PART 2: King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg Stops By The B-Town Blog
by Mark Neuman
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg stopped by the B-Town Blog office in Olde Burien for an interview recently, at our invitation.
In Part One, which we ran yesterday (read it here), we covered the future of capital punishment, the drop in violent crime over the recent three decades in Washington state, and the tough decisions a prosecutor must make.
In Part Two of our two-part interview, we discuss Operation Center of Attention, what Satterberg considers his most controversial decision, and even George Harrison and the Beatles.
Williams and Birk
“Probably the most controversial decision that I had to make had to do with the shooting of (woodcarver) John T. Williams by Seattle police officer Ian Birk” on a downtown Seattle street in the summer of 2010.
“And I knew that wasn’t going to be satisfactory to many members of the community because the facts of that case were so bad.
“Such a short time, I think the officer completely misread the situation when he saw Mr. Williams crossing the street. Nobody else was concerned, but the officer got out of his car and had a gun in his hand and closed that distance and then made the determination that that distance posed a risk to the officer.
“There were options that everybody wishes that he had taken and didn’t. Instead he fired his weapon,” killing Williams.
“We had to look at the state law about police use of force, and it’s different than what you and I get to use as citizens, and it says that no criminal liability shall attach to an officer who is using deadly force in good faith without malice,” Satterberg explained.
“And so the officer didn’t have anything like that. He made a professional judgment that many people disagreed with, that I disagreed with, but he said he thought he was at risk.”
Officer Birk “didn’t know this individual. He wasn’t acting with malice. It was a professional judgment,” Satterberg said. “I had to follow the law knowing that a lot of people would not be happy and it was really the peak of a symbol of a number of cases that revealed the Great Divide between the Seattle Police Department and the community that they serve.
“So I got a lot of emails about that, a lot of people with opinions about that. But I was following the law as the Legislature wrote it and that’s my job. I never go into a tough decision thinking ‘will this be popular’?
“You just have to do the right thing. Most of the time it’s great to have a job where you get up every day and go to the office and you just do the right thing. That’s the best job in the world. But sometimes you have to make unpopular decisions.”
White Center: Operation Center of Attention
“Operation Center of Attention refers to a recent three-month long program where a great assembly of federal and state law enforcement agencies came together and said ‘We’ve got some great resources,’” Satterberg said.
“Particularly, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms had some informants who were exceptionally good at blending in with the rough street crowd. These were professional, civilian informants who can go into a neighborhood and quickly figure out who’s selling drugs and who’s selling guns.
“Around the table we decided that White Center was an area that deserved to have this kind of attention,” Satterberg said. “And there was a particular hot spot around 16th Avenue where people would assemble and we knew that a lot of crime was going on in some businesses and on the street.
“Long story short, we brought these informants in and they were able to work their way fairly quickly along the street and buy drugs and guns.
“The largest amount of drugs we bought was a ten kilo buy of methamphetamine. And we also bought small amounts of crack and marijuana and heroin and other drugs as well. At the same time they were looking to trade what they claimed was stolen merchandise for guns.
“People (on the street) were very helpful and led them down the trail to people who were selling guns. Most of those people had prior felony convictions which makes selling guns a federal offense as well.
“We were able to take 68 guns off the street, and many kilos of drugs. And we identified about 57 offenders.”
The flow of prosecution continues with about half of those arrested making their way through the federal system and half through the state system.
“The idea of Operation Center of Attention was to come in and say ‘We do know that this is going on and we are going to come in and make the statement that this is not okay in this community’ and help the community defend itself as well,” Satterberg said.
“Nobody thinks we can just go do this once. There is a commitment by all who were involved to continue operations in the White Center area designed to make sure that the people who are selling guns and drugs on the street know that there is a cost to being in that business.”
Dan Satterberg’s two bands
Satterberg for many years has played in a band comprised, in part, of buddies from high school days. His wife sings in the band and other members’ spouses participate.
“We play for charities and for good causes. We just play for fun because it’s a great way to keep friendships alive,” he said.
“We are called The Approximations, because we play the cover song approximately like the original. If we wanted to play the song exactly like the original we’d call ourselves The Exactamundos.
“We are all about rock ‘n’ roll, danceable rock ‘n’ roll. We’ve tested hundreds of songs with our ‘focus group’, the audience, and if it gets them up and dancing, that song gets to stay on the list, and if it doesn’t it’s gone.
“We do a lot Beatles and Stevie Wonder and Rolling Stones, stuff that you’ve heard of, but you haven’t heard a lot of other bands do that might get you up and dancing a little bit.
“We play a lot of gigs down at The Cove (in Normandy Park) which is fun for me because it’s a place as a kid always wanted to play. I saw bands playing there and I thought how cool that would be to play at The Cove. We play at Mick Kelly’s in Burien and in Kent.
“I play the bass guitar, do a little singing. And (I’m) really kind of the guy who’s crackin’ the whip on the band, make sure that we’re working and getting good gigs and practicing enough.
“We have another band call the The Treehouse Dreamers which is an all original group and we cut a CD a couple years ago, titled ‘Leave It Behind’.”
Since high school days “we always liked writing our own songs. It was fun to sit around the basement over at Gregory Heights where we played and start out the night with a few ideas and by the end of the night have a song and that was really exciting.
“The quickest way to clear the dance floor at a party is to say ‘Here’s a song I wrote.’ The Treehouse Dreamers stuff doesn’t get into The Approximations set list for that very reason.”
By coincidence of timing, our interview with Satterberg occurred on the day marking 10 years since the passing of George Harrison. We asked Satterberg if he’d like to comment.
“You know, the Beatles were Number One for me, and still are,” he said. “I’ve always been drawn to songwriters over shredders. Watching virtuoso musicians gets boring for me, but I love a good song that will last a long time.
“You imagine for George how tough it was being in a band with Lennon and McCartney who were cranking out these amazing classic hits, for him to have the courage to say ‘Boys, I’ve got a song over here.’
“But the songs that he left with the band ‘Here Comes The Sun’, ‘Something’, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, those stand out as being some of the timeless classics. They sound so good next to Lennon and McCartney, and then here’s a George song, and you can tell. They’re very different, they are very spiritual kinds of songs. He was a special guy.
“His licks were perfect and they fit and he wasn’t trying to overplay, he wasn’t trying to show off. He was just trying to be tasteful and that’s the kind of player I like.