Deputy Seattle city attorney now living in NYC, yet releasing criminals in Seattle and excusing countless crimes


SEATTLE, WA – As Seattle considers adopting a law that would excuse most misdemeanor crimes, one city prosecutor who supports the plan has already fled the city.

Deputy Seattle City Attorney John Schochet has moved out of state and across the county. The prosecutor has been working remotely from New York since October, after marrying a New York resident.

Schochet said that he moved to accommodate his new wife:

“The CAO [City Attorney’s Office] has been on remote work status since March 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. I moved from Seattle to New York in October 2020. As you likely know, the City of Seattle does not have residency requirements for its employees, other than elected officials.

“The CAO is continuing remote work through at least July 5, 2021. I’m not sure what will happen after then, but it’s still quite a way off at this point.”

The move comes at a time when his office mulls adding a poverty defense to the city code. The poverty defense would excuse suspects from most misdemeanor crimes like theft, trespassing, and assault if the suspects were suffering from poverty, addiction, or mental health issues.

The poverty defense was originally designed by King County Department of Public Defense Director Anita Khandelwal. The measure was advanced by City Council Member Lisa Herbold.

Supporters say the plan is designed to help keep people out of jail when their crime is committed out of need. Critics say the plan would propagate even more crime.

Khandelwal defended the plan:

“In a situation where you took that sandwich because you were hungry and you were trying to meet your basic need of satisfying your hunger; we as the community will know that we should not punish that. That conduct is excused.”

Former City Councilmember Tim Burgess has spoken against the plan, calling it a “defense lawyer’s dream”:

“It sends this powerful signal that as city government, we don’t really care about this type of criminal behavior in our city. It leans on the scales heavily in favor of certain individuals based on status, and it says to others, ‘you don’t matter.’”

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said his office did not need the plan at this time, because he has already refused to prosecute “survival” crimes:

“Good prosecutors don’t take any satisfaction in prosecuting that type of offense. I think it’s running the risk that we excuse these crimes; we don’t couple it with the resources that are needed to make sure the behavior is addressed — and then the community is left frustrated.”

Schochet has supported the measure from his home on the other side of the country, however, he added that offenders should have to prove they tried other, legal means to satisfy their need before using the defense.

“It’s fair to ask the defendants to explore when there is a legal way to satisfy their need before committing a crime.”

Khandelwal argued against this requirement:

“To show that there wasn’t something nearby seems to just go in the direction our criminal legal system has been, ensnaring individuals within it.”

Schochet has removed himself from any consequences of releasing offenders by moving out of Washington. Schochet has not released details about his plans once the office in Seattle re-opens. However, he has been admitted into law practice in New York.

The consequences of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office’s light-on-crime approach are already palpable.  The city released a multiple repeat offender in December following an assault arrest without filing a charge.

Adalla Jama, 29, assaulted a security guard on Christmas night. He was arrested and booked into King County Jail.  Assistant City Attorney Christine Chin agreed to release Jama without conditions. Later that night, Jama attacked a 62-year-old man blocks from the jail causing serious injuries.

The City Attorney’s Office declined to file charges in nearly half of the non-traffic criminal cases brought to them, according to a “System Failure” report issued in September 2019. The report, prepared by former public safety advisor to the city of Seattle Scott P. Lindsey, was commissioned by neighborhood business groups to examine Seattle’s criminal justice system.

In the report, Lindsey said:

“Most non-traffic criminal cases that Seattle Police sent to the City Attorney’s Office never result in a meaningful resolution because of case declines, case filing delays, and a high rate of dismissal.

“The report discusses how the poor performance of Seattle’s criminal justice system results in under-reporting of crime from chronic victims, low police morale, and helps perpetuate crime and incarceration cycles for vulnerable individuals.”

Law Enforcement Today covered the case of Adalla Jama last month. See below for details.

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Violent repeat offender commits savage assault hours after being granted conditional release in Seattle

December 30, 2020

SEATTLE, WA – A repeat offender with a history of violence was released from King County Jail following an assault charge, only to commit another assault hours later leaving that victim in intensive care.

Ardalla Jama, 29, was arrested Friday night for attacking a security guard at City Hall Park. The security guard reported to Seattle Police that Jama had attempted to punch him, and then head-butted the guard as he attempted to restrain him.

City Hall Park is known for tents that have popped up housing homeless people and protesters. The city has struggled to deal with the tents, which residents have called a safety and health risk.

Jama was taken into custody on an assault charge and lodged in the King County Jail. Hours later, he was granted conditional release. He was booked into the jail on December 26 at 12:46 a.m.. according to prison records, and released only hours later at 3:44 p.m.

Just hours later and a few blocks away from the prison, Jama attacked another man. Police said Jama knocked the man to the ground and then began kicking him in the head. Witnesses told police Jama continued kicking the victim even after the man lost consciousness.

The victim’s identity has not been released and his condition is unknown at this time. However, police have said the victim suffered serious head and facial injuries.

Jail records indicate that Jama was re-booked into the King County Jail on December 27 at 3:34 a.m., just under 12 hours after being released for the first assault. This time he was lodged without bail.

Casey McNerthney, a spokesperson for the King County Attorney’s Office, called the series of events concerning:

“We had the one from City Hall Park. The one from the previous day was a case that wasn’t referred to us and that’s why we didn’t act on it. Quite simply it didn’t come to us.

“It’s very concerning. We work right by there. We see a lot of concerning behavior out of that park and when we get cases referred to us we act on it.”

King County Jail records show that Jama has been arrested and lodged in the facility five times this year. In addition to the two bookings above:

  • On January 13, 2020, Jama was booked on charges of malicious mischief, property destruction, and use of a weapon. He served one month in the facility.
  • On October 13, 2020, Jama was booked on charges of assault involving a weapon and served two weeks after the charge was reduced.
  • On November 29, 2020, Jama was booked on the charge of malicious mischief. He was released three days later.

Media reports indicate Jama was also arrested for felony harassment in 2017 but was found incompetent to stand trial.

King County has been under pressure to reduce jail populations amid concerns over COVID-19.  Public Health Seattle-King County has recommended one inmate per cell instead of two to allow for social distancing.

In March, King County Executive Dow Constantine said the county was working with prosecutors and public defenders to stop booking lesser offenders who did not use violence or present a danger to the public.

At the time, Constantine said:

“We will be extremely careful, the prosecutor, the judge, everyone will be very careful to separate the wheat from the chaff, and only release those they feel are not a significant danger.

“The key here is to reduce harm and maintain public safety and it is a difficult balancing act.”

The reduction policy in King County is being repeated across the state during the pandemic. Gov. Jay Inslee announced on April 13, that Washington state would commute the sentences of up to 950 incarcerated people who were part of “vulnerable populations.”

Also, the Washington Supreme Court ordered the Governor and the Washington Department of Corrections to “immediately exercise their authority to take all necessary steps to protect the health and safety” of inmates during the pandemic.

Nationally, over 170,000 prisoners have been released early in response to COVID-19, according to a report by Reuters published in October. Local and state prisons are housing 11% fewer inmates since the pandemic began.

It is not known if the steps being taken to reduce the population in the jail contributed to the release of Jama prior to the second attack.




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