Inland Journal, April 16, 2020: Releasing Inmates; Violence At Home; Med School By Zoom

Apr 16, 2020

The Spokane Regional Domestic Violence Coalition has compiled a resource sheet for victims who need help.
Credit Spokane Regional Domestic Violence Coalition

Today on Inland Journal, advocates who work with domestic violence survivors worry all this time at home may put their clients in danger.

Spokane County has released inmates from its jails to protect them from the coronavirus. We’ll about concerns about that members of the Smart Justice Spokane Coalition

And what’s medical education without in-person examinations? It’s all about Zoom. We’ll hear how the University of Washington medical school has adapted.

During the last few weeks, Spokane County judges have been reviewing the cases of people who are incarcerated at the county jail and the Geiger Correctional Center. Many of the inmates held on lower-level charges were released on their own recognizance as a way to reduce their exposure in case someone in the jail tests positive for the coronavirus.

Members of the Spokane Smart Justice Coalition, including Carmen Pacheco-Jones, applaud that.

“Because we knew if we could get the individuals out prior to contracting or being exposed to Covid-19 that we had a better chance of succeeding of minimizing the impact of the virus," Pacheco-Jones said.

She's a member of the executive committee for the Smart Justice Coalition and was one of the signatories to a letter that thanked county authorities for moving quickly to reduce the number of incarcerated people from more than 900 to the 500 range.

And then the letter criticized them for its method of deciding who was released and who stayed.

“With a recent conversation that I had with someone in the judicial system, who had done a recent tour of the jail, their response is they were taken aback, that as they walked through, amid these mass releases, they were startled by who was left behind. That was African-American, indigenous and non-English speakers,” Pacheco-Jones said.

Signers of the letter say Spokane’s criminal justice system has long had a bias against people of color. They say a study by the Burns Institute found that, in 2014, for every white adult incarcerated in Spokane County, there were seven Blacks, six Native Americans and almost two Latinos.

Kurtis Robinson, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, says the county had a chance to address that when it considered whom to release.

"We would have preferred that they do what we’ve been asking for, which is use a high racial equity lens," Robinson said. "When they were letting people out, they would have taken racial data. They would have looked at who they were letting out and, probably beforehand, sat down and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to take 20 people. What are the racial demographics of these 20 people? Let’s make record of that and then let’s make sure we’re doing it proportionally, rather than disproportionally, so that we’re letting people out according to the proportion of the jail.”

County officials say the result of the culling process did not lead to a big change in the demographics of inmates.  

In a response to the Smart Justice letter, a letter from all three Spokane County commissioners reads, “Based on current jail data, rates of racial disparities remain relatively the same.”

Kurtis Robinson is skeptical about that. He wishes the county would make public the demographic information of who was released so that people can see for themselves.

“Not a year after the pandemic over, but hard, real-time data. ‘Hey, we let out,’ or ‘We’ve done this, we’ve done that’ and here’s the data about what we’ve done,’” Robinson said.

The commissioners, in their letter, confirm one of the coalition’s overarching points. “We recognize that criminal justice systems across the Country…struggle with racially disproportionate outcomes. We recognize that Spokane’s criminal justice system is no exception and for several years we have endeavored to address relevant concerns and challenges.”

Maggie Yates, the administrator of the county’s Law and Justice Council, says county officials have used money from a multi-million dollar McArthur Grant to study racial inequities in the county system.

"It has been a central component of our work and a central component of our conversations, both internally and with community members," Yates said.

She says the county has provided training to its employees for several years about people’s implicit biases.

“Obviously a lot of our efforts have been stalled as we put a pause on more proactive efforts in order to respond to the public health crisis," she said.

The Smart Justice Coalition’s letter hit a sore spot with Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.

“When I take a look at the numbers that were used in the letter, for every white adult detained, there’s seven-point-one African Americans detained, that’s very misleading to put out in that way. It’s a typical way, for some reason, activists have chosen to paint this picture. The problem is we don’t live in a utopian society," Knezovich said.

He says the conversation does not advance simply by calling the system racist. He acknowledges there are racial disparities within Spokane’s criminal justice system, but he says they are part of a bigger problem and he calls on Smart Justice Spokane to come to the table with solutions.

