by Janine Unsoeld
Scott Yoos, an Olympia man accused of a felony assault against a police officer, today pleaded guilty with an Alford plea to two counts, one for criminal trespass and one for obstructing a law enforcement officer.
In negotiations between Yoos, his attorney, Larry Hildes, and Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney J. Andrew Toynbee, the change in plea thus ended a 26 month ordeal for Yoos, and everyone else involved.
Yoos, 47, can hear, but cannot speak due to a head injury from a beating he suffered while hitchhiking in 1984.
On June 1, 2011, Yoos was cited for criminal trespass and obstructing justice while riding on his bicycle through Olympia at 11:30 p.m. toward his home on Martin Way. Yoos stopped to throw some dirty napkins in a Dumpster located at 2302 Fourth Avenue, near Twister Donuts, and within minutes, officers converged on Yoos. Yoos' method of communication, pen and paper, were taken away, and his attempts to communicate using sign language were interpreted by officers as violent behavior.
The case was bumped up to a felony after Olympia Police Department Sergeant Paul Johnson filed a report weeks after the situation, alleging that Yoos had kicked him during the scuffle. Yoos denies kicking Sergeant Johnson, and the alleged kick did not require medical attention.
Under the Alford plea, a defendant admits that sufficient evidence exists in which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty if a case goes to trial. Yoos is contesting the facts but agreed that the facts in the police reports are sufficient that he could be found guilty.
After several fitful starts, interruptions, and a court recess, Yoos, through a sign language interpreter, said today that he understood the rights he would give up by pleading guilty, and that the court did not need to necessarily adhere to the recommendations of the State, represented by Toynbee.
The five page document recommended, in part, that jail time be suspended, and that a $250 crime victim fund fee and a $200 filing fee be paid.
Judge Carol Murphy presided over the status hearing, saying that the court is not required to follow the State's recommendation. In the end, she did.
Hildes, in his statement on Yoos' behalf, said that Yoos has no criminal history, cares about his community, and that Yoos' biggest concern is to make sure that changes are made in law enforcement protocols, such as the use of police video cameras.
"He's one of the best hearted people I have ever met," said Hildes.
Yoos, through an interpreter, said to the court, "This whole thing has been very draining on many levels, physically and psychologically and financially, and I feel like I can no longer afford to swim in this pool. I want to see that video is installed in all of the OPD, Olympia Police Department, patrol cars or in the uniform. This all would never have happened if I had a recording, a recorded witness, to back me up. As it is now, it is four against one and my chances in trial would not be wonderful. It's very frustrating but I would be - I will be - happy to be done with this."
Murphy said that it is the court's opinion that Mr. Yoos has been very respectful in the courtroom, and consistently on time. She said she wished she could say the same for his attorney, Mr. Hildes, who often arrived late for court appearances. Hildes lives in Bellingham.
She added that she appreciated Mr. Yoos' difficulty in navigating the justice system and the time it has taken for everyone to come to this resolution.
A Scott Yoos Legal Defense Fund account has been set up at the Washington State Employees Credit Union. To pay Yoos' remaining expenses as a result of his case, donations to the fund may be made at any credit union branch.
OPD and the Feasibility of Patrol Car Video Cameras
Asked by this reporter late last month about the Olympia Police Department's (OPD) time and costs expended by OPD on the Yoos case specifically, Laura Wohl, OPD's spokesperson, said she could not estimate the cost.
"The reason that costs aren’t available is that we don’t track such things by the case. For example, we track overtime according to what it is used for generically: to fill short shifts, to staff events, for court time, etc. We don’t track straight time in a case-by-case manner, either. Instead, officers work on many things during their regular shifts and the time is simply noted as regular shift hours....They may be investigating multiple cases when they are in the field, at the same time they may need to respond to an emergency call."
Asked about the department's interest in and cost of video cameras in patrol cars, she said, "Yes, the department has investigated the use of video cameras in our vehicles. The cost of the equipment is approximately $6000 each plus one-time infrastructure (antennae, computer server for storing the video, etc.) costs of about $10,000. The department has received grant funding to buy up to six cameras, although we do not have funding to equip all of our cars."
Asked how many patrol cars there are in Olympia's fleet, Wohl said, "We currently have 20 marked patrol vehicles assigned to patrol shifts and to our traffic unit, as well as an additional two vehicles used by field supervisors. We have another 28 vehicles (some marked, some not) that are used by detectives, administration, the jail, the volunteer program, the school resource officer program, the training program, and our evidence/crime scene investigation team."
Wohl added, "OPD is in favor of in-car video. We believe that it provides important information about incidents that happen in the field that helps protect both citizens and officers. We had planned to implement in-car video in 2012 with the funding we had identified. However, staffing shortages and other high-priority projects delayed implementation."
"Recently, court decisions have raised questions about the retention of in-car videos. Additional retention requirements may significantly impact the workload needed to manage the storage and dissemination of in-car videos. We are still assessing what resources would be required to manage the videos and whether an in-car video program is feasible," Wohl said.
For more information and several articles about Yoos' case, use the search button and use key words on this blog at ww.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com.