Pierce County prosecutors have dropped a hate crime charge against a man who threatened a Tacoma police officer, and he pleaded guilty this week to other charges in the case.
The decision followed an argument between defense attorneys and prosecutors over Prosecutor Mark Lindquist’s public statements regarding the case, renewing a pattern where his statements to the media add a layer of controversy to proceedings.
Mark Tolson, 55, initially was charged with the state’s hate crime, malicious harassment and felony harassment after police arrested him July 16 for suspected domestic violence against an ex-girlfriend.
According to charging papers, as officers got ready to book him into jail, Tolson told one of them that the four Lakewood police officers killed in 2009 “got what they deserved” and that when he was released he would make the officer “like them.”
That was about a week after five police officers were killed in Dallas and the day before three others were killed July 17 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Pierce County prosecutors charged Tolson on July 20.
In his report on the incident, the officer wrote: “Due to the recent and increasing national threats and attacks on police officers, I perceived this threat to be viable due to Tolson’s violent criminal history and his clearly expressed racial hatred for myself and white police officers.”
In a press release the prosecutors office released the same day, Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said, “The officer took the defendant’s threats seriously because of recent events, and so do we.”
He made similar statements to local media.
KIRO-TV reported Lindquist as saying: “We have a situation here where the officer took these threats seriously and felt they were motivated by race, based both on the defendant’s comments, but also on this national atmosphere.”
A Mynorthwest.com story about the case quoted Lindquist as saying: “In light of recent events, especially the murder of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the Tacoma officer took these threats very seriously, and so do we.”
Lindquist also told that media outlet: “This is the first time that I can recall when a hate crime has been charged when the victim is an officer, and further the victim is white.”
Before Tolson’s plea, defense attorneys Alex MacDonald and Joseph Evans earlier this month filed a motion asking the court to disqualify the Prosecutor’s Office from the trial because of Lindquist’s remarks.
The request was based on a July 22 News Tribune story about Tolson’s case that included Lindquist’s quote from the press release.
It was followed by a paragraph written by the reporter that stated the hate-crime charging decision “stems in part from the national atmosphere after the recent killings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.”
The defense motion alleged misconduct by Lindquist, arguing he “implicitly acknowledged that part of the reason to charge this particular man was because of racial tensions throughout the country.
“This racial backlash stemming from police shootings, black shootings, and racial tensions that wrack the country is not an appropriate factor to consider when determining to charge someone with a crime.”
Deputy Prosecutor Patrick Cooper wrote the court that the charging decision was made by Deputy Prosecutor Hugh Birgenheier based on the police report and that the national atmosphere wasn’t considered.
Because of Tuesday’s plea, the judge never ruled on the defense request.
Lindquist faces three active bar complaints alleging his public statements before and during trial proceedings have violated rules of professional conduct for attorneys and endangered defendants’ rights to fair trials.
The most recent complaint, filed in May, refers to his statements to TV talk-show host Nancy Grace in the midst of a murder trial.
Asked why in Tolson’s case the charges were changed, prosecutors spokesman James Lynch said: “The charges reflect the facts and the circumstances of the case. The guy was very cooperative. He came into court and he apologized.”
In response to a request to speak to Raymond Odell, the deputy prosecutor who amended the charges, Lynch said Friday: “I couldn’t get you in contact with him today.”
In the statement to amend the charges, Odell wrote that: “The defendant has agreed to plead guilty to two crimes that will hold him accountable for his behavior.”
Tolson pleaded guilty Tuesday to the felony charge of criminal mischief with a deadly weapon and a lesser gross misdemeanor harassment charge.
Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend sentenced him to nine months in jail, as well as nearly nine months suspended, which means he won’t serve them if he maintains law-abiding behavior.