Community Post

Prob. Officer Arrested After Helping CD Youth

[Corrected title to say Prob(ation) instead of Parole]

Cross posted from Washblog article by Noemie Maxwell

Please come out and show support for Ms. Gaston.  Her arraignment is Tuesday, 10/28/08, (tomorrow) at 9:00 AM at the Seattle Municipal Court, 600 Fifth Avenue, Third floor, Courtroom 302 at 9 AM. Court Contact: (206) 684-5600.

Yvonne Gaston, a juvenile probation counselor, decided early this September to help one of the children on her case load get school clothes. “Little did she know,” writes James Bible, president of the Seattle-King County branch of the NAACP, that her attempt to help him would lead to assault of a police officer charges.”  James Bible describes what happened:


“Ms. Gaston has been a juvenile counselor for approximately 12 years.  She has helped hundreds of children follow the right path.  In early September she took a young man to Sears and helped him get school clothes with a clothing voucher.  When she dropped the young man off at 23rd and Jackson she felt good about what she had done.


“Within five minutes,  she received a frantic call from the young man.   He explained to her that police officers had stopped him, taken the bag from him and told him that he had stolen the clothes.  When Ms. Gaston talked to the officers on the phone the police responded by saying that the young man was “lippy” and that they were going to show him how they do it in the central district.


“Out of concern for the young man,  Ms. Gaston went to 23rd and Jackson to bear witness to what was occurring.  When she showed her badge and explained that the young man had not stolen any clothes, they forcefully grabbed her by the arm.   The final result of the evening was that the young man that had hopes of going to school in new clothes the next day found himself in Juvenile Detention overnight.  


“Ms. Gaston,  an African American juvenile probation officer of 12 years,  has always been there for the kids on her caseload.   She was not arrested on that night.   However, after she brought this issue to the public attention, she was inexplicably charged with assault.  I have not met a single defense attorney who has had a client who was alleged to have committed an assault against a police officer that was not arrested at the scene…..Until now.

“Please come out and show support for Ms. Gaston.  Her Arraignment is this Tuesday at 9:00 a.m.  at the Seattle Municipal Court.”

Two related articles: Police Racial Profiling is Increasing, NAACP says, Seattle PI, 9/29/08, Claudia Rowe.  NAACP: Racial Profiling on the Rise, Seattle Times, 9/30/08, Lornett Turnbull.

0 thoughts on “Prob. Officer Arrested After Helping CD Youth

  1. While I am outraged at how the young man and even moreso the probation officer was treated I question why this is a matter of race? Maybe it is, but this part of the story does not make it seem so. Can anyone clarify?

  2. Police probably would not have stopped the young man in the first place if he had not been black.

  3. Uh, something’s not right with this story. Did the kid have a receipt for his clothes? Whether you use money or voucher, you ALWAYS get one. What was the kid doing at the Sears long after the parole officer had helped him there?
    I’d like to hear the police side of this story. And please, don’t anyone call me racist, as has happened. I’m black and have had my own problems with the police.

  4. The clothes were bought for the youth by the parole officer. He wouldn’t necessarily have had the receipt on him. He was stopped for jaywalking. He was nowhere near Sears — he was near his school, where the officer dropped him off.

    I have never in my 47 years been stopped by the police and asked for a receipt on the street for purchases in a shopping bag. Nor would I expect to be. That would be beyond outrageous. Even if I were jaywalking (and I did get a jaywalking ticket once), why would a police officer suspect I might have stolen my purchase? Jaywalking is not unusual. Why on earth should I have to show a receipt? Why would they have a right even to look in my bag? I would never expect to spend the night in detention for jaywalking and being “lippy” — or talking back to a police officer. My goodness, this environment does NOT sound at all healthy for young people.

  5. I completely agree with Noemi. That is exactly the point. I, too, have jaywalked several times (oops) and even when there has been an officer that saw me. Never once have I had anything other than a “don’t do it next time”. This story is completely outrageous.