“Until society starts dealing with, in my opinion, three major issues, that is, education, opportunities, job opportunities and housing opportunities, we’re going to have people in high-risk categories, people who live in the marginal economic brackets, always going to be put at a disadvantage and we have to find a way to fix that," she said.

He says that means having honest discussions that people don’t seem to want to have.  

Honest discussion is something Carmen Pacheco-Jones says she welcomes. With all of the upheaval caused by the coronavirus, she says it’s time for people to reconsider their positions.

“Let’s continue to acknowledge who we lock up and why we lock them up. Let’s begin at the point of contact with the law enforcement and how overpolicing in areas where communities of color live or stop and frisk or driving while black, all of those things that are just embedded in policy. Let’s address that," she said.

Here's a link to the Smart Justice Coalition letter.

_______________________________

Advocates who work with Spokane’s domestic violence victims worry the coronavirus is leading to an uptick in violence at home. All that togetherness, says Annie Murphey from the Spokane Regional Domestic Violence Coalition, is not always a good thing.

“I think there’s probably some safety concerns. If you’re living in close proximity with someone and it’s unsafe, it’s going to be really hard for you in this environment to get enough space, so to speak, that you can be in a place where you can reach out," Murphey said.

Last fall, the coalition released a media campaign to bring awareness to one of Spokane’s most difficult social problems. That coincided with Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Six months later, the ads are back. 

Voice on ad: “In Spokane County one in three women endures domestic violence and one in ten men. One in five children witness it in their homes. In fact, Spokane County has the highest reported rates of domestic violence in the state. It’s a secret we may only want to whisper about. But it’s time to speak up. It’s time to end the violence.”

Murphey says the timing coincides with April as Sexual Assault Action Month. But there’s also concern about the enforced togetherness brought on by the coronavirus restrictions.

October’s campaign featured a documentary that all of Spokane’s TV stations aired at the same time one evening. It told the story of a woman named Nichole, who was beaten while moving out of the home she shared with a partner who abused her for 16 years.

“He comes running, full force, around the garage toward me with a club in hand. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There he was. He just began hitting me with the club, in my head and just kept hitting me. I just kept screaming. I couldn’t do anything else, other than scream. I couldn’t run any more. Someone tackled him and took him down and when they took him down, I could hear him screaming, ‘Just kill me. Just kill me now. Someone just do something. She took my boys. She took my boys from me,'" Nichole said in the documentary.

“We did have an increase in people either coming forward for themselves or concerned family members or associates saying, ‘I’m worried about this person. I’m seeing this, this and this,’ which is exactly what we want. We want more bystander awareness," Murphey said.

One woman who came forward is Heather Buckley.

“On September 3, my son came into our home and strangled me and my 12-year-old son to the point where the Spokane Police Department called it the worst case of strangulation," Buckley said.

Both survived. We talked with her last fall. Her eldest son, who is now 19, was arrested, then released back into the neighborhood where they lived. Assault charges were dropped because prosecutors said it wasn’t a case of intimate partner violence. She said the incident has taken a toll on her and her other two boys.

“My children are seeking outside counseling because of this case. We don’t feel safe. We are grateful that we finally got a protection order for a year, but my son is still in my neighborhood so we don’t feel protected," she said.

Since then, another prosecutor has picked up the case. Her son has been charged with two counts of assault and assigned a public defender. His trial was due to begin this week, but the Superior Court has cancelled all trials until at least late April.

Heather Buckley’s story illustrates some of the complexities of investigating and trying these cases. Sgt. Jordan Ferguson leads the Spokane Police Department’s domestic violence unit.

“Most victims don’t want law enforcement involvement. Most victims just want the abuse to stop. Usually when they end up calling law enforcement, or somebody else calls law enforcement, it’s a last-ditch effort. On average, they’ve been assaulted seven times before that first call," Ferguson said.

He says the overwhelming majority of cases involve intimate partners. Those are the cases he investigates, in conjunction with the YWCA.

Others, like Heather Buckley’s case, where the violence involves a family member, are handled differently.

