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5 Question Friday With Attorney Chris Van Vechten

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There are few things that are worth what we pay. A good whiskey. A good cigar. A good lawyer. Chris Van Vechten may be able to give you suggestions for the first two, but for the last one, he does not have to because he embodies it.

I first encountered Chris Van Vechten when I read a Facebook post of his that I completely related to. It turns out that we have many similar sensibilities. I asked him if he would be willing to join me for Five Question Friday. Turns out he had a lot to say.

Here’s Chris:

1. What attracted you to practicing law?

For most of my life, the people around me said I would be a lawyer because “you like to argue” but I rejected that interpretation of myself and initially branched into other worlds.

My father was a professor of physics and electrical engineering who had once been nominated for a Nobel Prize in Physics.  He was also a one-term county councilmember, and a small business owner.  He had many admirers among the intellectual elite, and I grew up in his shadow, just as he had with his father and grandfather etc.  I felt a lot of pressure growing up to do something “big” with my life.  Seven years of higher education to wage war in a local courtroom doesn’t feel like much when your dad was head of research and development for IBM back in the 1970s.

So after graduating from the University of Puget Sound in 2007, I went to go work in the State Legislature, before trying to land a job as a lobbyist and ultimately assuming a role as a field organizer for the Democratic Party during Obama’s big wave in 2008.  After our victories, the recession was on full bore and I was extremely frustrated with myself for lack of opportunities, so I started an online newspaper with podcasts modeled after my old college radio show and started interviewing and debating interesting people like Tim Eyman and Krist Novoselic.  I thought I could make money off this by selling advertising.  I thought wrong.

By this point, I was pretty pissed off, so I decided to run for Tacoma Public School Board despite the fact that I didn’t go to school here, wasn’t a parent, wasn’t a teacher, and was only 24 years old.  I did a lot better as a candidate than one would think.  I raised more money than my 5 opponents combined, was endorsed by the teachers union and State Auditor Brian Sonntag, and finished 800+ votes ahead of the incumbent.  But I still lost.

Shortly thereafter I got married and my father-in-law was pressuring me to move out to Idaho to manage one of the three assisted living communities he had inherited, which was a dream opportunity for my new wife Jen.  So, long story short, I found myself living in an Alzheimer ward of my father-in-law’s memory care community in Twin Falls, Idaho….I had to get out.

Law School was my out, and I enrolled in the summer of 2010.  I enrolled in Seattle University because it was the closest law school to Tacoma, where I still plotted a school board run at the time.

2. Who is a typical client for you? 

My clients seem to represent every cross-section of our community. I’ve represented: professional athletes; politicians and elected officials; the homeless and the addicted; business owners and working class heroes; soldiers who serve our country, and immigrants – documented or otherwise – who seek to join it; high school drop-outs, college students, and fellow attorneys; people as young as 15 and as old as 81; residents of countless communities; the famous, the infamous and a lot of people who wish to remain unknown; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

But if you look at the statistics, the typical criminal defendant is poor – very poor.  And while that might suggest there is a connection between poverty and crime, I can assure you that drug addiction, domestic violence, sexual assault and theft are just as common in Gig Harbor as it is in Tacoma.  Go to divorce court if you don’t believe me.

The statistics reflect a conscious choice to prioritize prosecution of a certain socioeconomic demographic.  That’s not any one individual’s fault by the way.  We are all guilty of being complicit in this social arrangement.

3. What is the biggest misconception you feel people have about the legal system?

Boy, that’s a tough one.  I’m not sure I can say what is the “biggest misconception” out there among the public, but one thing that is gnawing at me at this moment is the word “treatment.”  Both the Left and the Right seem to be advocating treatment these days over punishment without actually articulating what “treatment” is or how it would work.

It has to be understood that at various times in our history, torture has been called “treatment” (aka, the burning of witches and heretics in the name of purifying their souls for the afterlife).  So while the sentiment might sound progressive, in practice, it would often times be more humane to take some of my clients out into the street and whip them rather than to force them into classes that don’t work and which they can’t afford, and then to periodically sanction them with jail for failing to make payments in these classes until jurisdiction runs out.