  6. Jack,

    He wasn’t near the Sears. 23rd & Jackson is a long way from any Sears. Also, it does not matter whether he had a receipt. If Sears had reported stolen merchandise along with a description of the boy, then police would have had probable cause to stop him. Nonetheless, this story is about the parole officer being arrested for assault, which really has nothing to do with whether the police had a reason to stop and question to boy. From the sounds of it, the police had no right to look in the bag, but that’s irrelevant to Ms. Gaston’s defense. I expect that charges against her will be dropped.

  7. I actually went to Municipal Court this morning to attend this arraignment. I was there for the entire session (various shoplifting, assault, and prostitution cases), and the case never came up, although it was posted on the docket outside the courtroom. Apparently it was somehow handled out of court but was not dismissed. Anybody know any further info about this?

    By the way, this “Part II” of this episode would never have happened if the boy had not been stopped, apparently without probable cause, in the first place.

  8. Wow that’s really great. I couldn’t miss work. I really want to know who the officer is. Seems like communication skills retraining is in order?

    I’m also upset at the impact that, a kid straigtens up, and gets to spend the night in jail.

  9. I would hope that the ACLU would get involved in this. If in fact this is a case of racial profiling, it shouldn’t be swept under the carpet by a judge (if that is the case), a hearing officer, or anyone else. Also juveniles can get an Avocate through Family Services. Any attorney worth his/her salt should be able to bring the cogent facts about the police tactics in this case. Furthermore, Ms. Gaston and the ACLU have an opportunity to show the public the outrageous response of some officers. New reports of Police excesses happen on schedule…seem to blow in with El Nino, or some such other enigmatic schedule.

  10. OK, I was going to stay out of this conversation, but there are a couple of points that need to be brought up.

    First, I would implore the readers of this fine blog to not devolve into Seattle PI-esque knee-jerk reactions. I’ve been reading this forum for a while and I’m continually impressed with the compassion, rationality, and genuine caring that is emoted through many posters’ writings.

    A couple misconceptions have been put out there by various sources that are being taken as truth, which have not been corroborated. Some misconceptions are outright, purposely deceptive.

    I need to make some mundane corrections to some of the preconceptions that are out there. They may seem like minor, inconsequential points at first, but they are important if you follow along with me.

    ***Probation vs. Parole…Adult vs. Juvenile***

    There’s a difference. Probation Officers work with either adjudicated or pre-adjudicated offenders that are not incarcerated (either jail or prison – I assume most know the difference between the two). Parole Officers monitor freed inmates AFTER they get out.

    Yvette Gaston is NOT a parole officer, she is a ***Juvenile Probation Counselor (JPC)***, and she has not been a JPC for 12 years. I was a JPC for 5 years, and haven’t been there for almost three. Gaston was hired after I left. Doesn’t add up to 12 years by my humble math. For King County, JPCs are “officers of the court”, meaning that they fall under the auspices of the King County Superior Court Judges. JPCs are not Law Enforcement. They hold not commission, limited commission, have no authority to effect arrests or enforce the law. This is why they are called ***Counselors*** instead of ***Officers***. JPCs also do not carry badges (which is a good thing since they have no law enforcement authority); they carry ID Badges…i.e. laminated nametags. The same ones that King County janitors and Metro Bus drivers wear. They are not a symbol of authority, they do not confer any special responsibilities or privileges. They are nametags. JPCs are responsible for interviewing clients, making probation recommendations to the court, and monitoring court orders for compliance. Unlike adult probation officers, they cannot take probationers into custody, immediately violate offenders, or make independent restrictions or modifications to a probationer’s conditions.

    Often times, JPCs are able to obtain clothing vouchers via juvie court funding and buy clothes/supplies for their probationers. The only authorized place to do that is Sears, and typically JPC’s will take their probationers to the Sears near S Lander St.

