by Janine Unsoeld
The Thurston County Superior Court trial date for Scott Yoos, an Olympia citizen accused of a felony assault against a police officer, has been scheduled for August 13.
Attorney Larry Hildes represented Yoos at the hearing held on Wednesday, April 18. Hildes took the Yoos case in February, and told Judge Carol Murphy that he needed more time to review his client’s information. Citing his existing workload and a recent vacation, Hildes said he had been unrealistic about the file he inherited from Yoos’ previous attorney and needed more time to gather information for the case. The judge issued an order of continuance.
Hildes submitted to the court a lengthy list of discovery requests, which includes disclosure of all police reports and logs related to the arrest, a map of the patrol area for the officer initially responding to the incident, and copies of all training materials for the police department on how to deal with deaf, hearing impaired and mute individuals, and disabilities of any kind.
Yoos, who pronounces his last name like “Yose” as in ‘Yosemite’ (National Park), is mute and typically uses a white board and marker or a pen and paper to communicate with other individuals. He can hear, and also uses sign language.
Before the hearing began, Yoos wrote a message to this reporter, saying, “… I’m hopeful and grateful that Larry and Karen (his wife) drove clear down from Bellingham.” About the new trial date, Yoos wrote, “We’re doing it several months in the future so that we have ample time to present motions.”
During the hearing’s time frame in which several other cases were heard before Yoos’ case, prisoners in bright orange jumpsuits, tightly shackled with handcuffs around the hands and chains around their waists and feet, shuffled forward to the podium with their attorneys and were greeted and questioned by the judge about their cases. One prisoner wore a grey t-shirt that read, “Thurston County Sheriff’s Office Work Crew Inmate.”
Yoos, who is free and wore regular clothes, communicated with his attorney using a white board and blue marker and frequently used a rag stuffed in his left side pocket to erase his messages.
The case against Yoos
According to police records, Yoos was initially cited for criminal trespass and obstructing justice on June 1, 2011 at 2302 Fourth Avenue, Olympia, at 2341 hours. The property is the site of Twister Donuts.
The case originally was to be heard in the municipal court of the city of Olympia.
In his police report, Officer Randy Wilson writes that he saw Yoos enter the parking lot and go towards the Dumpsters and a fence by Curtis lumberyard.
“By the time I entered the lot, Yoos was behind the dumpster. Yoos tried to leave and I physically had to stop him. I learned he used sign language, so I assumed he was deaf. I began to communicate via notepad. I wrote down he was being investigated for criminal trespass. Yoos got agitated and refused to ID himself. While writing with him, he tried to leave on his bicycle at least 3 times. We tried to get him off his bicycle and he resisted. He was taken down to the ground and handcuffed. I later learned from Officer Watkins that on 8/10 Yoos had been trespassed from the property by Officer Hincichs. See C&I.”
Copies of Officer Wilson’s and Yoos’ handwritten questions and answers to each other include: Wilson’s – “Do you have ID?” and “Write your name and birthday down” and Yoos’ – “What have I done wrong?” and “I threw away a bag, is that illegal? You’d rather I littered?”
According to the police report, Yoos is 5’9 and weighs 155 pounds. Police reports detail the incident and actions by the four Olympia police officers who responded to the scene, Officers S. Costello, Jason Watkins, and Randy Wilson and Sgt. Paul Johnson.
Officer Costello’s report indicates that Yoos was “using sign language in a way that looked like he may hit one of us. He was slapping his hands and motioning wildly at us. I summoned Officer J. Watkins via police radio because I know he can communicate using American Sign Language.”
Officer Costello’s report goes on to explain that use of force was used to take away Yoos’ bicycle and take Yoos to the ground: “I laid the bicycle down and noted that Officer Wilson was trying to take Yoos to the ground. He’d become resistive at that point. As I got clear of the bicycle Officer Wilson was trying to use an arm bar technique to get him to the ground. As he was going to the ground I grabbed his right wrist area. Officer Wilson secured his left arm and I grasped his right wrist. Yoos was rolling on the ground and was still resisting us. I used my right knee on his neck and applied pressure, keeping him on the ground. Officer Wilson was able to secure Yoos in his handcuffs.
