‘Gang war in South King County’: Law enforcers brief councilmembers

At the county courthouse this afternoon, leaders from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and King County Sheriff’s Office were part of a briefing about what no one seems to dispute is a resurgence in gang violence, particularly in South King County – a bonafide “gang war,” it was called.

Most of the talk before the County Council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee focused on the shooting of 12 people at a car show in Kent one month ago, but certainly the fact a known gang member is jailed in connection with the White Center shooting death of Sweetheart Failautusi a week ago is part of the picture too (though that case was not brought up at all during the briefing).

It was more than a “here’s where things stand” briefing – it was a plea for resources to get out on the prevention end of the problem, rather than just “chasing gunfire,” as one participant put it.

Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg led off the briefing, saying there is a “war among rival Latino gangs in South King County” that is “likely to turn violent” whenever rival gangs’ members encounter each other. He also emphasized, “We have a serious gang problem … We no longer have the luxury of denying that. … Once the bullets start flying, it’s time for suppression.”

KCSO Deputy Chief Steve Strachan said, “Intervention and prevention does matter” too – though “aggressive” crimefighting and prosecution are called for as well. He said partnerships are invaluable in fighting a problem like this.

KCSO’s Det. Joe Gagliardi said that what used to be a problem in north King County has migrated south, and again reiterated that “predominantly Hispanic” gangs, “five or six” of them, are the main problem, though he cautioned, “all races are involved.” Even those who are Hispanic, he took pains to note, are natural-born citizens: “These are our children.” (That was stressed again later in the briefing – that citizens are the bulk of the problem, not illegal immigrants. And the “children” aspect was noted by Satterberg, calling it “heartbreaking” that some gang members are children of “hardcore” gang members who haven’t ever known anything else.)

Det. Gagliardi said the fights against rival gang members are “dictated by their (gang) culture,” even if they happen in “very public venues” like the Kent car show. He says gang members are coming here from Eastern Washington and California as well, sometimes because “injunctions” are in place where they used to be headquartered. (Asked later to elaborate, he said that our state’s law currently wouldn’t allow those, but it could be changed. Satterberg said those civil injunctions allow a lot of work but once in place allows police “a tool to use” in fighting gang activity.)

Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas was part of the group briefing councilmembers (the committee membership includes White Center/West Seattle Councilmember Joe McDermott). He talked specifically about the car-show incident. He talked of working with other area agencies that collectively have 20 detectives working on the problem of gang violence. They’re not just tackling the violence, but also looking at gangs as a “complex criminal enterprise” in a conspiracy mode, he said. He also mentioned a retailation shooting following the car-show incident, which involved what he called “multiple shooters.”

Chief Thomas said that the car-show investigation has a prosecuting attorney specifically assigned to it, and he thinks that would be helpful in other investigations. Elaborating on that point, at the request of County Councilmember Bob Ferguson, Satterberg agreed that it’s vital to have prosecutors support complicated investigations “from the beginning” – but also noted that a grant the county was using has just run out. “We desperately need some help,” he said, also pointing out that budget cuts have cost his staff 36 deputy prosecutors in the past 4 years. Asked if the gang-violence situation is a “crisis,” he replied, “We have an all-out war.”

It’s not just violence – Satterberg said gang members “are at the root of a lot of our property crime right now,” as younger members who might not yet be involved in dealing drugs are still involved in burglaries and thefts, for example. How much younger? The average age of gang members is 12-35, said Det. Gagliardi, but there are much older members, too. Removing the leaders as well as the active gang members is vital to making a dent in the problem, he said, as is educating parents about how to recognize the signs that their children might be involved with gangs. (Councilmember Kathy Lamberg suggested that perhaps videos could be put on YouTube to assist with teaching parents what those signs look like.) Overall, regarding prevention/enforcement, “this is not an either/or,” said Chief Strachan. Added PA Satterberg, “It’s a battle for the hearts and minds of young people.”

And it’s a battle that’s really only just begun, Satterberg said: “We’re at the beginning.”

COUNCIL SIDE NOTES: Councilmember Julia Patterson said, “This issue is very personal to me – (the car show shooting) happened in a mall where I shop at … I could have been there.” (She’s not on the Law and Justice Committee, but joined the meeting especially because the shooting happened in her area.) Councilmember Reagan Dunn said he’s going on a Gang Unit ridealong tomorrow.


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19 Responses to “‘Gang war in South King County’: Law enforcers brief councilmembers”

  1. There has been a cry out for more help for sometime. Councilmember Julia Patterson now finds it personal
    because it is happening in her backyard. To bad she
    couldn’t have felt it personal when it was in our
    backyard.

  2. This is just another reason club Eco should never reopen.

  3. I hope the person who wrote this story does not have a journalism degree. Don’t you have an AP style book in your newsroom? Don’t use fingernails (parenthesis) every two seconds . Paraphrase quotes unless they are noteworthy. If an official makes a mistake in grammar, clean up his/her act, such as the one Patterson made. Where’s it at? Right behind the at, Tracy. Ask some old person what this means if English is not your first language. It’s dreadful for an old reporter/editor to see such a mess as this story in print. I wanted to send the information the story contained but I had to spend time making it readable. MG

  4. Hi, Miki! As an old reporter/editor myself, 51 years old with 35 years of experience in journalism, I won’t argue writing styles with you. But I do thank you for taking the time to stop by WCN!

  5. It’s unfortunate that some curmudgeon had to be so critical of this blog. It is, after all, a blog and while there should be some semblance of proper grammar, it is not meant to be perfect and proof read.
    That being said, I find it hard to fathom that of all the things stated in this blog, that is the one thing that jumped out enough to comment on. Gang wars be damned! Having only lived in Washington for a few months, I find this site informative and helpful in ways no other local media has. Thanks for the hard work you put into it.

