Crime, Law and Justice

WA State Archives

A nearly 100-year-old historical marker has been mysteriously stolen from Washington's Capitol Campus and, with no leads on who took it, the state patrol is now asking the public for help solving the crime. 

The bronze plaque commemorated the location of the home of Washington's first territorial governor, Isaac Ingalls Stevens. Washington's first post-statehood governor, Elisha P. Ferry, also lived there when he served as a territorial governor. 

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

In a dramatic example of COVID-19’s impact on the criminal justice system, the number of people in Washington jails has plummeted in recent weeks, ending virtually overnight an overcrowding problem that plagued many facilities for years. Today, a few of the state’s smallest jails are reporting inmate populations in the single digits.

“Honestly, I would never have expected to see something like this in my lifetime and I’ve been doing this for 20 years now,” said Jose Briones, the chief deputy of the Island County Jail on Whidbey Island where the population has dropped by approximately half.

Nick Deshais/NW News Network

A gun ban at a popular music festival in North Idaho  is splitting the community, leading to a lawsuit between Bonner County and its largest town, Sandpoint.

The ban at the Festival at Sandpoint went into effect last year, when the event’s hired security guards began searching bags and turning away people who carried firearms.

ArchSpokane CC BY-SA

Prominent Spokane architect and developer Ron Wells was sentenced in federal court Wednesday for his role in staging a car crash to defraud insurance companies. He was sentenced to a year of home confinement and must pay $240,000.

Courtesy of Kaden Wiberg

NOTE: This story includes images and descriptions of dead cows and their mutilation that readers may find disturbing.

Rancher Stephen Roth is rattled by the recent slaying of one of his cows near Hampton, Oregon.

Enrique Pérez de la Rosa/NWPB

Nicolas found himself driving to a bar last fall, even though he doesn’t drink. He wanted to make sure his friends didn’t drive drunk that night on icy Grant County roads in central Washington.

Nicolas isn’t his real name. We’re protecting his identity because he’s undocumented and he worries federal immigration authorities may target him for speaking to the media.

Courtesy Simone Hayes

Lorenzo Hayes, 37, was brought to the Spokane County Jail on the morning of May 13, 2015 for violating a domestic violence no contact order.

As officers escorted Hayes to a holding cell, there was a struggle. Jail staff took him to the ground and then placed him in a restraint chair. At some point, he stopped breathing.

Responding firefighters and paramedics performed CPR and got a heartbeat back, but Hayes later died at the hospital.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

The day the brand new Mason County, Washington jail opened in 1985, it was already full. The previous jail on the top floor of the courthouse held just over 40 inmates. The new facility wasn't much bigger.  

Nearly 35 years later, the one-story cinder block jail located in the town of Shelton now holds about 90 inmates on any given day. A few years back, as many as 150 people were crowded into the facility.

Megan Farmer / KUOW

The first of what could be many trials stemming from the deadly 2017 derailment of a Portland-bound Amtrak Cascades train began with the railway accepting liability for the crash.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

If you were among the 1.7 million people who got a mysterious, unbidden $91.94 check in the mail recently, you may wonder if it is legitimate. It is! And the best news may be that recipients will get a similar check next summer.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

In the span of just a few years, the Washington State Patrol has built up a fleet of more than 100 drones. At last check, the Oregon State Police had three. The Washington patrol says its small quadcopters are used for crash investigations, not for surveillance.

Thomas Hawk / Flickr -

Nearly four decades ago, Washington became one of the first states to abolish parole and adopt a “fixed” sentencing grid with the goal of ushering in an era of “truth-in-sentencing,” while also reducing disparities in sentences.

Anna King / Northwest News Network

In a unanimous decision Thursday, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld its earlier decision against a Richland florist who refused to sell wedding flowers to a gay couple.

Sarah Eden Wallace

On Feb. 26, 2014, staff booked Shannon Jefferson into the Whatcom County Jail for a probation violation and failing to appear in court on a fourth degree assault charge.

Twelve days later, Jefferson tied a bed sheet to the window in her isolation cell and hanged herself. She was 36-years-old and the mother of six.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

The practice of locking up people who are chronically sick, mentally ill or drug addicted in under-resourced city, county and regional jails in Washington is resulting in inmate deaths and a failure to “treat all people humanely, respectfully, and safely,” according to a new report by the statewide nonprofit law firm Columbia Legal Services.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Four years ago this month, 25-year-old Keaton Farris died naked, dehydrated and malnourished on the floor of an isolation cell in the Island County Jail on Whidbey Island. Farris, who was bipolar and in the throes of a mental health crisis, had been arrested 18 days earlier for failing to appear in court for allegedly stealing and cashing a $355 check.

The reflection of a jail cell window is visible in this stainless steel mirror in a Clark County Jail cell in Vancouver, Wash., on March 14, 2019.
Bryan M. Vance/OPB

Editor’s note: This story contains descriptions of suicide and may not be suitable for all readers. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call for help now. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is a free service answered by trained staff 24 hours per day, every day. The number is 1-800-273-8255. Or text 273TALK to 839863.

