News Nightclub Sting’s Trials and Errors
posted by January 14 at 14:35 PMon
Eight of the defendants charged in the Seattle Police Department’s nightclub sting last summer, “Operation Sobering Thought,” are taking their cases to trial. That’s a big gamble. If found guilty on charges of allowing minors into bars and serving them alcohol, those bouncers and bartenders could be sentenced to a full year in the slammer. City Attorney Tom Carr had offered the first-time offenders plea bargains of 20 days in jail. Why wouldn’t they take the plea deal?
“I have clients charged with felonies who have gotten better offers than these defendants,” said Jessica Riley, who is defending a bouncer from Cowgirls, a Pioneer Square bar. “In this case they didn’t seem to be open to any kind of negotiation.”
Another defendant’s attorney, David Gehrke, said in his three decades practicing law, he has never seen prosecutors recommend significant jail time for first-time offenders, including people charged with driving under the influence and domestic violence.
Carr said the plea offers are based strictly on sentencing guidelines and a defendant’s history. He said he has been trying to rein in staff attorneys from using their discretion and offering deals that could vary unfairly from case to case.
“I’ve been trying to get better control over what we do,” Carr said. “I worry about being fair to the 20,000 people we charge here” annually.
Carr is saying that, in order to be fair, he needs to punish the handful of people caught in a high-profile sting operation with a jail sentence. But that’s not fair. Most liquor-code violators are simply fined $250-500 by the Washington State Liquor Control Board or charged with a simple misdemeanor carrying a $250 fine—and jail time is unheard of unless it’s a repeat offense. But Carr is going for the throat. He’s charging them all with gross misdemeanors and making a starting offer of jail time.
Every aspect of “Operation Sobering Thought” makes me need a drink. The name, for starters… The police work was sloppy. The sting was an obvious political ploy, supposedly providing the impetus for additional nightlife legislation to rein in nightclubs. And it was exorbitantly expensive—costing over $50,000 to make the arrests, and now, because Tom Carr apparently wants to set an example, the cases are going to trial and will drain thousands more city dollars.
I hope these poor saps get off with a fine; their offenses are garden variety. The only thing that should be on trial here is whether the City should butt out and let the Washington State Liquor Control Board do its job.