Committee questions State Patrol on immigration, freeway protest

 The following newsletter was sent to subscribers to Sen. Padden’s newsletter, March 16, 2017. To subscribe to Sen. Padden’s newsletters, click here.

Whatcom County prosecutor David McEachran and Sheriff Bill Elfo utilize remote testimony to discuss law enforcement response to last month’s Bellingham freeway protest.

Dear friends and neighbors,

Now that bill-passage deadlines in the Senate and House have passed, we finally have a chance to catch our breath and discuss broader public-policy concerns that could result in legislation in the future. Work sessions in the Senate Law and Justice Committee this last week tackled two of the bigger recent issues involving the Washington State Patrol. One was law enforcement response to a Bellingham freeway protest that caused multiple accidents on Interstate 5. The other is State Patrol policy regarding cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

This week we received an endorsement for our Department of Corrections reform bill from the Spokesman-Review. In addition, we have launched a new Facebook page, and one of our first projects is to use it to reach out to Russian-speaking members of our community. In this week’s Report From Olympia I’ll tell you more.




Sen. Mike Padden

Bellingham protest raises concerns

A freeway protest in Bellingham last month is awakening the Legislature to a potentially serious problem – when illegal protests go too far, innocent people can be hurt. The Feb. 11 protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline blocked Interstate 5 for an hour. Five cars were involved in accidents, and one driver was injured in a rollover.

We discussed the law enforcement response in the Senate Law and Justice Committee last week. Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste said officers rushed to the scene but arrived late because they had no warning. Officers noted some protesters brought strollers and young children onto the traffic lanes. “This is simply not a place to be conducting this sort of behavior,” Batiste said. “It was a very, very dangerous situation.”

While we all respect the constitutional rights of free speech and free assembly, protests such as these raise troubling issues. One proposal this session would have allowed prosecutors to seek longer sentences for illegal protests aimed at creating economic disruption. Although this bill did not advance, the matter warrants further consideration and study.

State Patrol immigration policies prompt tough questions

Chief John Batiste of the Washington State Patrol, foreground, testifies before the Senate Law and Justice Committee Wednesday. With him is Nick Brown, adviser to Gov. Jay Inslee on criminal justice issues.

A recent case involving the State Patrol raises big questions about the state’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities. A female state trooper is in hot water for doing what most of us would consider proper.

On Feb. 9, while investigating a traffic accident on I-5, an officer ran a license check and learned that one of the parties involved was a Mexican citizen, convicted of felony drug charges in this state. He had been deported and returned to this country illegally — federal immigration authorities had issued an administrative warrant. She detained the man until he could be picked up by the feds.

What happened next is puzzling. The trooper was placed on administrative review, essentially an allegation of misconduct — and Gov. Jay Inslee followed up with an executive order prohibiting state agencies from inquiring about a person’s immigration status or assisting federal immigration authorities, unless required by law. I have joined Senate leaders and committee vice chair Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, in asking the governor to clarify law enforcement policies in such cases. You can read our letter here.

We called Chief Batiste and the governor’s office to testify at a work session Wednesday. We learned that the State Patrol never received a formal complaint — Batiste told us action against the officer was prompted by media inquiries. Batiste also told us he did not know the nature of the allegation against the officer. He said officers are not permitted to detain people simply because immigration status is in question, even when federal immigration authorities have issued administrative warrants. Aliens may be detained because of immigration status only when the officer has reason to believe the person poses a threat.

Many questions about this case remain unanswered, but it has raised a concern that a matter of politics may have been allowed to interfere with law enforcement and public safety. Will the State Patrol’s actions against the officer have a chilling effect on others in similar situations? Officers shouldn’t face disciplinary action merely for enforcing the law.

In the news

The Spokesman-Review Wednesday lent its support to our bill to reform the Department of Corrections, SB 5294. Among other things, the Review’s editorial stated:

“The long-running prison debacle that may have resulted in the murder of a Spokane teenager is the subject of a Senate bill that would provide important reforms. Something needs to be done, because what occurred was such a stunning mistake. After a computer-system glitch, more than 3,000 violent offenders and other inmates were released from prison early. Incredibly, this went on for 13 years, starting in 2002.

“…The scandal at DOC exposed serious management flaws. Lawmakers are right to step in and hold the agency accountable with independent oversight.”

You can read this editorial here.

Thanks to the Wolfes for serving as Senate pages!

This week I had the honor of hosting Anna and Robert Wolfe as Senate pages. I share a connection with the Wolfes – I served with their grandfather Charley Wolfe in the state House. Robert and Anna are the children of Veronica and Patrick Wolfe of Chattaroy. Robert, 16, is a sophomore at Riverpoint Academy. Anna, 14, is a freshman at the North Star School in the Mead School District.

Contact us!

If you have a question or concern about state government, please do not hesitate to contact our office. We are here to serve you!

Phone: (360) 786-7606


Mail: PO Box 40404, Olympia, WA, 98504