“They will just get put in with general cases with prosecutors, who are dealing with all their other general cases," Ferguson said. "As much as law enforcement likes to complain that we’re overworked and there’s more than we can do, we still do a lot and ship it to the prosecutors. They haven’t been able to increase their numbers to have an adequate amount. Then, if they do that, you have to increase the public defenders to adequately represent the defendants on this. And then you have courtrooms that are packed and booked and overwhelmed, so then you need more courts, more judges, more commissioners.”

Hannah Stevens is a victim advocate for Lutheran Community Services. She was assigned to guide Heather Buckley through the legal system, though she won’t talk about Buckley’s case for privacy reasons. She agreed to talk about working with domestic violence victims in general.

“Most of the time, people I meet out in court find comfort in that, knowing they’re not alone. A lot of it is just validating their experience, validating their concerns and making sure that they’re feeling safe in a space that’s very intimidating," Stevens said. "It’s a very scary thing already, going in front of a judge. But then, having to see your perpetrator across the room from you, that’s a very hard experience and something people shouldn’t have to go through alone.”

Voice on TV ad: “Yeah, yeah. Everything’s great at home. [whispers] My boyfriend hit me last night…”

Jordan Ferguson says there has been no increase in domestic violence cases reported during the time when coronavirus restrictions have been in place. But Annie Murphey thinks that’s due to victims, both women and men, not feeling safe to report being abused. And she says people are just putting their heads down, focusing on basic survival issues.

“People are losing their jobs. They’re worried about getting their basic needs met. Food. They’re trying to find supplies, even just toilet paper and cleaning supplies. Where do I go for child care? There’s just some basic, day-to-day, survival-type things, that people have really switched their focus," she said. "I think in the coming weeks, and probably months, we’ll start to hear stories of this time, this social isolation time.”

Murphey hopes that people in trouble will remember this ad campaign and seek help when they need it. You can find more information at EndtheViolenceSpokane.org.

______________________________________

In about three weeks, Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order is scheduled to expire. But what happens after that? No one has answers yet. Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins takes a look at some of the factors that may determine that decision – and asks what our “new normal” may look like.

Dr. Scott Lindquist is Washington’s chief epidemiologist for communicable diseases. He understands as the weather warms up and the number of new COVID-19 cases levels off, people are going to want to get back to some sense of normalcy.

“So I know everyone’s asking: when are we going to do this? And not yet is the best answer," Lindquist said.

He wants to see a sustained downward trend in new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths before he will feel it’s safe to gradually ease off some of the current restrictions. He’s not alone. Dr. Jeff Duchin of Public Health Seattle and King County says the risk of stepping back too quickly is the virus will come raging back.

“We want to make sure that when we do start to get back to usual activities, we do it in a measured way that doesn’t lead to the health care system becoming overwhelmed," Duchin said.

Governor Inslee’s current “Stay Home” order expires on May 4th. In a one-on-one interview with public radio, the governor spoke about his desire to shift to what he calls phase two of the state’s response to the pandemic.

"We are really hopeful that we can get there sooner rather than later," Inslee said.

In this second phase, Inslee envisions a sequential relaxing of social-distancing orders and allowing some non-essential businesses to reopen. But to make this transition, Inslee says Washington will have to have widespread access to COVID-19 testing.

“The pace we can do that is actually the defining factor when we can loosen some of these controls," he said.

Robust testing is necessary so public health officials can spot flare ups and quickly respond by isolating the person, tracing their contacts and then quarantining those individuals. Contact tracing is time consuming work. But technology could make it easier. Dr. Lindquist, the state epidemiologist, is intrigued by smart phone apps that could alert people if they’ve come in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

“I’m looking at tools like this as we release the community mitigation or we loosen it, these are the things that are going to become more important," Lindquist said.

Even as Washington works to build a robust testing and tracing system, there’s already talk about how restart the economy. It’s a conversation House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox – whose family runs Wilcox Farms – is eager to jumpstart.

“We should look carefully at every job category and find out what we can do to let people get back to work in a way that provides a lot less risk," Wilcox said.

