Snohomish County, November 1, 2023—With less than a week for Snohomish County residents to cast their vote and turn in ballots by 8p.m. on November 7, the race for Sheriff between incumbent Adam Fortney and challenger Susanna Johnson heats up. As in any election, there is some mudslinging between candidates and their surrogates leaving voters confused on what’s fact, misleading, and downright fiction.
Over the weekend there was public backlash to a local mainstream Snohomish County news outlet inserting itself in the race when one of its journalists accused Fortney as being a “controversial” “far-right sheriff” with “constitutional leanings,” coincidently a week after Stasti Conrad, Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party, called on Democrats to elect Susanna Johnson for Snohomish County Sheriff saying that Fortney is “one of [the] great white nationalist of this country.”
“My opponent is out there talking down my team, I can’t let that go on,” Fortney said during a massive 70-person sign waving event in Lynnwood on Monday, October 30.
The Lynnwood Times scoured social media and obtained campaign literature to understand what is being communicated to voters about the Sheriff’s Office and its deputies by surrogates and Political Action Committees who favor Fortney’s challenger, Susanna Johnson. According to a mailer by the Alliance for Gun Responsibility Victory Fund, a PAC, “the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office has become a home for far right-wing extremism, unprofessionalism and scandal, and has lost the public trust.”
Sheriff Fortney spoke with both the Lynnwood Times and Emmy Award-winning journalist, political commentator, and host of the podcast unDivided, Brandi Kruse to set the record straight. The Sheriff told the Lynnwood Times he came forward because the political tactics being used are not only against him but of his deputies and the Sheriff’s Office.
Accusation: Fortney acted irresponsibly and was wrong to re-hire three deputies who were fired by his predecessor, Ty Trenary, for misusing deadly force.
On August 3, 2023, the results of a Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission investigation concluded that the evidence provided was insufficient to establish that the deputy at the center of the political firestorm, Arthur Wallin, violated state law and/or Snohomish County Sheriff Office (SCSO) policies and procedures.
“WSCJTC has found that two significant pieces of evidence–including surveillance footage and accident reconstruction report–corroborate Mr. Wallin’s recollection of the incident and suggest that Mr. Wallin’s use of force was reasonably necessary to protect himself and/or others from serious bodily injury or death as consistent with SCSO policy,” the report reads.
“I was one thousand percent right in this [decision]… They unequivocally sided that the evidence matched what the deputy said.” Fortney told Kruse on Monday during her livestream of unDivided.
Fortney also shared that he was highly upset that there was no media coverage of this even after he held a press conference answering all reporters’ questions. Kruse said that for the media to not share the findings of the WSCJTC report after condemning Fortney for two years on his decision to rehire the deputies conveys a “bias in the current media climate.”
Two other key determining factors in the WSCJTC decision was that the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office declined to press criminal charges against the deputy because of insufficient evidence and secondly, a use of force expert concluded that the deputy’s use of force did not violate state law of SCSO policies and procedures.
Lynnwood Times opinion: Based on the WSCJTC independent investigative report, the accusation that Sheriff Fortney acted irresponsibly to rehire the deputies is misleading and is misinformation. The decision to rehire is at the discretion of the Sheriff – in Trenary’s case he let the deputy go, in Fortney’s case he rehired the deputy after a filed grievance. However, because the WSCJTC didn’t find that the deputy violated any SCSO policies and procedures, and the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office led by Adam Cornell did not file any charges against the deputy, the grievance of wrongful termination by the deputy more likely than not would have resulted in legal judgment against the county.
Accusation: Fortney broke the law by not shutting down businesses that didn’t comply with Governor Jay Inslee’s health mandates during the pandemic.
“These weren’t laws, these were things he [Inslee] dictated by the emergency process,” Fortney told Kruse. “We all complied… But as weeks and months went on, it became very clear that the government was picking winners and losers.”
