EDITOR’S NOTE: This corrects an earlier version that implied a new community watch program only covers Surfside. In fact, it will cover the entire Long Beach Peninsula.
ILWACO — Pacific County sheriff and prosecutor candidates participated in a Tuesday, July 10, forum in Ilwaco. Hosted by the American Association of University Women, the forum served as an opportunity for Peninsula voters to learn about the candidates before the Aug. 7 primary election. The two candidates who receive the most votes will advance to the Nov. 6 general election.
Pacific County sheriff
Souvenir, an Independent, has 20 years of law enforcement experience. He previously worked as a Bay Center volunteer EMT and firefighter, and Pacific County Sheriff’s Office reserve deputy. He has since worked for the Shoalwater Reservation police force where he has been chief for about eight years. Souvenir is a firearms instructor for several other police agencies in the county, and a ham radio operator who volunteers with emergency preparedness groups. He attended a federal Indian Police Academy and Washington state’s police academy. Souvenir and his wife have a high-school-aged daughter.
Souvenir believes teamwork is the most important issue that needs to be addressed in the sheriff’s department. He said he also sees a lack of collaboration between county departments. Souvenir said he would encourage all sheriff’s office personnel to be more responsive to citizens’ needs.
“If there’s a call, it doesn’t matter if you’re the sheriff. It doesn’t matter if you’re the undersheriff. It doesn’t matter what’s on your caller. You should respond to that call if you have the ability to do that,” Souvenir said.
Deputy Eastham, a Republican, has worked in law enforcement since 1995, when he started as a South Bend reserve officer. He worked for the Camas Police Department before joining the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office in 2006. He is vice-chair of Coast Pregnancy Clinic and serves as a law enforcement liaison to South Pacific County Humane Society. Eastham also recently began substitute teaching and owns a small business that provides burials at sea. He is a married father of three school-aged children.
Eastham’s biggest concern for the sheriff’s department is a lack of 24-hour sheriff coverage, he said.
“We’ve been short-staffed in the patrol division for many years and that has caused many problems; slow response times, no deputies out. I’m planning on fixing that,” Eastham said. “I’m planning on adding three deputies to patrol, an increase of about 30 percent. Using the math however we can, it’s not going to cost the county a penny. In fact, it’s going to save money.”
Sheriff Johnson, a Democrat, is running for a third term as sheriff. His law enforcement career started at age 15 and was the youngest commissioned officer in the state of Washington at age 17. Johnson’s previously worked with the South Bend Police Department, as a reserve officer of the sheriff’s office and as a Washington State Patrol trooper before being elected sheriff. Johnson attended the forum despite a recent family death.
Drugs are Johnson’s biggest concern. He hopes to restart a drug task force for the county, as the county’s previous one was disbanded in 2015. Johnson said he recently testified twice before state legislature and at the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
“I promised [four years ago] you would see me more in our local communities than in Olympia, but that doesn’t mean that when the need is there that I don’t march to Olympia for what our citizens deserve,” Johnson said.
Working with ICE
One issue of concern to the audience was how each candidate would deal with ICE. All three candidates noted that the sheriff’s department has no jurisdiction over federal law.
“What my stance on this is they have their own job to do. ICE is separate. Their operation is a separate issue. It’s not dealt with by this office,” Johnson said. “But because they are a law enforcement agency, if they call us, which I don’t know if they have but one or two times, if they need assistance, we’re gonna back them up and be there for them.”
Souvenir said he had a similar viewpoint to Johnson and that individuals in the U.S. illegally are committing a civil violation, not a crime. He believes the sheriff’s office shouldn’t be enforcing immigration laws.
Eastham noted a lack of communication between Pacific County and ICE that he believes needs to be improved in order to ensure safety of citizens.
“I’m not giving excuses for folks who are here who haven’t gone through the steps that they maybe should have. I’m just addressing the issue that it is a family issue. It is an issue that really affects our local economy, our businesses, [and] our schools,” Eastham said.
Community Watch Program
All three candidates said they supported the new community watch program for Long Beach Peninsula communities. Program participants, led by resident Howard Chang, will meet for the first time July 19.
Johnson said it is difficult for deputies to make controlled drug buys. Without that ability, it can be hard for them to build strong cases against drug-dealers. A task force would make it easier for undercover detectives to obtain drugs.
“I promise you that we’ll give every effort possible so that we can successfully buy drugs again,” he said
Souvenir believes a drug task force is important, but that the sheriff’s department needs to try something different — something that involves the community more and creates an unwelcoming environment for drug use.
