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EDITORIAL: Public needs to see security camera video that resulted in dismissal of criminal trial

  • Written by Sharon Kivisto

The next episode of what has turned into a national story, takes place at 2 p.m. Tuesday, February 12 in San Juan County District Court in Friday Harbor. At that time, Judge Don Eaton, who is filling in for newly elected District Court Judge Carolyn Jewett, will hold a hearing before deciding if he will unseal a video.

Screenshot of juror's notebook.

The video shows the District Court security camera zooming in on a juror's notebook, the prosecutor's exhibit and the defense attorney's notes during a trial Thursday, January 31, 2019. The controls for the camera are in the Sheriff's Dispatch office. Sheriff Ron Krebs gave conflicting testimony about how  he manipulated the controls. (Verbatim testimony can be read in a brief filed by attorney Stephen Brandli.) 

Kreb's conflicting testimony, which undermined his credibility,  most likely was the reason Judge Eaton found government misconduct and dismissed the trial with prejudice. Lopez Island resident Dustin Schibel was on trial for on charges of  4th-degree assault, harassment, and first-degree criminal trespass. The case cannot be retried. 

The absurdity of having a security camera, manned by the Sheriff, zooming in on a defense attorney's papers has made San Juan County a laughing stock nationwide. The story was picked up by the Seattle Times, AP, King5, KOMO, Channel 13, thehill.com, and more.

The public has the right to view the video and determine for themselves if this is much ado about nothing or egregious troubling behavior. 

This is the second time Judge Eaton has found government misconduct involving the Sheriff's office. The last time involved disgraced detective Stephen Parker. Statements by Krebs and county Prosecutor Randy Gaylord to the county Council about the thoroughness of the background check on Parker strained credibility. 

Before we end up with a third black mark on our system of justice in San Juan County, we need a thorough investigation. 

How long has the camera with the zooming feature been in service in District Court? (The one in Superior Court does not have this feature.)

Where can the images from the camera be seen? The only reason we know about this zooming event is because San Juan County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Loring happened to be near a monitor showing the camera and saw the disturbing video. She had her assistant inform Judge Eaton. 

Has this happened before and would we know if it had?

Are the digital files kept as public records?

The public has the right to have confidence in its law enforcement system. This incident and the Parker mess has shaken that confidence in many of our citizens. Let's do the right thing and not gloss over these incidents. If something needs to change, we need to know.