I had a client earlier this year who was released from jail and told to get (1) a domestic violence evaluation and comply with treatment (which no insurance or government agency will pay for and which was going to run him more than  $1200); (2) a chemical dependency evaluation and comply with treatment (for his drinking and heroin problems); (3) a mental health evaluation and comply with treatment (for his PTSD, the result of having been shot in Iraq); (4) to abide by a no contact order that forced him to shoulder the expense of renting alone; and (5) to not drive without an ignition interlock device and accompanying license and insurance (for the DUI he had picked up) which meant that his attendance at all these treatment hearings was contingent on him living on and securing treatment at facilities with access to the bus line.

For someone with so many problems and stuck in a system that doesn’t really provide the resources for this ordered “treatment” – the results were predictable.  He is now stuck in the cycle of being released from custody only to be arrested again and again for failure to “comply” with the court’s impossible orders.

However, in the broader sense, I don’t think people realize that the legal system is not designed to result in “all out” wins for one side or the other.  It’s designed to create so much pain and risk for both sides involved that a compromised settlement naturally ensues.  That frustrates a lot of people involved.

4. What common mistakes do you see clients making before talking to you?

They wait to their detriment.  They don’t understand that law enforcement is actively destroying evidence related to their case as the days go by, like video and 911 recordings that they are not required to keep if not requested within a certain period of time (click here to see a warning from Puyallup Municipal Court).  They don’t realize that memories are fading and witnesses are disappearing.  They’re hopeful the State will forget about them or not file charges and as the weeks and months go by that seems realistic until suddenly the prosecutor’s office decides to dig up something from the previous year and files charges.

There was a car salesman where I grew up whose slogan was “If you don’t come see me today, I can’t save you any money.”  Same is true for me.  If you don’t come see me today, I may not be able to save your freedom, future, or long-term finances.

5. You’re from Portland. You went to school in Seattle. Why did you choose to live and work here in Tacoma?

I never wanted to leave Oregon, but my father was third-generation University of Chicago and my mom attended Northwestern in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, so there was a lot of pressure for me to go to school in the Windy City.  I gave it a try for a year and hated it.  The Midwest didn’t agree with me.

My dad was a professor at Oregon State University and I could have gone there for $20 a credit, but I was stupid and fell for Princeton Review Rankings and so in the process of applying to come back to the Pacific Northwest, I only applied to “well ranked” and expensive schools like Reed College in Oregon.  The University of Puget Sound – which at the time was ranked on par with Harvard for academics – offered me a scholarship.  Honestly, I had never even heard of Tacoma before but I needed to get out of the Midwest, so I moved here in 2004 because it was close enough to Oregon to make feel “at home.”

My first year here was kind of a blur.  I had fallen in love with my best friend in high school and my affections were not reciprocated and combined with other problems I didn’t handle rejection as gracefully as I wish I could have.  So my first year in Tacoma I didn’t do much but try to rebuild myself.

My second year here, I attended a campus meeting of the Young Republicans (cuz why not) and listened to State minority leader Richard DeBolt ask the audience if they knew who their state representative was.  None of us knew.  He told us to go home and google it, find out and send them an email introducing ourselves.  And if they did not respond, run against them.

I went home, learned that Dennis Flannigan was my state representative, sent him an email introducing myself, and warned him I would file to run against him if he did not respond.  I think I was 20 years old then.

I got an email the following day telling me that Representative Flannigan “needed to see me” in his office immediately.  I was scared shitless.  I showed up in a three piece suit.  Dennis was wearing blue jeans and had a robot at the front door of his office named after a colleague in the legislature.  Turned out Dennis was a civil rights activist of historical significance who was familiar with the work of my great, great uncle Carl – who was a civil rights activist as well, though of a different sort.   “Now that I don’t need to worry about you running against me, how would you like to be my intern in Olympia?” he offered.

The internship changed my life.  It taught me the importance of community – something I didn’t really have in Oregon.  It introduced me to a fellow intern who three years later became my wife.  And it gave me a lot of confidence in myself.  It also rooted me in this community.  I went to Law School in Seattle, but commuted on the bus from Tacoma every day to do it.  I considered running for mayor of Seattle earlier this year, but decided it was better to stay in Tacoma.  I would rather serve in heaven than rule in hell.

 

I want to thank Chris Van Vechten for joining me for Five Question Friday. You can find Chris online at http://www.soundlawyering.com/.

If you think you or someone you know would be a good person for Five Question Friday, email me at jackcameronis@gmail.com.