Officer Watkins’ report states that he knows American Sign Language, “…but I am only conversational and not certified as an interpreter or anything else.” He describes helping Officer Costello with standing Yoos up and subduing Yoos when he continued to resist the officers.
The Watkins report reads, in part: “While Officer Costello was searching Yoos I maintained downward preassure (sic) with my right arm along the upper portion of Yoos’ torso in order to keep him in the bent position and a position of disadvantage because he had been actively resisting. Yoos tried standing straight up a couple of times but I was able to maintain control of him. Yoos was screaming but not saying anything while he was being searched….”
Watkins later writes, “Yoos was placed into a temporary cell in preparation for booking and I re-contacted him there….I asked Yoos if he could hear and using only sign language he told me he was hard of hearing and in 1984, he suffered a head injury that made it so he was mute. Yoos told me he signed using English sign language rather than American Sign Language which is what I’m familiar with but we were still able to communicate…. After I had cleared the Jail I was later called back by Corrections Officer Johnson.
When I arrived Yoos had been released and was just outside of the Jail’s parking lot. I was told Yoos needed clarification regarding he had to go to court services tomorrow at 0830 hours, to obtain a court date and that is what I explained to him again using both my voice and sign language.”
Report by Sgt. Paul Johnson
According to a report, City of Olympia Sgt. Paul Johnson is the one who accuses Yoos of kicking him. His report is dated June 27, 2011. The incident occurred on June 1, 2011.In part, his report reads, “Officer Costello transitioned to a gooseneck counter joint technique and applied pressure. Yoos at this point lunged toward me lifting his foot impacting my left thigh. The impact pushed me back at which point Yoos using the same foot kicked the headlight of a nearby patrol car attempting to break it. I advised the officers I was fine and suggested taking Yoos to the hood of patrol car. Yoos’ upper torso was then forced down onto the hood of the vehicle and was re-secured in handcuffs.” According to the report, Yoos was then transported to the Olympia police department for processing, booked, and released.
As a result of Johnson’s report, Yoos’ case was bumped up to the Superior Court of Washington in Thurston County. In a document dated August 8, 2011, Yoos was charged with three counts: assault in the third degree, a Class C felony; criminal trespass in the second degree, a misdemeanor; and resisting arrest, also a misdemeanor.
Yoos’ supporters speak out
In Wednesday, friends and supporters of Yoos met at the courthouse prior to the hearing to express their support for Yoos. About a dozen went into the courtroom with Yoos to witness his pre-trial hearing.
Yoos supporter John Newman said, “Being charged with assault at taxpayer’s expense is unjust. Scott’s been a great local volunteer in the city of Olympia for several nonprofits. I think he was innocent and wanted to go home.”
Aaron Zanthe also expressed support for Yoos. “I’m definitely supporting Scott. I’m a friend and an advocate for people of neurodiversity. He came to a community event I organized. I find his story very moving. I’m well-adjusted to listening to stories of people who face abuse and aren’t capable of defending themselves, and this is reflected in my work. I find it distressing that Scott was assaulted by anyone, especially those entrusted with public safety and that his sign language was interpreted as a sign of aggression.”
After witnessing the hearing, supporter Chris Stegman said, “The whole thing reeks of an unjust system gone awry, a cover up of police misconduct and an overreach of authority and inappropriate detention, the threat of which is what led Scott to try to escape the scene in fear for his safety. How would it feel to the average person to be detained by up to four armed police officers at 11 pm in a dark alley out of public sight, all for throwing some paper napkins in a city of Olympia Dumpster? I’m ready to peacefully riot if this case goes through and he gets convicted of any felony, for resisting arrest, obstruction of officers’ duties, or whatever. This is a gross miscarriage of justice that it has gone this far without being dismissed.”