Fortney further explained that during the pandemic, the government allowed the construction of the courthouse to continue because it was under a government contract but did not afford that same allowance to construction of non-government contracted work such as residential homes and commercial buildings. He reminded Kruse that in Washington state, he has the authority to exercise discretion to which he did.
Lynnwood Times opinion: A law is passed by the senate and the house of representatives and signed by the governor. A mandate is made by the governor, with the power given to him by the legislature in a state of emergency. Sheriff Fortney is correct in that he has discretion to enforce laws, just as a patrol officer has discretion to issue a traffic ticket or a warning.
In a Facebook post addressing this issue back in 2020, Fortney wrote, “As your Snohomish County Sheriff, yes I believe that preventing business owners to operate their businesses and provide for their families intrudes on our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I am greatly concerned for our small business owners and single-income families who have lost their primary source of income needed for survival.
“As your elected Sheriff I will always put your constitutional rights above politics or popular opinion. We have the right to peaceably assemble. We have the right to keep and bear arms. We have the right to attend church service of any denomination. The impacts of COVID 19 no longer warrant the suspension of our constitutional rights.”
Accusation: Fortney’s lack of leadership resulted in the agency losing its accreditation for failing to meet industry standards.
Sheriff Adam Fortney told the Lynnwood Times on Monday during his sign waving event in Lynnwood that the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office was accredited through Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) in 2017. In March of 2020, three months into his tenure as Sheriff, WASPC notified the Sheriff’s Office that because all the standards in 2017, 2018 and 2019 were not met, they will not re-accredit the agency in 2021. This was confirmed by a September 2023 email from the WASPC to Sheriff Fortney.
“We received a letter from the SCSO in March, 2020 indicating it would not be moving forward with re-accreditation, as the SCSO was unable to meet all of the required standards for 2017, 2018, and 2019, as was noted in the letter and which I understand was also the feedback that had been given by our team,” Steven Strachan, Executive Director of the WASPC, wrote in an email to Sheriff Fortney on September 1, 2023.
However, in this same email, Strachan notified Fortney that after years of the WASPC working with his team, the SCSO is on track to become accredited in 2024.
The Lynnwood Times was informed that when Sheriff Fortney came into office in 2020, he prioritized a full-time position dedicated to getting SCSO back on track for accreditation. The agency is scheduled for a mock accreditation with WASPC the first week of December 2023 and it anticipates being accredited at that time.
The Snohomish County Jail is accredited and was just re-accredited in October of 2023, and is the only large jail in the state of Washington to be accredited.
Accusation: There is high attrition and low retention because of the culture of unprofessionalism at the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.
“Recruitment and retention have been an issue not only in the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office but for all agencies in the state of Washington,” Fortney told the Lynnwood Times. “While our attrition rate has remained high because of people leaving the profession, that’s what we have all seen, we have done fantastic at hiring.”
Under Sheriff Fortney’s administration, hiring records have been set, according to Courtney O’Keefe, the Director of Communication for the Sheriff’s Office. In 2022, the Personnel Development Division has 85 new hires and so far in 2023 they have hired over 100 people.
“Notably, we also accomplished a new contract and a record pay increase for deputy sheriffs in Snohomish County,” O’Keefe informed the Lynnwood Times. “In 2020, the entire county was faced with a hiring freeze, and we were not exempt from that. While retirements continued, we were unable to fill vacant positions for nearly a year due to the freeze. That took time to recover from, however we give tremendous credit to the hardworking staff in our hiring unit who have surpassed all previous hiring records.”
In a June 2022 interview, Sheriff Fortney informed the Lynnwood Times that a lack of support from Washington State’s elected officials, recruitment and retention challenges, and low wages have all contributed to a staffing shortage at the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.
“When we have a majority of a state government and you can figure out who I mean by that, that demeans a profession for two-and-a-half years, especially in 2020 and 2021, you can only take so much as a human being,” Fortney told the Lynnwood Times when asked why police are leaving the state or the profession during the interview.
