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Monday, January 14, 2008

Nightclub Sting’s Trials and Errors

posted by on January 14 at 14:35 PM

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.

RSS icon Comments


tempest in a beer bottle.

Posted by ellarosa | January 14, 2008 2:40 PM

he told me that next time he's going to send in elliot ness.

Posted by tom carr is untouchable! | January 14, 2008 2:43 PM

Stone them in Pioneer Sq.

Posted by monkey | January 14, 2008 2:51 PM

Tom Carr has really turned out to be a vindictive, evil piece of shit, hasn't he?

Run Napoleon, Run!

Posted by Mr. X | January 14, 2008 2:52 PM

Holy shit, that's an offer that's way out of line. What sentencing guidelines is he talking about? I agree that there should be consistency in offers made on similar cases for similarly situated defendants, but that doesn't mean they should be constitently draconian. What's really amazing is, if the case goes to trial, Carr will probably ask for more time if he convicts.

Gehrke's right about how unusual it is for a first offender to get that much jail time. That's a really great use of our limited resources.

Posted by Gidge | January 14, 2008 2:54 PM

Wait! We have a budget crisis with too much money being spent for our criminal justice system, and he wants to lock up first time offenders?

Who the heck can afford that?

Tell the downtown multi-millionaires if they want to, they can foot the bill for it - but not we Seattle citizens.

And, for the record, we already said to stop whining about the reality that we think MJ use is not important for the cops to be wasting their time on, when we have murderers running around our city not caught by the cops, and attempted carjackers that almost kill UW students.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 14, 2008 3:05 PM

Going to trial is a smart strategy. Frankly, so would an unconditional guilty plea as charged. Convicted either way, no judge is going to give these people jail time unless the defendant has agreed to it in a plea deal. They may not even get fined - judges hate it when their dockets are clogged with this kind of crap.

Posted by Huh? | January 14, 2008 3:21 PM

I just don't get this.

Every bar I've been to in Seattle (this is a multi-year research project, folks) is intensely paranoid about carding anybody who looks remotely under 30. [sadly, not me.]

A very good reputable restaurant (not a youth hangout at all!) was stung by the WA LCB, they sent in a ringer and the restaurant got whacked with a stiff fine for this single 'violation'.

In Germany there is none of this. There is a 'Youth Protection Law', which nobody enforces or gives a shit. Guess where there are far more alcohol-related deaths. By orders of magnitude. (Hint: it's where they speak sorta-English).

Posted by Karlheinz Arschbomber | January 14, 2008 3:26 PM

I'm surprised, KA, I would have thought you'd get carded. They card me sometimes.

In France your parents decide when you can drink. Even better.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 14, 2008 3:44 PM

Thanks for posting this Dom, I have been waiting for this all day. Carr and the city are in total CYA mode on this power grab. I'm sure in a year or two the city will be asking for the rights to seize property from the convicted to pay for the cost of prosecution, a favorite of the war on drugs crowd. Think of it, the city could take the bars over, oh what fun we will have!

Posted by wisepunk | January 14, 2008 3:54 PM


Carr should be recalled for abuse of power.

I hope someone makes a complaint to the Bar on this. Carr is out of control. I can't believe he represents Seattle. We should all be embarrassed. He's starting to make Mark Sidran look like a progressive.

Posted by FRANK | January 14, 2008 3:56 PM

Where's the Mayor's Music Office on this? Shouldn't they be stepping in to support music and nightlife?

Posted by fuckthiscity | January 14, 2008 3:58 PM

Carr has no idea what it's like to work. That fucker makes a mistake and it costs tax payers money a poor waitress makes a mistake on checking an ID that's expired does time in jail.
The guy is a disgusting.

Posted by Poster Girl | January 14, 2008 4:19 PM

Great post. Horrible headline. I almost missed it.

Posted by Tim | January 14, 2008 4:24 PM

No one knows half of how horrible these investigations really were.


Posted by NapoleonXIV | January 14, 2008 4:49 PM

Thanks, Tim. Added the words "nightclub sting's" to the headline to make it less horrible.

Posted by Dominic Holden | January 14, 2008 4:54 PM

*wiping tears*
@12, that's funny

Posted by rubyred | January 14, 2008 5:12 PM

I clearly recall us Seattle voters resoundingly rejecting Mark Sidran's mayoral request, because we did not want a bullying authoritarian ruling us. (The Stranger even ran a great post-defeat editorial, mocking Sidran, which I loved.) Now, with this blatantly political sweep of arrests, which Sidran's successor wants to push to the absolute limits, I have to wonder: what part of 'NO!' do these people not understand? Carr lobbied hard against the MJ initiative, and he LOST. Now, he's authored a very misleading report against it. What ever happened to ethics in law or public administration? Having office does NOT mean he gets to do whatever he wants, the will of the voters be damned. Can we impeach him? I'm serious.

Posted by Paddy Mac | January 14, 2008 6:48 PM

The Seattle municourt judges are going to hate this shit clogging their dockets after they see how much time its going to take and how much trouble Carr is going to have getting convictions on even half. Of course, Seattle municourt judges have delusions of grandeur wholly different from county district court jugdes, but even here they are likely to see the jail time being sought is crazy because the facts here all point to a lack of intent on the part of the defendants. They simply didn't set out to commit crimes, something totally different from a drunk driver who knows he's had more than two drinks.

Posted by cracked | January 14, 2008 9:58 PM

Carr has just officially crossed the line from being just a poor city attorney to a bad person.

Posted by pissed | January 14, 2008 11:15 PM

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