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Concerns prompt County Executive Dave Somers to look into moving Snohomish County Jail from sheriff control

LUKE PUTVIN | Last Updated 11.26.2019

On November 16, County Executive Dave Somers posted a statement on Facebook sharing his intent to move the Snohomish County Jail from sheriff control to executive control.

“My office has been considering asking the county council to put the jail back under the executive office. It was this way for many years.

My interest is making sure that we recognize the jail is not only a detention facility, but also our largest mental health and substance abuse facility. It is appropriate to punish law breakers, but we also need to help folks to get on a path to a productive life.”

The Lynnwood Times reached out to county councilmembers Sam Low, Nate Nehring, Terry Ryan, Stephanie Wright and Brian Sullivan as well as county councilmember elect Megan Dunn, Adam Fortney, Ty Trenary and Dave Somers. Trenary, Wright, Sullivan and Dunn provided no response.

“I am 100% opposed to [Somers’] proposal. During my campaign I received very strong support from corrections and I plan to fight very hard to keep them under the sheriff. The entire chain of command at corrections and the deputies in corrections DO NOT want this proposal,” said County Sheriff-elect Fortney.

“I believe Mr. Somers has some pre-conceived notions about some of my plans for the jail and they are not founded in fact.  During our meeting on Friday I believe I was able to alleviate some of those concerns and we had a good conversation about my outlook for corrections.  Any attempt to move administration of the jail to the executive after we just had an election is an attempt to circumvent the will of the citizens of Snohomish County.  I am hoping Mr. Somers reverses course on this very soon,” Fortney added.

Low and Nehring provided a joint statement in support of Fortney:

“With the recent election of Adam Fortney as our next Sheriff, voters in Snohomish County gave a clear mandate on the desire for a different approach to handling crime-related issues in our county. Among these issues is the oversight of the county jail and decisions over restrictions on booking.

There are rumors of a proposal to remove oversight of Snohomish County Jail from the Sheriff’s Office and transfer that responsibility to the County Executive’s Office. We are strongly opposed to this sort of proposal as we believe it directly undermines the will of the voters of Snohomish County. Sheriff-elect Fortney made his case to the voters in the recent election, received broad support, and deserves the opportunity to perform the duties which he was elected to do.

We stand with the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, Teamsters, and Sheriff-elect Adam Fortney in opposition to this. We are committed to respecting the will of the voters and will oppose efforts to transfer oversight authority of the county jail.”

Ryan provided a neutral statement that does not take a side:

“We have not received any proposal from the Executive’s Office.  If we receive a proposal, we will schedule that for a public meeting. My thoughts would be that we would talk with both the Executive and the Sheriff and then make a decision based on what we believe are the best interests of Snohomish County.”

Somers mentioned that Snohomish County Jail used to be controlled by the executive office but was shifted in 2008 to save money and address other issues. Why shift back now? Somers said that he has been talking about this on and off since he became the executive in 2016.

“Five or six larger counties in the state have their jail on the executive side where mostly smaller counties have it under the sheriff,” Somers said. “Frankly, under Sheriff Trenary, we’ve gotten to a really good place in the jail; deaths are down and lawsuits are down. The medical staff has been beefed up, and we recognize that the jail is not just an incarceration facility but a place where people have chemical withdrawal problems… It’s a very complicated facility. Frankly, because there was a new incoming sheriff, we thought it was a good time to bring it up.”

“The rhetoric during [Fortney’s] campaign is that anybody that the deputy brings to the jail should be put in jail, and there had been some restrictions on that a year or so ago, and that’s one of the things Fortney is angry about,” Somers added. He went on to say he is concerned that Fortney is going to start “loading up the jail again with sick people and overcrowding it back to the bad old days.”

The Lynnwood Times will continue its coverage of this story as more events unfold.

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