After 40 days in the Josephine County Jail, Janelle Marie Butterfield looped a white sheet around her neck and tied the other end to the metal bunk bed in cell 408.

Deputies found her during their hourly rounds, around 8:45 in the morning. She was slouched in the corner of her cell, wearing her jail blues. Her long, dark hair covered the sheet around her neck.

Jeremy Lavender opens gifts with his daughter in an undated photo.
KUOW Photo/Sydney Brownstone

When Jeremy Lavender came back from a 15-month Army deployment in Iraq to live with his wife and new baby, “he wasn’t the same person,” according to Lavender’s ex-wife, Myra Shearer.

Shearer met Lavender when they were both just shy of 21. They loved hiking, fishing, taking trips to the ocean. Lavender was a great boyfriend — attentive, emotionally aware. Shearer said she was the only person he let touch his rebuilt, teal green Camaro, his “baby.”

The couple got married in 2006 while Lavender was home on leave. Shearer had found out she was pregnant.

Office of the Washington State Attorney General

Two people who allegedly placed online ads to sell elephant ivory carvings are the first to be charged under wildlife trafficking laws passed by Pacific Northwest voters a few years ago.

Booked and buried: Northwest jails' mounting death toll

Apr 2, 2019
 Incomplete data tracking hides a crisis of rising death rates in overburdened Northwest jails that have been set up to fail the inmates they are tasked with keeping safe.
Jonathan Levinson/OPB

In 2012, Michael Saffioti turned himself in on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge. The next day at the Snohomish County Jail in Everett, Washington, he was served oatmeal that contained milk. The 22-year-old with severe asthma and a dairy allergy went into anaphylaxis and died.


A legal case involving the Yakama Nation and Washington state taxes that started in 2013 came to an end Tuesday with a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

 In a 5-4 ruling, the court decided in favor of tribal treaty rights in a case between the Washington Department of Licensing and Cougar Den, a gas station in White Swan on the Yakama Reservation.  

Prenters Broughton argues for early release before the state clemency board in Olympia on Thursday, March 7. The board is one of the only ways for long-time inmates to have their sentences reduced or thrown out.
Max Wasserman / Northwest News Network

Prenters Broughton was always getting into trouble as a kid. So, his older sister came up with a nickname for him.

“He was just a little devil,” Alana Ervin, a Tacoma resident, said of her brother. “So PB, just to shorten it up for peanut butter because he’s always in the thick of things.”

Carolina Landa hugs her son, Zach, in their living room before he leaves for school on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019. The two have been living together in the same home in Olympia since 2015.
Shauna Sowersby / The (Tacoma) News Tribune

Carolina Landa’s 12-year-old son has a new obsession: an old Scooby-Doo movie.

It’s part of Zach’s life with autism. He fixates on certain objects — a movie, sometimes food, anything he needs to feel safe — but has difficulty communicating since he’s also nonverbal.


Four Bills in Washington’s legislature this year offer differing views on the death penalty following a state Supreme Court decision last year.  A similar debate is playing out in Oregon.


Austin Jenkins / NW News Network


Murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls are the focus of a bill introduced in the Washington House of Representatives on Friday.

Last year, Washington Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, a Republican from Goldendale, sponsored a bill that calls on the Governor’s office and Washington State Patrol to find a way to count every murdered and/or missing Indigenous woman in the state.

Washington Supreme Court

Attorneys General from 21 U.S. states, including those in Oregon and Washington, filed briefs this week urging a federal appeals court to uphold the Indian Child Welfare Act.

The 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, aims to keep Native American children with their Native family members during adoption proceedings and in cases of neglect or abuse.

Washington state's attorney general wants to know if emergency response was delayed to anyone during a nearly statewide 911 outage late last month. The accounts of victims, if there are any, could figure into a penalty against call network manager CenturyLink.

Two former Jesuit officials resign from Gonzaga University after revelations about abusive priests

Dec 21, 2018
Emily Schwing / Northwest News Network

  This story was produced in partnership with Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX


Two priests in high-level positions at Gonzaga University resigned today. Both previously held leadership roles in the Jesuits’ Oregon Province while it sent Jesuits accused of sexual abuse to live in a home on campus.

Jesuits sent priests accused of sexual abuse to retire on Gonzaga's campus

Dec 17, 2018

On the surface, Father James Poole seemed like the cool priest in Nome, Alaska. He founded a Catholic mission radio station that broadcast his Jesuit sermons alongside contemporary pop hits. A 1978 story in People magazine called Poole “Western Alaska’s Hippest DJ … Comin’ at Ya with Rock’n’Roll ’n’ Religion.”

Emily Schwing / Northwest News Network

According to the National Institute of Justice, four in five Native American and Alaska Native women will experience some kind of domestic violence in their lifetime. It’s a subject that’s long been whispered about. But now, recent headlines about victimized Native women have sparked a larger conversations and calls to action in Indian Country.