlying neighborhoods, she said.

The Harvard report said arrests based on search warrants of homes have declined in the past few years. By returning to making more of those types of arrests, police could target a broader, fairer segment of the population, Daugaard said.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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