Speaker of the House Laurie Jinkins, who works in public health, also sees opportunities to put people back to work. But Jinkins says the worst mistake would be to back off too quickly.

“Our economy can withstand whatever it needs to withstand, I believe, in order to save lives. That’s not to say that there isn’t a balance of those things," Jinkins said.

At Washington’s Department of Commerce, director Lisa Brown of Spokane has been tasked with leading the state’s economic recovery. She anticipates the economy will reopen industry by industry and region by region.

“We’re looking at restart of our economy, but it will be a new normal with new kinds of guidelines and safety standards in place,” Brown said.

For instance, some employees might have their temperatures taken as they arrive to work. And there might be new social-distancing requirements in the workplace. For Inslee, the looming question is when that long road to recovery can begin?

“Well, I am hopeful after May 4th there are some things that we can return to. That is not a guarantee. I don’t know what extent those are," he said.

He adds the public has an important role to play by continuing to follow his social-distancing orders over the coming weeks.

_____________________________________

The new normal. We’re hearing that phrase more and more as we contemplate what life will be like after the initial phase of the coronavirus ends.

For University of Washington first-year medical student Grayson Baden, the old normal placed her in Spokane, where she was learning with her peers on the Gonzaga campus.

“Now we see each other almost every day over Zoom," Baden said.

With physical distancing, she’s back home in Arlington, living with her folks. Her fellow students are back home as well.

“It’s just been really touching to see how our faculty, our instructors, our administrators have adapted and, on one hand, the front line workers in this really difficult and uncertain time, committed to teaching the next generation. So it’s been really inspiring. I know our class is really impressed with how they have done," she said.

Baden is in the Foundations phase. That’s what the UW calls the first year-and-a-half of medical school.

For now, she communicates with her instructors and mentors via email and Zoom.

“It’s interesting to see all of my classmates that I’m used to seeing in person in their little squares on the screen. We have cameras for the instructors and cameras for their whiteboards, so they’re doing their best to still give that classroom feel and still being open to questions and interactions. It’s just all digital," Baden said.

And for now, she realizes it has to be enough.

For the medical students in the latter half of their education, it’s a time when they would normally be following doctors on rotations and learning how to examine patients.

Dr. Janelle Clauser is one of the University of Washington’s clinical instructors. She teaches students about the seeing patients part of the job.

"It’s a combination of teaching how to interview patients, how to talk to patients, how to examine patients and then about developing their professional identity as doctors," Clauser said.

Part of that teaching involves face-to-face interaction with people. Some of that is normally done in classrooms, some in hospitals.

“They actually get to interview real patients in the hospital, patients who have been consented and given permission to be interviewed and to have a physical exam done on them," she said.

But that’s not allowed right now.

Clauser says when the governor’s “Stay Home” order was issued, faculty members quickly got together to figure out how to adapt. What could be done by Zoom and what had to be postponed?

"Obviously, physical exam teaching is the hardest. We’re trying to minimize physical exam teaching for now. One example is the musculoskeletal exam. It’s usually taught in the spring, this term. But, because it’s such a hands-on, all those physical maneuvers that you have to do for musculoskeletal exam are just so helpful to be done so we moved that workshop into the fall and have brought in other workshops that focus on communications skills," she said.

Dr. Bill Sayres is the assistant dean for Foundations in Spokane. He says, with the current situation, it’s hard for medical students to get the full experience of learning about the human body.

“You lose a kind of perspective in a 2-D anatomy course. You lose the sense of relationships between organs," Sayres said. "Some people think of anatomy as just memorize the nerves and the veins and the arteries and muscles and bones, et cetera. But, really, it’s more about the relationships between structures and that’s very hard to teach in an online setting.”

Nonetheless, that’s how the UW faculty decided to move ahead, all online for now.

“That has involved an enormous amount of work for everybody, students, faculty and administration, in order to make this successful. It’s an ongoing task too," he said. "Our students did well on their last exams, so if that’s a test for how things are going, that’s so far, so good.”

_____________________________

That’s it for today’s Inland Journal. Hear our podcast any time at Spokane Public Radio dot org, at Google Play, Apple Podcasts and NPR One.