What’s more, in the face of being short-staffed, Fortney said that criminals have “seemingly becoming more emboldened and more violent,” a statement he reiterated during a Public Safety Town Hall in Marysville, WA, on June 8.
Between 2021 to 2023, state lawmakers passed bills reducing sentencing and consequences for adult crimes and gang members who are minors; and passed legislation hindering pursuit laws. Also, District Attorneys throughout Washington state refused to enforce drug offenses resulting in a surge in crime.
Violent crime in Washington State increased 12.3% in 2021, according to a report released in 2022 by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC). Murders continued to increase jumping from 302, in 2020, to 325, in 2021, the highest ever recorded since the WASPC began recording crime data back in 1980.
In 2022, the 2023 annual Crime in Washington report shows that murder reached an all-time high in 2022 to 394 murders reported in Washington state setting another new all-time record. As murders have increased for three straight years, the report found that violent crime also increased by 8.5% in 2022.
Washington State retains its ranking as the lowest in the nation for commissioned officers per thousand residents.
Lynnwood Times opinion: The high attrition and low retention has little to do with unsubstantiated accounts of “unprofessionalism” and more to do with the residual impacts of the pandemic, the hiring freeze in 2020, and the negative stigma police officers faced in 2020 and 2021. It appears that the Sheriff’s Office, after signing a new four-year bargaining agreement, low wages have been addressed and in 2024 the agency should have somewhat healthy staffing levels.
Accusation: The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office does not prioritize evidence-based policing (EBP) strategies.
Sheriff Fortney shared with the Lynnwood Times that his agency utilizes evidence-based policing strategies.
“Of course, every single day,” Fortney replied when asked if his department employs evidence-based policing.
This was confirmed by Operations Bureau Chief Scott Robertson.
“Evidence-based policing is a focused effort by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office to remain vigilant in an effort to improve our processes, increase overall operational efficiency, and to improve our relationships and service with our community,” Robertson said.
Evidence based policing is “using data, analysis, and research to complement experience and professional judgment, in order to provide the best possible police service to the public,” according to the National Institute of Justice, a research, development, and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Robertson shared that the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office also utilizes customer satisfaction software, and work closely with business leaders, the community, and advocacy groups to ensure their evidence-based strategies continually improve.
“The Operations Bureau works closely with our crime analysis group to provide the metrics needed to deploy resources and evaluate our response through community crime dashboards, specifically focused management dashboards, and through the use of predictive analysis,” said Robertson.
The data is compiled to determine hotspots focused on deterrence and improve response times.
IAPro evidence-based software is used to continuously evaluate use of force situations and SPIDR Tech software is used to capture community-based opinion and to measure and improve community interactions.
The Office of Neighborhoods unit is another example of evidence-based policing. Because “we cannot arrest our way out of the opioid epidemic” according to SCSO, this unit developed alternative ways to address root causes to break the cycle of homelessness, behavioral health and/or substance use disorder in our county.
SCSO also employs community engagement (or ideals) with ongoing outreach such as Coffee with a Cop, fulfilling Make-a-Wish requests, crime prevention seminars, Sheriff for a Day events, National Night Out, and the annual block party to name a few.
Lynnwood Times opinion: The accusations that SCSO does not prioritize evidence-based policing (EBP) strategies are false.
Accusation: Sheriff Adam Fortney is associated with the Constitutional Sheriffs movement.
According to Associated Press, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association advocates for sheriffs to “protect their citizens from the overreach of an out-of-control federal government” by refusing to enforce any law they deem unconstitutional or “unjust.” Supporters of the movement have been tied to militia groups such as the Oath Keepers and right-wing extremist groups.
“None,” was Sheriff’s Fortney’s answer to Kruse’s question if he has any ties to the Constitutional Sheriff’s movement.