“The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” Souvenir said. “Is the drug task force important? Absolutely. We need to do everything we can to get the drugs off the street.”
Eastham disagreed with Johnson’s view of needing a drug task force, but did state support for the possibility of having one.
“We don’t need a state-funded drug task force to start making an impact on the communities,” Eastham said. “I’m a late-night guy. I go to work here. I’m working all by myself tonight. I have absolutely no back-up from the time I start for eight hours. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
Pacific County prosecuting attorney
Weston, who is running without a party affiliation, most recently served four years as chief deputy prosecutor in his opponent Mark McClain’s office. Weston is a graduate of the University of Oregon, where he earned his law degree. He previously worked in several public agencies in the Pacific Northwest, including the state’s Office of Public Defense. He also ran a low-cost family law clinic in King County.
Weston wants to create a more collaborative and effective approach to reducing crime rates. He calls for more flexible drug court standards so people who have a higher need for the program are going into it, rather than just low-risk and low-need individuals.
“Drug court right now is not being used nearly as well as it should be,” Weston said. “It is just a quick way to get the low-level offenders to plead guilty. If they actually pass drug court, so much the better. If they don’t, they plead guilty and they can be shipped off.”
McClain, running as an Independent, is a one-term incumbent who has a combined 18 years of legal experience. During his tenure in Pacific County, he has worked on several big cases. McClain says he created the state’s first mental health diversion program, founded the team responsible for ensuring the county has a Children’s Advocacy Center, and hired a full-time civil attorney. He also is a local sports official, a founding member of the Guns and Hoses charity basketball event and a member of the Raymond Elks.
“I stood here [four years ago] and said we’re not holding offenders accountable in this community,” McClain said. “We were seeing cases that just simply aren’t tried. We were seeing cases that are never charged. We’ve gone from charging around 150 felonies a year to now 300 felonies.”
Pamella Nogueira Mane-man
Nogueira Maneman, who is running without a party affiliation, is a criminal defense, family law and personal injury attorney for the Aberdeen firm Ingram Zelasko. Nogueira Maneman immigrated to the U.S. after completing a foreign exchange program in Pacific County. She is a graduate of the University of Washington, where she earned her law degree. Nogueira Maneman previously worked as a clerk for former Pacific County Superior Court Judge Michael Sullivan. She is married to Pacific County native Todd Maneman.
“I feel like when you see something done wrong and you have the power to do it right, you can’t complain about it unless you’re willing to act,” Nogueira Maneman said.
Nogueira Maneman said there is little compassion and efficiency in the prosecutor’s office. She calls for a more progressive approach to handling offenders through drug and mental health courts.
Supporting addicted, mentally ill people
One audience question focused on how each candidate would help stop addicted and mentally ill people from continuously relapsing and returning to jail. McClain noted that it takes six felonies for an individual to go to prison for a drug offense. He said the county’s drug court program is an early intervention program for individuals who are just getting into drug addiction. McClain also noted the county didn’t originally have a mental health program for offenders but now has a diversion program.
Both state and federal courts say jail time should never be considered for rehabilitation, Nogueira Maneman said. She questioned the use of the county’s drug court and mental health diversion programs, saying she doesn’t think McClain conforms to best practices.
“Mr. McClain might be the only person that I know of who thinks our Pacific County drug court is an early integration program,” Nogueira Maneman said. “That model is not available at state, national and local levels. As part of the drug court panel, I can tell you that we all operate under best practices because that is what the law requires.”
Weston agreed with Nogueira Maneman and further discussed how the court’s post-plea drug court requires individuals who enter the program to first be convicted of a crime. Weston also discussed a grant McClain turned down that he said would have benefited the county’s opioid addiction problem.
Another issue was how to handle jail crowding. Nogueira Maneman and Weston both focused on high bail amounts for low-level and first-time offenders who don’t pose a high risk to the community. McClain acknowledged that the jail that “holds 29 or so people” is routinely filled with 40 or more people. However, he said the overcrowding was not due to overly high bail amounts.
Audiences members also posed questions about the use of suboxone to treat opioid addiction, plea deals versus trials, and recent staff turnover in the prosecutor’s office. Four people, including Weston, have resigned from McClain’s office in the last few months.
Nogueira Maneman believes the prosecutor’s office lacks a vision in making decisions. McClain disagreed, saying that his office is focused on helping crime victims heal from incidents. Weston called for the office to exercise more discretion when deciding which cases to prosecute.