Disability rights group plans to sue Clark County; says jail should release videos of deaths, alleged abuse

The state’s federally recognized watchdog for disabled people’s rights said Tuesday it plans to file a federal lawsuit against Clark County for not releasing video connected to deaths and alleged mistreatment at the county jail.

The group Disability Rights Washington has been investigating deaths at the Clark County Jail along with allegations of abuse and neglect, said David Carlson, Disability Rights Washington’s director of legal advocacy.

The county has agreed to share written records responding to the organization’s requests but would only share video records on the condition Disability Rights Washington would not share them with others, Carlson said Tuesday. The county has said unrestricted release of the videos could threaten the safety of custody officers and inmates.

“The jail videos are different from other records, and unrestricted release of those records exposes guards and inmates to unacceptable risks,” Chris Horne, who as the county’s chief civil deputy prosecutor represents the county in civil litigation, wrote in response to the group’s request.

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Are local governments the target of cybercriminals? Limited resources, lack of training combine to make them vulnerable to attack, heightening the urgency, stakes of information safety

Michael Hamilton was the chief information officer for the city of Seattle when he noticed the city’s security systems had snagged a booby-trapped email. The threat was contained before it became a problem, he said, but the malicious program apparently targeted power marketers, the utility employees who negotiate with wholesalers for electricity. Power marketers tend to keep their dealings fairly close to the chest, Hamilton said, so how did one of them end up in the sights of cybercriminals?

Hackers in China, he said, breached Google in 2009. Google creates some of its own electricity and has its own power marketers — power marketers, Hamilton said, who have connections with people at much larger utility companies.

Small governments and local agencies generate troves of sensitive information in the course of doing business. But what may be more worrisome is that many towns and agencies are also connected to state networks or infrastructure systems — and local governments’ resources to protect their networks and stored data can vary widely.

Attractive targets

Hamilton, who worked for Seattle from 2006 to 2013 and is now the CEO at the cybersecurity consulting firm Critical Informatics Inc., said the errant message Seattle flagged was likely part of an effort to wrangle a much larger prize, probably something under the umbrella of a larger utility, such as a power grid.

“That’s local government getting in the sights of a nation-state for the purpose of, likely, disruption,” he said.

Word of a major credit card data breach always sucks the air out of the room for IT types, he said, but oftentimes most victims are going to get their money back, along with free identity theft protection and credit monitoring afterward, and banks catch a lot of the attempted fraud.

“I get another letter from a credit card company — or my toilet won’t flush for three days,” Hamilton said. “The lowest-hanging fruit is local government.”

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Apple, Google have helped unlock phone data many times; two such cases were heard in Washington

The recent fight between the FBI and Apple over accessing one of the San Bernardino shooter’s cellphones is just the latest in a string of cases in which the government has called on tech companies during criminal investigations.

In roughly 60 known cases, the government has used an 18th-century law to compel Apple or Google to crack into data encrypted through one of their services — and two of those cases were heard in Washington state courts.

According to an analysis of available court records by the American Civil Liberties Union released Wednesday, the government worked with or compelled Apple or Google to access encrypted data in cases in 22 states. Most of those investigations appeared to be connected to drugs.

In one Washington case, from the summer of 2013, David Michael Navarro of Belfair was charged with producing and distributing child pornography. The investigation included help from officers in Australia and Denmark and found video of Navarro raping a child, according to court documents filed in a federal court.

A court in 2014 sentenced Navarro, once president of a Mason County elementary school PTA, to 23 years on four child pornography charges. During the course of the investigation, the FBI approached Apple to help, and the company agreed to unlock Navarro’s iPhone 5.

“In fact, there is no evidence at all that Apple is unwilling to comply with the court’s order,” the U.S. Attorneys office wrote in that case. “To the contrary, Apple has indicated its willingness to assist upon receipt of such an order.”

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Seized assets help pay to fight crime; while money from forfeitures is a tiny part of agencies’ budgets, some worry about practice

On Piper’s first day on the job last November, the drug-sniffing black Lab helped nab three alleged drug dealers — and seize more than 25 pounds of heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine; $220,000 in cash; some guns; and two cars.

The drugs were destroyed. The cash and the rest of the seized items may help foot the bill for Clark County’s multi-agency drug task force, which receives about $100,000 annually through the practice, said Clark County Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. John Horch, who leads the task force.

Revenue from seized cash and selling seized items at auction also covered half of the roughly $15,000 it cost to buy Piper, he said.

“Most taxpayers, I’d say 99 percent, are happy that it’s not actual taxpayer money that’s going to drug enforcement,” Horch said, adding that asset seizures also disrupt drug rings. “Why not use the drug dealer’s money than the taxpayer’s money?”