“I am perfectly comfortable with my oath, my obligation of the oath to both the state and the U.S. Constitution and no one is going to take that away from me,” Fortney said. “I certainly don’t need an outside organization to come in and tell me if I am doing it right or not.”
The controversial mailer accusing the entire Sheriff’s Office of harboring far right extremism
Last week, thousands of households received a mailer supporting Fortney’s opponent from the political action committee The Alliance for Gun Responsibility Victory Fund stating that “the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office has become a home for far right-wing extremism, unprofessionalism and scandal.”
According to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, The Alliance for Gun Responsibility Victory Fund has total receipts for 2023 of $104,394.25 and expenditures of $96,955.73 as of November 1, that includes $20,749.45 for 37,000 mailers paid on October 24 in favor of Fortney’s opponent, Susanna Johnson. The PAC has also provided monetary contributions of $6,800 to the following Snohomish County races: Susanna Johnson for Sheriff, Committee to Elect Megan Dunn, Friends of Demi Chatters, Friends of Mike Nelson, Re-Elect Susan Paine, and Campaign to Re-elect Judy Tuohy.
Of the $85,151.47 received by the PAC, $3,740 is associated with four individuals who reside within Snohomish County and a fifth “Miscellaneous Receipts” of $1,200 from unknown person(s) in Lake Stevens. Records show that approximately 76% ($64,808.47) of all contributions came from Seattle residents and Seattle PACs. According to the Secretary of State’s website, Aaron Jenkins and Stephanie Gidgbi Jenkins are the governors of the company North Star Strategies which is responsible for the 37,000 mailers denouncing the Sheriff’s Office and its deputies. The owners of North Star Strategies appear to have ties to Lynnwood and Everett.
Snohomish County Sheriff candidates
Susanna Johnson is the current Deputy Police Chief for the City of Bothell and vying for Sheriff position. She has a distinguished career spanning 30 years at the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office according to both her campaign website and voter’s pamphlet. She, like Fortney, earned her way up the ranks. Prior to being recruited to the Bothell Police Department, Johnson was the Bureau Chief of Operations (third highest administrative position) at the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office implementing policies, assuring compliance, and providing recommendations for policies to former Sheriff Ty Trenary who Fortney defeated in 2019.
Since taking office in 2020, Sheriff Adam Fortney has refocused the policies of the Sheriff’s Office back to enforcing the law, booking offenders in the Snohomish County jail, and what he calls “common sense policing.” He also has reinstated the Office of Neighborhoods after an eight-month pause due to staffing constraints and provides social services to offenders in jail to assist with mental health and substance abuse.
Dozens of teens have graduated from his Lead the Way program that mentors youth by partnering them with local law enforcement officers to guide them on making better life choices.
In November of last year, he and Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers signed an historic four-year labor agreement with the Snohomish County Deputy Sheriff’s Association (DSA) that addressed officer shortage. Fortney and other law enforcement leaders attributed statewide staffing shortage to a lack of support from Washington State’s elected officials, recruitment and retention challenges, and low wages.
“Snohomish County’s top priority is public safety, and this agreement with DSA will ensure we are doing everything possible to retain our law enforcement professionals and attract others to the Sheriff’s Office,” Snohomish County Executive Somers told the Lynnwood Times shortly after the contract signing. “This contract is one part of an overall strategy to ensure we are addressing street-level crimes, working to counteract the fentanyl crisis, and helping to move people out of homelessness into a more stable life. All of these pieces work together to improve public safety and help some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”
Reporting in Lynnwood at 196th st and 44th Ave near Fred Meyer where there is a massive rally in support of Sheriff Adam Fortney https://t.co/CGRFFM64dP@BrandiKruse @choeshow @jasonrantz @SnoCoSheriff @safeLynnwood @LynnwoodPD @MukilteoPolice @MarysvilleWAPD @EverettPolice
— Lynnwood Times (@LynnwoodTimes) October 30, 2023