It’s been two weeks since a 21-year-old Seattle man was arrested for allegedly stealing an unoccupied bus in Sodo and intentionally ramming numerous vehicles at high speed before crashing into a bus stop in Judkins Park on Oct. 26.
Despite a judge’s finding that the man posed a danger to the community, he was released from jail on Oct. 29 and has yet to be criminally charged. The reason? Seattle police detectives have yet to submit paperwork to support the filing of criminal charges to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
The Seattle Police Department’s ongoing staffing crisis, coupled with a temporary personnel shuffle to cover for 93 officers seeking medical or religious exemptions to the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, is the apparent reason behind the delay.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan required all city employees working on-site to be vaccinated against COVID by Oct. 18 — and Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz mobilized the department in anticipation of that deadline.
As of September, more than 300 officers had left SPD in what Diaz has called “an unprecedented exodus,” with many former officers citing lack of support from city leaders as a reason for their departure in the wake of last year’s civil rights protests and subsequent calls to defund the police. Only about 100 officers have been hired.
From Oct. 13 through Nov. 5, Diaz ordered a “stage 3 mobilization,” requiring detectives in many specialty and support units across the department to shift to patrol duties to ensure there were enough officers to respond to 911 calls, said spokesman Sgt. Randy Huserik.
It’s not that cases won’t be referred to prosecutors for criminal charges — they just haven’t been sent over yet, since detectives only returned to working their caseloads on Monday, Huserik said.
Huserik hasn’t received a recent update on officers who had sought vaccine exemptions.
The case involving the man who is alleged to have stolen a bus from a Sodo-based transportation company, caromed into cars and forced pedestrians to scatter during a 3-mile-long police pursuit is being investigated by SPD’s General Investigations Unit, whose detectives were also pulled into patrol duties in recent weeks, Huserik said.
“If that case were sent to us, we would’ve reviewed it (for a charging decision) the same day we received it,” said Casey McNerthney, a spokesperson for Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.
Police said at the time that the bus smashed into vehicles in the Beacon Hill and Central District neighborhoods before crashing at a light-rail construction site near 23rd Avenue South and South Judkins Street. The driver fled but was quickly arrested.
The next day, Oct. 27, a King County District Court judge found probable cause to hold the man on investigation of theft of a motor vehicle and second-degree assault with a deadly weapon and set the man’s bail at $200,000, according to prosecutors.
But Seattle police did not refer the case to prosecutors for a charging decision within 72 hours of the arrest, and so the man was released from the King County Jail on Oct. 29 without being required to post bail, according to prosecutors and jail records.
Under state law, defendants cannot be held in custody for more than 72 hours, not including weekends and holidays, if criminal charges have not been filed against them. The Seattle Times is not naming the man because the newspaper typically does not name people who have not been charged with a crime.
According to the probable-cause statement outlining the Seattle police case against the 21-year-old, he was working as a temporary detailer for TransWest, a Sodo-based company that operates a fleet of vans, shuttles, buses and coaches. (Though the stolen bus was initially reported to be a school bus, it was actually a white commercial bus in the TransWest fleet.)
He was hired Oct. 25 and the next morning, he arrived at a TransWest lot on South Spokane Street, went to a maintenance shed and asked for keys to one of the vehicles, says the statement, noting witnesses later reported the man was “jittery” and “acting strange.” After receiving keys, the man allegedly got into a bus and sped off the lot at an estimated 30 to 40 mph.
Another employee stood near the lot’s entrance and waved his arms above his head in an attempt to slow the driver, says the probable-cause statement. The employee’s leg was injured after getting caught in the bus’s bumper and he later told police he would’ve been killed had he not moved out of the way.
During a 7-minute pursuit over 3.1 miles, Seattle police officers “witnessed him intentionally swerving in and out of traffic and oncoming traffic to hit vehicles,” the statement says.
The driver of the stolen bus struck a Metro bus and then steered toward a bus stop, where several people were forced to flee, says the statement. In addition to hitting at least 15 other vehicles, the stolen bus crashed into the bus stop, it says.
Before being booked into the King County Jail, the man was evaluated by a police drug-recognition expert, who determined the 21-year-old had been driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, according to the statement.