    As per multiple news articles, Gaston took her probationer to buy clothes, dropped him off at 23rd and Jackson, and then went home. Meaning, her day was done, she was not on the clock, and no longer acting as a JPC. An ordinary everyday citizen like you and me.

    Here’s where you will have to believe what you choose to believe…

    Gaston and the NAACP claim that her probationer was contacted by the police for jaywalking, which is a hot button issue, not just because the police can do no right when it comes to jaywalking (ranging from “Don’t you have anything better to do?” to “Police need to do their jobs and enforce jaywalking citations so pedestrians don’t get killed on the street!”), but because of past jaywalking incidents that get turned into perceived racial issues (the Asian students in the ID several years ago, the Black juvenile at Seattle Center who’s father rushed a female officer knocking her teeth out after seeing his daughter get led out of the street while jaywalking). Not necessarily true.

    From my understanding, and I would urge readers to obtain a copy of the incident report and read it for themselves, police responded to 23rd and Jackson for a 911 call stating that juveniles were in the roadway throwing objects at cars and hindering traffic. Gaston’s probationer was one of that group. Cops respond to 911 calls, that’s part of their job. Why was this “fact” left out of the news reports? My money is on the probationer refused to get out of the street, when directed to by the police. Since the probationer was contacted by the police, the police assume a level of liability for that subject’s safety during a police contact. The problem they were trying to solve? Kids in the roadway throwing objects at passing cars. The immediate public safety concern? Kids in the roadway. Solution? Get the kids out of the street before they get hit by a car. If the kid refuses to move? Move them. I could easily see how this could turn into a hands-on situation, and I can easily see how someone would want to turn this into a racial issue as the probationer is Black and the responding officers were White. Of course it must be racism.

    One media outlet reported that the probationer “had no criminal history”. Really? What do you think he was on probation for in the first place? Anyone that looked up that probationer’s name seeking criminal history will not find it because HE IS A JUVENILE. Not going to be a public record of that due to juvenile status.

    I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind here, but let’s look at this objectively. The vast majority of police officers now wears portable microphones and have digital video cameras in their cars. What do you think the audio and video recordings are going to reveal? What do you think Gaston’s demeanor was really like after she left home after her workday was done and rushed to a scene where she interjected herself (among a crowd of already aggressive onlookers?) into an already chaotic situation? I guess time will tell.

    Here’s another FACT, and I humbly think this one is where SPD made a mistake. Gaston allegedly punched the female officer that took hold of her arm to get her away from an officer that had her probationer in the back seat of the car. Not just a female officer, but a Sgt. Assaulting a police officer is Felony Assault, or Assault-3. I think SPD tried to extend some professional courtesy and did not take Gaston into custody, which now has come back to haunt them (i.e. Bible’s comment stating, “…I have not met a single defense attorney who has had a client who was alleged to have committed an assault against a police officer that was not arrested at the scene…..Until now.”

    If it is shown by testimony, video, or audio recording that Gaston did in fact assault the Sgt., then there should be Hell to pay. The assault charge was not “inexplicably charged.” It sounds like in lieu of a custodial arrest (Gaston going to KCJ for assault), she was released from the scene and the reporting officer recommended charges against her, which were later filed on. What is “inexplicable” to me is why this is being filed in Seattle Municipal Court as a MISDEMEANOR, when she allegedly assaulted (punched) a police Sgt. To me, it seems that Gaston got two HUGE breaks; no custodial arrest (I’m thinking this was a case of professional courtesy gone wrong – putting a JPC in jail would create some serious political tension between SPD and KCSC), and an assault charge filed in a lower court.

    I was proud to be a JPC when I worked for KCSC, and what chafes me to no end is that JPCs are supposed to be an example for their probationers. What example does this mess set for a probationer who has already been convicted of law violations?