  6. Tracy, I admire your composure…Miki, try not to be such a crank

  7. After slashing the Criminal Justice portion of the County budget over the past three years – $30M from the SO & about the same from the PO – what did the council think would happen; crime would go away also?? If you reduce enforcement & prosecutions, the cockroaches are going to multiple & infest our communities. Unfortunately, the lack of law and order leads to lawlessness and fear. When will our representatives learn – for every action, there is a like reactions – sometimes negatively.

  8. Its sad that violence has increased in White Center. I grew up in White Center and have seen changes for the worse. I notice more calligraphy on public signs and an increase of marked cars in the streets (because they were stolen). Some of these gangs are from California because THEY already messed up that state and need something new. I thought it was ridiculous to take away or lay off officers in areas like WHITE CENTER. Our house and car were bulgarized three times in the past year. We no longer report it, we just keep gaurd of our house. More money for prevention or this can only get worse. Believe ME!

  9. the problem is you have repeat criminals walking the streets. they need to be locked up and stay locked up for a very long time. they get no jail time and if they get jail time they are let out early or barely get any sentence to be begin with. when you have trash for people you need to take out the trash. over crowded prisons? who cares….if they are choosing to commit the crimes then let them live 20 to a cell. as long as they are off the streets my tax money pays for.

    it should not finally take a bullet to the head to finally put someone in prison. had they been properly prosecuted and sentenced for their many past crimes they would have been locked up to begin with.

  10. I have to agree with Miki, this article conveys good information but really needs a proof read!

  11. Hate to point this out, but the people that have been crying the loudest about gang activity and crime, are almost always conservatives. Ironically, it’s their very policies that have allowed the gang activity to creep back up again.

    You can’t let the billionaires raid the Treasury, while taking money from the municipalities, and expect things to work. One of the first things bush & Co. did was get rid of the extremely-successful COPS Program, that was put into place under Bill Clinton. That gave money and tools to local police departments to add community policing, and gang intervention efforts. it was cut so that Bill Gates could get a bigger tax return.

    Here’s the thing. If you want police protection.. move to Iraq. That’s where our tax dollars when from 2000-2008 to hire thousands of officers, build new police stations and jails, and provide community policing.

  12. It sounds like White Center officials are preparing to make the same mistakes that many cities with gang problems make: doing effectively nothing and watching as the problem gets worse and worse. Injunctions? These are criminals with little or no regard for law. Remove the leaders? Easily replaced. Educate parents to watch their kids for gang associations? Lack of stable homes is the reason why many enter gangs.

    All of these things have been tried in cities like L.A., with no effect whatsoever.

    The only language that gangs understand is violence and intimidation; and the only way to deal with them is to allow police and prosecutors to deal with them on those terms. It’s not pretty, but it’s the only way.

  13. if money is spent on law inforcement and neighborhoods improve, more money will move into those neighborhoods and that means more tax money, more diversity, improvement in many ways. Imagine if the children had a variety of life styles to witness and participate in verses the dark lifestyle of gang life. perhaps i’m being too long sited, perhaps not.

  14. Early prevention to educate youth works in some cases. But when the gangsters themselves are raising their own kids into that type of lifestyle it becomes difficult. Seems to me that these repeat offenders with long criminal history’s should not have their children period or even access to them. KCSO needs to add that tool to their tool box. Deal drugs, asscoiate with gangs = report to CPS by law enforcement.

  15. Tracy and others thanks for the “FREE” post and information you so kindly publish here.
    The (h) with grammer (oops, did I misspell that word?) and punctuation.
    Continue giving us up to the minute accurate news. That’s the importance of what you do.
    Your doing a terrific job. Please keep up the good work.

    Signed; a past paperboy on route 4F for the “White Center News” delivered every Weds. rain or shine. The old “WCN.”

    Miki- You might want to critique your sentence/paragraph structure in your earlier post. There are flaws.

  16. Rimster and others always report a crime or suspicious activity on your block or wherever. Policing is assigned in great part by the number of 911 calls. I have been to numerous meetings in which the KC Sheriff’s deputies and Seattle Police officers have emphasized the “always report a crime and any suspicious activity”. You know your neighborhood better than the officers. Use 911 for nonemergency as well as emergency calls. Just tell the operator “this is a nonemergency” if it is so. Lets help our deputies and police keep our neighborhoods safe! And don’t forgot to attend the White Center-South Delridge Community Safety Coalition meeting tomorrow (Thurs.) evening from 6-8 PM at St. James church on the corner of S.W. Cambridge and 19th Ave. S.W.

  17. Thanks, Gary. I will admit that this is certainly not my best work. Sometimes we have to write stories “as they happen” or else they will never get written – I dropped by the County Council event while already at the courthouse, covering a West Seattle-related murder trial for the site that pays the bills, West Seattle Blog (WCN has for all three years of its existence been noncommercial, may not be forever), and finished writing before leaving the council chambers. The notes would otherwise have sat in my laptop not doing anyone any good while I tried to catch up with everything else. Is a “could be better” story better than no story? Up to the reader to decide … Meantime, on to the next story :) – TR

  18. Thanks for your response Tracy.

    Keep up the great work!

  19. Hey trixi What a lame response. Typical lib excuse for your lacky judges and liberal elected officals. Bush has been gone for three years now and you still fall back on him. I guess your boy has done nothing ether. WE need officer hancock back to take our streets back.