Legal Briefs – January 2022

Bill would create an alert system for missing Indigenous women

Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Anacortes, plan to propose a bill in the upcoming legislative session to create an alert in Washington state to help identify and locate missing Indigenous women and people.

The alert, similar to “silver alerts” for missing vulnerable adults, will broadcast information about missing Indigenous people on message signs and in highway advisory radio messages when activated, as well as through local and regional media alerts. The bill is House Bill 1725.

This would be the first alert system specifically for missing and murdered Indigenous women and people in the country, Ferguson’s office said.

Indigenous women and people go missing and are murdered at rates higher than any other ethnic group in the United States, the attorney general’s office said.

In Washington, more than four times as many Indigenous women go missing than white women, according to research conducted by the Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle.

“The rate of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Washington is a crisis,” Ferguson said in a release. “We must do everything we can to address this problem. This effective tool will help quickly and safely locate missing Indigenous women and people.”

“The unheard screams of missing and murdered people will be heard across Washington state with the implementation of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) Alert System,” said Rep. Lekanoff in a release. “Too many Indigenous mothers, sisters, wives and daughters have been torn from their families and their children raised without mothers. This crisis impacts every one of our families and communities and it takes collaboration among all governing bodies, law enforcement and media to bring awareness and stop these horrific crimes.”

The state Legislature created the Washington State Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force as part of the effort to coordinate a statewide response.

The attorney general’s office is facilitating the task force, providing staffing and support for its work. Lekanoff is a member of the task force’s executive committee.


Superior Court judge placed on leave

Benton-Franklin Superior Court Judge Sam Swanberg was briefly placed on leave after a former girlfriend accused him of harassment when she filed for an order for protection in December.

The case was filed in Benton County but is being heard by Spokane County Superior Court Judge Harold D. Clark III because Swanberg is a sitting judge on the local bench. The court issued a modified order that means he can keep working but have no contact with the former girlfriend.

Swanberg ended his marriage to the former Stephanie Barnard in early 2021 and dated Sila Salas, then 23 and a clerk in the Benton County Office of Public Defense. Salas complained Swanberg pursued her after they broke off the relationship in the fall.

Gov. Jay Inslee appointed Swanberg to the Benton-Franklin bench in 2017. He won his current four-year term in 2020.

He practiced law as a private attorney for 24 years in state and federal courts. He specialized in criminal defense, family law and domestic cases with experience in civil litigation.

He obtained his law degree from Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School.


Claims process open in $2.2M Greyhound settlement

The claims process is underway after a civil rights case against Greyhound Lines Inc.

Greyhound passengers detained, arrested or deported after U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents approached them, or boarded their Greyhound bus, at the Spokane Intermodal Center are eligible for a share of $2.2 million Greyhound paid to resolve Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit.

Claims are due by March 31.

Since at least 2013, Greyhound allowed CBP agents to board its buses to conduct warrantless and suspicionless immigration sweeps. Greyhound failed to warn customers of the sweeps, misrepresented its role in allowing the sweeps to occur and subjected its passengers to discrimination based on race, skin color or national origin, Ferguson’s office said.

Washington filed a civil rights lawsuit against the national bus line company in Spokane County Superior Court in 2020. As a result, Greyhound was required to change its policy and must deny CBP agents permission to board its buses without warrants or reasonable suspicion in the state of Washington, among other reforms.

Greyhound also was required to pay $2.2 million, which Ferguson is using to provide restitution to those affected.

The amount of restitution each person receives will depend on the number of claims and the severity of harms suffered due to Greyhound’s conduct.

Online claim forms are available at atg.wa.gov/greyhound in English and Spanish. Claim forms can be submitted online, by email, via WhatsApp or by mail.

The attorney general’s office is not part of the federal government and submitting a claim does not require you to disclose your immigration status or pay a fee.

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