Shift’s interview is with first-term Representative Travis Couture (R-Allyn) to discuss several important public safety issues that have recently been in the media. Earlier this week Representative Couture joined with his 35th
District House seatmate Representative Dan Griffey to highlight a recent Thurston Superior Court judge’s decision to release with no bail a car thief who led police on a dangerous high-speed pursuit. The judge did this even after acknowledging that the suspect posed a threat to “commit a violent crime.” This is the latest of many incidents where liberal judges have set very low or no bail for suspected criminals who could be dangerous to the community.
In his interview, Representative Couture discussed these low or no bail cases and what the legislature can do to prevent suspected dangerous criminals from being released back into the community due to the soft bail amounts set by the courts. The Mason County representative also shared his thoughts on the 2023 passage of a drug possession and police pursuit bills which he believes do not go far enough to fix the problems created by the Democrats 2021 anti-police legislation. Finally, Representative Couture provided an update on efforts to stop the Inslee Administration from opening housing for sexually violent predators in such communities as Tenino, without working with local officials.
Last Monday, your district seatmate Rep. Dan Griffey and you sent out a media release regarding the no-bail release of a suspected car thief by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Allyson Zipp. Why does the judge’s actions upset both of you?
It upsets us because our judicial system has a responsibility to set proper bail to prevent flight risks and to protect the public when there is sufficient evidence to suggest that not doing so would be a detriment to society. These soft-on-crime low or no bail policies embolden further criminal behavior and place the community at risk. It is no wonder to us that when judges issue low or no bail or prosecutors do not prosecute, and suspects committing dangerous or violent crimes feel no consequences for their actions, that it has led to the sharp increase of crimes in Washington.
Judge Zipp (appointed by Governor Jay Inslee in 2021) checked the box on the court paperwork indicating the 18-year-old suspected car thief who led police on a chase was likely to be a danger and made a totally unreasonable decision that he did not have to post any bail. It is a morale hit to law enforcement and the community, at a time when policing is more difficult than ever. Playing activist with our judicial system places us all at risk, and it must end.
The City of Tenino police on Monday also released a statement regarding the low bail set by another Thurston County Superior Court judge for a child rape suspect (who easily made bail and was released). There appears to be a pattern here. What can be done by the legislature to prevent judges from doing this in the future?
In the State of Washington, we must do more to prioritize innocent law-abiding people in our society and to protect and help victims of crimes. It seems to many that if you commit a crime in this state the government will bend over backwards to help. However, if you are a victim of a violent sex crime, like the victim of the 1st degree child rape in Tenino where the father was suspected of raping his daughter repeatedly over the course of 5 years, there seems to be little interest from activist judges in protecting you.
The suspect in Tenino was released after posting 10% of a $10,000 bail, after authorities requested $250,000. This sends a clear message that if you repeatedly rape a child in the state of Washington, and after a month of investigation armed with a lengthy and horrific probable cause document, that you can walk free for a grand and that the victim’s monster is running loose further terrorizing them.
The legislature must prioritize public safety. People deserve to feel safe, and victims deserve to feel safe. It is no secret that the legislature has had a rough time finding common ground in public safety, and there is a vehemently opposing view from the majority party that does not like bail, does not like incarceration or accountability for criminals. That must end and a new paradigm must occur to make real progress. A simple solution like setting mandatory minimum bail amounts in statute would face fierce opposition with the majority party in Olympia, but House Republicans will continue fighting for these real solutions that matter most to communities.
When the 2023 legislature finally passed a “fix” to the state’s drug possession laws brought on by the 2021 Blake Decision, you stated that more work needs to be done. Can you explain what more you would like to see take place?
The drug possession bill was not perfect, but it was better than not having any drug laws. Most people are sick and tired of the slow-motion death happening in our streets. Harm reduction models have failed our state and homelessness and substance abuse is becoming its own industry where tons of tax dollars are invested with little to no results. The bill created a modified gross misdemeanor, and it will give authorities a critical tool back to make arrests for public drug use and knowing possession.
One of the largest problems with the bill was that it wants to divert people to treatment, which is a noble cause, except there is a large problem – that treatment is hard to get, and the waiting lines are long. Although historic investments were made, it is simply not enough to cover the epidemic of fentanyl and record drug use in our streets.
We don’t want to go back necessarily to the 80’s version of the war on drugs, however, people that abuse drugs and commit crimes to feed that habit need to be held accountable for the harm that those actions cause across our society. Then we must show compassion by getting them the behavioral and substance abuse treatment that they need. They are someone’s family, they are human beings, and giving them free needles and drug dens and making them cycle they revolving door is not love and it’s not compassion. These people are in a dark hole, and government continues to lower services down to them expecting them to climb out of the hole. It’s the wrong approach and we need to have accountability and teach them how to climb out of that dark hole.
Although the passed legislation was a positive step in the right direction, more must be done to provide adequate resources, and to further hold people accountable.
The 2023 legislature passed some modifications of the state’s police pursuit laws. You voted against the bill (SB 5352). What changes would you like to see in the state’s laws which were not included in the Democrat’s legislation?
While the bill passed did add a few more crimes that law enforcement can engage in a pursuit for, it was only in very rare instances and was not good enough. We must include a much longer list of dangerous crimes that law enforcement can engage in pursuits over such crimes as stolen vehicles, fatal hit and runs, and scores of others that are not included in the bill that passed.
Again, there is a common theme in all of this – not holding criminals accountable which puts all of neighborhoods at risk. Like many, I spoke with law enforcement in my district ahead of the vote, and they resoundingly told me that the pursuit bill that passed would be nearly useless to them. I feared that by passing this weak bill, although it made very small progress, would stall future attempts at improving pursuit laws by stunting the political will. To be blunt, I didn’t want the majority party to say they already made changes in the 2023 session and have no political will to go back to the table. In a very different way, we defeated the first Blake fix on the floor and were forced into a one-day special session, and we got a better bill. That is not how police pursuit played out, and I fear our chances at more changes will be stunted as a result.
Please provide our readers with an update on the state’s placement of sex offenders in “halfway houses” in our communities. This issue became noteworthy earlier this year when the Inslee Administration quietly attempted to place sex offenders just released from McNeal Island into Tenino. Is there something the legislature can do to make sure the state government works with local communities on such issues in the future?
Just this week myself, my staff, and several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were taken on a tour of McNeil Island where these sexually violent predators (SVPs) are housed before they move to these less restrictive alternatives (LRAs) in our communities. It was incredibly informative, and I thank the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services for pulling back the curtain so we could get a better understanding of the process. That said, this tour only strengthened my resolve to find a better way to meet the constitutional and public safety requirements than come with these cases.
I left the island with more concerns than I had to begin with and do not believe I was alone in that. I agree with my constituents that the proper placement of SVP’s is on McNeil Island and would prefer to see more LRA’s built there instead of in our neighborhoods. Even those operating the facility want to see some changes to ensure the public is safe.
The Tenino “Supreme Living” facility is not opening thanks to great teamwork with 35th district legislators, Thurston County, and most importantly the community. Yet others will pop up all over the state, so it is essential we change the current policy. Rep. Griffey and I will be meeting with stakeholders to craft legislation we put forward in 2024.
We need to pause or put a moratorium on LRA siting and work out a way to promote and reassure the safety of the public, and importantly the state needs to be transparent and provide public notice. It was disappointing when the Governor vetoed public notice out of the state budget. But make no mistake – this will be a top priority for us in 2024 and we will continue fighting for the safety of the good people of Washington.
For more information on Representative Couture, or to contact his office, please visit his official website.