    When I got in trouble with the police as a juvenile, the first words out of my Dad’s mouth were, “What did you do to make the police talk to you?” He didn’t say, “The police targeted you because you’re a minority.” It wasn’t about taking sides, the lesson my Dad was trying to impress was making me look at my own behavior and evaluate them against the consequences of my actions. This is a role that JPCs are supposed to take on when they commit to challenging probationers to take on more prosocial world views. What lessons do you think Gaston’s probationer took from this encounter?

    Gaston held a press conference with the NAACP standing at her back, turning this into a racial issue instead of a personal responsibility issue.

  11. The error in confusing probation and parole is mine — from my title in the original Washblog story (where I’ve now corrected it with an update.) I appreciate that correction and am embarrassed that I made the mistake. Assuming that “a little perspective’s” note on when Ms. Gaston began with JPC is correct, the discrepancy would only, again, be in my title. The article describes Ms. Gaston as a juvenile counselor for approximately 12 years and doesn’t specify what employers she’s had during that time.

    The start of “A Little Perspective’s” long comment, characterizing other people’s words as “Seattle PI-esque knee-jerk” indicate that this is likely to be a person with an ideological perspective. And so I view his or her comments, which are largely assertion and speculation without documentation (or sharing of his or her real name), with more skepticism than I otherwise would.

    Seattle is a tense place when it comes to law enforcement and race. When I first came to this city in 1989, one of the first things I saw was an incident where a crowd of young people on the street were yelling and throwing things and the police were responding. I thought these were race riots — as the youth looked to be all black and the cops looked to be all white. I soon learned this was in protest against the police dept.s response to a 3-page letter that Bill Wald, a member of the board of the Police Guild and a Seattle police officer had written to King County Executive, Ron Sims. In the letter, Wald, a 24-year veteran of the force, told Sims that blacks are genetically inferior, lazy and prone to commit crimes. The street protests came after what appeared to be a very lackluster response of the police dept to Wald’s letter. Wald took a short break and, on his return to work, stated publicly that “I came back to work with a clear conscience…” and “after observing the current state of the guild, decided to run for president.” This was an interesting — and distressing — introduction to Seattle for me.
    WALTER HATCH. Seattle Times. Seattle, Wash.: Aug 8, 1989. pg. A.1)

    Yes, that was 1989, 20 years ago almost (wow, time flies!) And, yes, I believe that personal racism among Seattle cops is probably rare and I acknowledge that the department has tried to remedy this and has made much progress. And I acknowledge that the police should not be blamed for what is a systemic problem. But it is important to recognize that there is good reason to suspect racial profiling with a story like this.

    If you search in the archives of the Seattle Times and, yes, the “knee-jerkish” PI, you can trace some of the history of attempts by the Seattle Police Department to reduce race problems. Racial tension even within the department was prevalent not so long ago — at least to judge from accounts that the white police and black police, for example, held their meetings separately and that until new leadership was brought in. I did my reading on this as part of research on Washington’s 3-Strikes law. The most common conviction under 3-Strikes, which requires a sentence of 777 years without hope of parole… is Robbery 2, a low seriousness crime under the criminal code at RCW 9.94A.515 (Level 4 on a 16-level scale of seriousness.) 45% of Washington’s 3-Strikes population is black — compared with a state population that is less than 4% black.

    The statistics on who gets arrested and convicted for drug offenses in Seattle — and how long the sentences for the same crimes are by race — lend considerable credence for me to the stories that I am told, not infrequently, by people who say they believe they were stopped/detained by the police — Seattle and otherwise — because they were black. Katherine Bennett, a University of Washington sociologist, has studied disproportionality in drug arrests extensively. Seattle is among the most disproportionate cities in the country. Her research showed that, in Detroit, 1.2 black people were arrested on drug charges for every 1 white person. In Seattle, there was a 10.7 higher arrest rate for blacks than for whites. (I heard Dr. Bennett present these statistics in a forum. I believe they are cited in this article: Drug Use, Drug Possession Arrests, and the Question of Race: Lessons from Seattle, Katherine Beckett, Kris Nyrop, Lori Pfingst, Melissa Bowen. Social Problems, Vol. 52, Issue 3, pp. 419-441).