An interview with Scott Yoos
After arranging for an interview time and place through text messaging and email, I sat down with Yoos for an in-person, hour long interview today. I asked him about the police reports, showed him specific passages I had questions about, and asked him for his thoughts.
The process was time intensive, as I do not know sign language. I had to be patient and let Yoos write his answers to my questions, and not interrupt him if I thought I knew what he was going to write. A few times, I did interrupt. Sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn’t. Yoos often nodded and laughed if I guessed what he was going to write. When I didn’t guess correctly, Yoos seemed to hide what he was writing until he was finished, then showed me his complete thought. He used two full sized pieces of paper and covered both sides, twisting and turning the pages around, covering the white space.
This is what we were able to accomplish:
I looked at Yoos directly and asked him if he was hard of hearing. He wrote, “Never. I’ve been mute since 1984 due to a severe head injury.”
I referred to Office Watkins’ report where Watkins wrote, “I asked Yoos if he could hear and using only sign language he told me he was hard of hearing and in 1984, he suffered a head injury that made it so he was mute. Yoos told me he signed using English sign language rather than American Sign Language….”
In response, Yoos wrote, “He misinterpreted my sign – I’m most comfortable with S.E.E., not A.S.L.”
Yoos then wrote, “There is really so much to say. I’ve been stewing in this for nearly a traumatic year.”
Yoos pointed out the words Officer Costello used in his report, “He was slapping his hands and motioning wildly at us.” In response to this, Yoos wrote, “I really resent their choice of words. Anything to make me sound crazy and violent. I was merely trying to communicate via sign.”
Yoos also took issue with Officer Costello’s report and the words, “I laid the bicycle down…” In response, Yoos wrote, “He tore my bike from underneath me and threw it to the side.”When I asked Yoos why he and Officer Wilson shared the same notebook, Yoos wrote, “They took my pen.”
When I asked Yoos how long it took for Officer Watkins, who knew sign language, to arrive to the scene and if he helped, Yoos wrote, “By the time he arrived to “help” I was handcuffed.”
Yoos also wrote, “What happened to me that night was entirely undeserved, and too many half-truths and bald faced lies have been told about my behavior, to allow it to remain unchallenged. This is why we need to push for video surveillance of arrests. There needs to be something to “police” the police! It’s a matter of public safety. I believe that video coverage would have entirely vindicated me and would have gotten the O.P.D. (Olympia Police Department) in trouble.”
Yoos also wrote, “I’d like to point out/emphasize that I was merely a bicycle commuter headed home. I was wearing a reflective orange vest and had a red blinking light on the rear of my bike. If I’d been doing something criminal, I wouldn’t have been dressed to be seen!”
Finally, Yoos wrote, “I’m so grateful for your interest! There are so many people and things which I love about this town. A militarized police force and their stormtrooper mentalities is not one of them!”
Yoos also wrote that he has a support group address on Facebook (Scott Yoos Legal Defense Fund) and wanted me to include that information in my article:
A legal defense fund has been set up to cover attorney’s fees for Yoos’ defense. Donations can be endorsed to “Scott Yoos – LDF” and walked in or mailed directly to: Scott Yoos — Legal Defense Fund, c/o Washington State Employees Credit Union, 2302 Harrison Ave NW, Ste 201, Olympia, Washington 98502. Donations can also be made online at www.donatepay.org/scottyoos.
Supporters say 100% of the amount donated will go to the Scott Yoos Legal Defense Fund.
Supporters have also organized a fundraiser for Yoos on Sunday, May 20th at 7:00 p.m. at Traditions Fair Trade, 300 5th Avenue, in downtown Olympia, for an event with singers, spoken word artists, and musicians. Pie and food will be provided available for donations.
Janine Unsoeld is a longtime activist in SPEECH and editor of Green Pages.
Article orginally printed in Janine’s Little Hollywood at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com