– Jack Cameron

5 Question Friday With Tacoma Girls Rock Camp

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I was recently contacted by the good people at Tacoma Girls Rock Camp. They thought my readers would be interested in their program. I agreed. Here they are to tell you all about it.

1. What is Tacoma Girls Rock Camp?

Tacoma Girls Rock camp is a music education program for girl-identified youth. We are passionate about getting women involved in music and feel there’s a lot to learn in creative collaboration with others. The weeklong day camp provides group music lessons and the opportunity for each camper to play an integral part in the formation of a band and creation of an original song. Campers will also be exposed to workshops like: A History of Women in Music, Songwriting and Screen Printing. The program takes place from July 31st – August 5th, when the girls showcase all their hard work on stage for the community. (https://www.grctacoma.org/)

2. What is the background of the people putting on Tacoma Girls Rock Camp?

CasiCasi Brown: I grew up in the South Sound region playing the harp, obsessing about bands and taking 3 hour bus rides to to attend all-ages shows in Seattle. I was first introduced to the Girls Rock’n’Roll program in the summer of 2010 when I volunteered as a camp counselor with Rain City Rock Camp, where I fell in love with the program. I am passionate about building educated and empowered communities and see art and other creative endeavors as a great tool for positive social change. I organized Bellingham Girls Rock Camp as my senior project with Fairhaven College and am excited to be starting Tacoma Girls Rock Camp. We have a lot of great ideas and hope to become a central figure in the all-ages music community.

 

HarlieHarlie Jane Carter: Born and raised in Tacoma, I spent my high school years downtown at Tacoma School of the Arts, SOTA. This is where I first gained the confidence to express myself through many different art forms, from songwriting to photography. I went on to attend The Evergreen State College and discovered a passion for working with youth. I studied techniques for creative positive learning environments while working and interning within various elementary schools, including a year of service through AmeriCorps. I aim to to transform my love for music, this city, and education into a safe space for girls to step a little outside of the box and express themselves.

3. What should campers expect?

Campers should foremostly expect to have fun, form friendships and experience the challenges and rewards of creative collaboration. While our focus is music and the goal is to support campers in their band’s creation of an original song, we will offer other workshops like: screen printing, songwriting, a history of women in music – and are open to other ideas! We anticipate that most campers will come with no previous knowledge of music and leave having written, performed and recorded an original song.

4. How can people help Tacoma Girls Rock Camp?

If people like what we’re doing they can make a monetary donation,  lend us gear for the week of camp, or volunteer their time. All money will go to support the week of program, provide scholarships for campers and enable us to begin the nonprofit application process. All gear will enable us to instruct and empower the girls to form bands to write and perform an original song. In addition to instruments, we’ll need amps, microphones, microphone stands  guitar straps, chords, tuners… (https://www.grctacoma.org/instrument-donation/)

If you would like to volunteer your time we are looking for individuals take on full and part time roles like: camp counselor, band coach, roadie, instrument instructor, workshop leads, and morning rockstar. We are also offering high school specific volunteer opportunities for students ages 15-18. Positions include: stage design;  photography; design, marketing and social media management; audio recording. If you’re interested please check out this link (https://www.grctacoma.org/info/) or contact us with any questions at GRCTacoma@gmail.com

5. How can people sign up to be campers?

Registration is available for campers here (https://www.grctacoma.org/registration/). Interested youth should fill out the application with their parent or guardian and create a brief short story, comic strip or essay telling us why they want to be a part of our program and what their goals are for the week. The cost of camp is $350. However, we want everyone who want’s to be a part of the program to participate and will provide full and partial scholarships to make it affordable to everyone.

I would like to thank the people at Tacoma Girls Rock Camp for taking the time to join me for 5 Question Friday. Do you have a business, an event, a cause, or just a cool story you would like to share on 5 Question Friday? Contact me at jackcameronis@gmail.com

– Jack Cameron

5 Question Friday with author Erin Pringle

FullSizeRender (17)Welcome to 5 Question Friday where we ask someone connected to Tacoma 5 Questions. Today we have Erin Pringle author of a collection of short stories called “The Whole World At Once”. She is in Tacoma this weekend making an appearance at King’s Books and was nice enough to take the time to join me for 5 Question Friday. Here’s Erin: 

1. What is The Whole World At Once?
It’s a collection of strange short stories that trace rural landscapes and the varied experiences of loss and how that affects the way a person moves through the world and their relationship to themselves. For example, in one story, a girl’s sister disappeared from the agricultural fair a year ago, and was later found dead. IN the story, the girl encounters a carnie who has been shot in the chest. Even though he likely had nothing to do with her sister’s murder, she relives the loss of her sister through the encounter. In another story, a boy who served several tours in war returns to raise his kid sister, and starts planting and digging up landmines in the back yard as a way to cope with his life.