The government has long been able to take convicted criminals’ ill-gotten gains; it’s called forfeiture. Thanks to more recent laws designed to fight the war on drugs, police in Washington, and in most other states, need a lower burden of proof to take items found at a crime scene thought to be connected to drugs. In those cases, the acquiring and selling of those items is called civil asset forfeiture.

Drug-related forfeitures are considered civil matters, essentially separate from any associated criminal case. The state must show that the items or money were connected to drugs using the burden of proof in civil cases, called a preponderance of evidence. Put another way, it has to be “more probable than not.”

Legal experts worry that the lower burden of proof could lead to forfeiture abuses, as it has in other parts of the nation, but police agencies say that hasn’t been a problem locally.

Local criminal defense attorney Mark Muenster, who has worked on forfeiture cases, says it’s the letter of these laws, not necessarily the spirit, that bothers him.

“It’s almost like turning the presumption of innocence on its head,” he said.

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Disaster outreach, Hollywood-style; movies can be clerver way teach valuable lessons about preparedness, experts say

Kristoffer Joner and another actor flee a cascade of water in “The Wave.” The Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency is hosting a March 1 screening of the 2015 film in which a rock slide generates a tsunami that threatens a small town in Norway. (Magnolia Pictures)

The county’s emergency planning agency is betting that moviegoers, after watching a 300-foot tsunami barrel through a Norwegian fjord toward a small town, will be more receptive to information about disaster preparedness.

The Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency will host a screening of the disaster thriller “The Wave” 6 p.m. March 4 at Kiggins Theatre in Vancouver. It’s the first of what agency Emergency Management Coordinator Eric Frank hopes will be a recurring disaster movie night.

A movie night might draw a bigger and different crowd than the agency’s other modes of outreach, he said. “We do a lot of events every single year, but we know we’re still missing some demographics in there.”

In “The Wave,” the geologist protagonist and his family are about to leave town for his new job when a rock slide kicks off a massive tsunami, leaving everyone in the area 10 minutes to get to high ground or perish.

There isn’t a tsunami danger in Clark County, but Frank said emergency planners intend to use the screening to show people hazard maps, so they might better know what other risks exist around their homes. They also hope to get more respondents for a survey on local residents’ awareness and preparation habits. The survey is part of an update to the county’s emergency plans.

For possible future screenings, Frank said he’s thinking about door prizes, short promotional videos or interactive, social media-integrated events to help people engage.

The agency is already working on a good lineup of movies, assuming it decides to hold more film screenings, Frank said.

“I’ve looked at everything,” he said, from “The Day After Tomorrow” — one of his favorites in the disaster genre — to “Little Shop of Horrors.”

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Atkins still has long to-do list after one year as sheriff; Agency understaffed despite new hires; jail a major concern

Chuck Atkins had been retired for two years, following a 35-year with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, before coming back to lead the agency after winning election in late 2014.

He got a nice break and did a little traveling, but he said he’s been too busy to miss retirement.

“I knew it was a snake before I picked it up. I knew what I was getting into,” he said.

Atkins took over as sheriff at the start of this year after Garry Lucas retired in 2014 following 24 years in the office.

“I love this agency, and I worked many, many years here, and I didn’t see what I believed to be what was right for this agency knowing Garry was walking out the door,” Atkins said.

He said he’s trying to take the long view, and said he thinks his first year has been successful in that regard.

“I’m not going to be 72 and still working here,” he said, referring to Lucas’ age at retirement. “If I do well and the people like me, then I’d like to do two terms — then somebody else is going to be prepped and ready to step in with my support.”

To him, a lot of the office’s success this year started with staffing and personnel needs, something he sees as a core part of the agency’s health.

“I believe, and I’ve said many times, the success of this agency is the character of the people that work here,” he said. “My biggest concern when I was running and hoping that I would win was, ‘Who was I going to surround myself with to make sure the job is getting done?’

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Therapy dog shares warm tidings; Canine brings holiday cheer to children staying at Share Homestead shelter

The children at the shelter came running when Limon, a yellow Lab therapy dog, showed up at the Share Homestead shelter on Hazel Dell Avenue midafternoon on Christmas Eve.

Heidi Anderson watched as Limon and her youngest, Brookelynn, 4, played on the floor.

Anderson and her family have been working to find permanent housing for about 1.5 years, since their home in the Brush Prairie area burned down.

Limon rolled on her side and let the gaggle of kids, a couple barely toddlers, scratch her belly.

Henderson said they’re in the process of getting a service dog to help her family — she’s there with five children — through anxiety and depression issues.

“You know what they do for us,” she said, gesturing at Limon. “Me and my daughter, she went right up to us, she knew that we needed it.”

The dog and her handler, Cindy Bean, were visiting through a program organized with DoveLewis Animal Hospital and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

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