In 1971, 32-year-old King County Prosecutor Christopher T. Bayley visited my high school to encourage my class to consider careers in law and public service. Soon afterward, young Mr. Bayley indicted his powerful predecessor, Charles O. Carroll, and several police officers and politicians in connection with payoffs related to Seattle's tolerance policy toward unlicensed gambling, unlawful liquor sales, gay bars and more. During the next eight years, he also indicted police officers who had shot and killed unarmed black men.
Bayley did not win many convictions in the corruption cases and won no convictions in the shooting cases, but the indictments themselves demonstrated that the new prosecutor was serious about pursuing equal justice.
Bayley’s new book, Seattle Justice: The Rise and Fall of the Police Payoff System in Seattle (Sasquatch Books), is a look back at corruption in Seattle's first century, a memoir of noblesse oblige by a Dan Evans Republican, and a veritable compendium of Who’s Who in local legal and political lore. It is also a time machine to pre-Twitter, Boeing-Bust 1971, when local realtors puckishly commissioned the billboard at Sea-Tac that read, “Will the last person leaving SEATTLE--turn out the lights."
Zooming back to the present Black Lives Matter movement and the continuing alienation of police and prosecutors from the community, Bayley reminds us that “history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
In the 1970s, as in this decade, racial tensions were inflamed when police officers repeatedly killed unarmed black men, with few or no perceived legal consequences. Bayley writes that he proactively increased hiring and promotion of deputy prosecutors from historically under-represented backgrounds, and that he took steps to improve relations with the minority community. Gary Locke — a former deputy prosecutor, Washington state governor and U.S. ambassador to China — is one unnamed example of Bayley's hiring policies, which were considered progressive at the time.
For community outreach, Bayley hired Doug Wheeler, the son of Jimi and Leon Hendrix’s well-regarded foster parents. One day, Bayley sent Wheeler out to mediate a face-off between 15 armed Black Panthers, and several Seattle police officers lined up across the street, with hands on their holsters. The Panthers were making their presence known across the street from a sandwich shop, near Garfield High School, that was notorious for delivering drugs, a serious concern for the Panthers, with sandwiches. Wheeler identified himself to the police and told them that unless the Panthers pointed their rifles at someone or used them in a threatening manner, they were not committing a crime. He then crossed the street and told the Panthers to keep the rifles pointed in the air. Thanks in part to Wheeler's diplomacy, the Panthers and the police avoided violence that day. That peaceful outcome seems almost surreal today.
James K. Doane has practiced law since 1980 and is on the Board of Governors of the Washington State Bar Association and the Board of Trustees of the Washington State Bar Foundation. He is Corporate Counsel at Costco Wholesale Corporation.