THANKS IN PART to two men who have killed six people, life will get better for King County Jail's most violent and risky prisoners.
The county and dozens of its current and past top security risks, including fire-setter Martin Pang and killer cop Mathias Bachmeier, have reached a proposed settlement to insure more daylight and fresh air for ultra-security inmates at the aging Fourth and James lock-up.
Forcing a minor jail remodeling and guaranteeing at least three hours of outdoor exercise a week, the settlement stems from a 1997 class action lawsuit by Seattle criminal defense attorney John Henry Browne, who represented Pang, Bachmeier, and others.
Bachmeier and Pang, then confined to small cells from which they were sometimes released into an interior exercise area one hour daily, complained they spent months awaiting trial without seeing the light of day. Jail rules were being unfairly applied because they in particular were detested by jail staff, they alleged.
Pang, 43, is now doing at least 35 years in prison after confessing to first-degree arson. He set the 1995 fire at his parents' International District food warehouse that led to the death of four Seattle firefighters.
Bachmeier, 50, an ex-King County sheriff's sergeant, was convicted of the aggravated 1996 murder of a Preston man, James Wren, in an insurance scam cover-up. He is doing life without parole. Bachmeier also killed a man in a 1988 shooting found justified by an inquest jury but labeled a murder by some witnesses.
Neither killer will benefit from their lawsuit, since both are serving sentences in state prison. Their high-risk brethren, however, will soon begin to get a minimum of three hours outdoors weekly under the new program. That will rise to a five-hour minimum no later than December 31, 2000, once the jail's outdoor area is expanded and new security measures are in force.
The dispute had been set for trial until the county agreed to the proposed settlement, to be finalized later. The county argued that existing interior lighting and air vents were supplying the needed refreshments for inmates. One jailer noted that "except in the rare instances when the heating system fails, air flowing from these vents is not recycled air."
Officials said daylight outings were prohibited by the jail's design and the risk posed by some inmates. As one jail official says in a sworn deposition: A high-risk "inmate is somebody who just generally doesn't play well with others." He recalled a dispute among two inmates "selling wolf tickets back and forth to each other, which basically is, you know, saying, 'When the door opens, I'll kick your butt.'" In a subsequent bloody attack, one of the inmates forced open a magnetically sealed visiting-booth door where the other was meeting a visitor and assaulted him, despite being cuffed and chained. "A very powerful man," the official said of the attacker.
Not all inmates are happy with the daylight deal, however. Some, like Thomas Cady, want damages.
County officials say they're acting in good faith and will complete the remodel as soon as possible. However, a county legal source familiar with the settlement says it doesn't preclude inmates such as Cady from bringing individual lawsuits. "What the hell," says the official, "he can sue us, too."