    This disparity is not due to differences between the races in how many people use illegal drugs. We know that illegal drug use is about similar across the races, as established by a yearly survey by US Dept. of Health and Human Services. Here’s the table for 2004/05:

    In contrast to Mr. or Ms. Little Perspective’s comment that the probation counselor appears to have set a poor example for this youth — I would maintain that our inability as a society to fix these institutional problems create not only a bad example — but a very harmful environment — for young people – of all races. But it is a particularly harmful environment for young black men. People should be held responsible for their actions regardless of whether they happen in an unjust environment. But the question here, in other words, the public policy issue that we are looking at, is not the culpability of individuals — but whether we have a systemic problem that this story helps illustrate. I think the evidence is very clear that we do have a systemic problem — and that people still are not acknowledging that we do. How do we fix something that we will not look at?

  12. I appreciate the candor in which you write. I apologize for not using my real name, however I’d like to keep my anononymity as intact as possible, especially on an online blog. I began working with juveniles (minorities in particular) in 1992, because, like you seem to, believe that there are systemic problems with out justice system. I believe it best to walk the talk and work within the system to try to change it for the better, rather than pontificate and wring my hands form the sidelines. Iv’e seen the inherent racism within the system, and it does exist, I can tell you that with a certainty as a minority working within it. However, with King County especially (and I’ve worked in different cities and states), there is a systemic and cultural reverse racism in place – one that specifically targets minorities and young black men in particular.

    There is a fine line between enabling and empowering our youth; what I’ve seen over and over with juvenile court is an overemphasis on meeting required grant-funding outcomes instead of real progress and development with probationer’s lives and world views. I’ve also seen counselors and judges set limits and refuse to enforce them over and over and over again because the ADULT “feels badly” about holding a kid accountable, ESPECIALLY when it comes to minority youths – it makes the stats look bad when kids of color lose their deferred dispositions, or get sent back to secure detention for probation violations. This overemphasis on making the numbers fit and in many cases, completely enabling continued anti-social behavior in repeat juvenile offenders by NOT holding them accountable (i.e. – not following through on limits set) does nothing but reinforce negative behavior, further a sense of entitlement to do whatever one wants, and show that even adults outside of one’s own nuclear family who SAY they care don’t follow through and do what they say they are going to do.

    If you have kids, think about your own parenting style and think about what the negative effects are on your children when you don’t do what you promise, or set a limit and don’t enforce it. Same thing with probation, except that dollars are attached to it. You can still hold a juvenile accountable for their actions with compassion.

    However, let’s get back to the issue at hand. The juvenile probationer was stopped by the police – again, request a copy of the actual incident report to understand the underlying reason, I’ve already written about the event as I understand it. Like I said before, I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind here – people are going to believe what they choose to believe.

    Gaston took it upon herself to enter into a police contact and allegedly punched a police Sgt., after being told to get out of the scene. She allegedly interfered, and despite her alleged assault, was not physically taken into custody (Noeime, that is not speculation or guesswork on my end, I’ve already looked into it prior to my first post). What I WILL speculate on are the reasons why Gaston was not physically arrested, and that because I know how the backdoor politics of the county work – I’m not surprised AT ALL that JPC or her supervisor would immediately play the race card.

    The reporting officer recommended charges, and the prosecutor’s office believed there was enough information in the report to file charges. Based on that alone, there is much more to the story than Gaston and the NAACP presented, and of course it would not serve them well to have that part brought to light.

    I would implore people to seek out the information for themselves and not simply take a stance for or against Gaston or the SPD to fit it into your pre-existing ideology. I’m looking forward to see and hear what the video and audio recordings show.