2. What is it that attracts you to the Northwest?
I grew up in the Midwest, in a town of 3,000, so all of the stories I’ve imagined taking place on those country roads. In some ways, what attracts me to the Northwest is that it is not marked by the grief I experienced in the Midwest, or that I situate there. My father, best friend, and sister died in the Midwest, and so it’s hard for me to return there physically. Living in the Northwest allows me the physical distance that seems necessary to have an imaginative connection to a place that hurts my heart. I guess the Northwest is kind of like an artist’s studio for me.

3. Can you tell us about your upcoming appearance at King’s Books?
Absolutely! I’ll be at King’s Books this Sunday at 7 PM. I’ll be reading two stories from The Whole World at Once, and then signing books afterward–or just talking with people if they don’t like to have their books signed. 🙂  The bookstore is opening special for the event, so it’s a great chance to relax within a busy Memorial Day weekend and take some space for new thoughts within the solitude that I think a bookstore brings.

4. Who are some of your favorite authors?
I have an affinity for Southern, lone women authors, I just realized the other day when I found the collected stories of Eudora Welty and immediately fell in love with her work. I enjoy Flannery O’Connor a great deal, too. Patricia Highsmith. Hemingway. Faulkner. Toni Morrison.  I also enjoy playwrights, too, with sharp, stunning language, like Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard.  My parents were born in the 1930s, and I think that has something to do with my being drawn to fiction written in that era. Of Midwestern authors, Sherwood Anderson is my favorite, or at least, his stories, Winesburg, Ohio, which is all I’ve read but felt fully understood by. I like authors who see the strange slants of the world and feel compelled to talk about them and find the beauty and awful in the hard routes our lives take–since so much of the world, outside of art, seems bent on covering it up or ignoring it or pretending it doesn’t exist. The same goes with poets, like Jack Gilbert and Walt Whitman, or visual artists like the painter Jenny Saville or the photographer Matt Black. Artists who try to show both the ugly and the beauty that flashes amidst it somehow.

5. What’s your next project?
I’m working on several. I have the first draft of a novel that I’m letting sit, which deals with a travelling circus and a mother who dies in the same way that my sister did. Then I have a memoir project composed of flashes of language that might be called prose poems. And I’m completing a draft of a new collection of stories that revolve around love and what it is. I’m trying to understand it after so much loss, because it seems like a phenomena that I haven’t understood before, or from my life as it is now, so I’m trying, through fiction.
Thanks to Erin for participating in 5 Question Friday. You can buy Erin’s book at Amazon.com at this link or better yet pick it up over at King’s Books this Sunday and meet her yourself. If you or someone you know would like to join me for a future 5 Question Friday, email me at jackcameronis@gmail.com
– Jack Cameron

Third Tacoma Homicide of 2017: Manuel Olmos Jr.

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On the evening of February 9th 32-year-old Manuel Olmos Jr. and a friend were at a fast food restaurant in the 2600 block of North Pearl Street. It was just after 8:30pm and they needed a ride. Manuel offered a 19-year-old man and his friends some money for a ride. This led to an argument. The argument got loud. At one point the 19-year-old said, “You want to get shot?” The manager of the restaurant then asked them all to leave. A few minutes later the manager heard gunshots. Manuel was shot in the neck. He died before he could be transported to the hospital.

Manuel Olmos Jr. is the third Tacoma homicide this year. Like the first two homicides it is a killing that makes little sense. While any loss of life is going to create a hole in the lives of dozens of people who knew and loved the victim, it seems especially disheartening when an understandable motive is non-existent.

Manuel’s wife, Megan wrote me and shared this about him )along with the photos in this post):
“Manuel is my husband, he has left behind me(wife), his 3 children ages 18(son), 5(Daughter), and 3(son), his parents, 3 brothers, and countless family and friends. Manuel was amazing, just amazing, a family man to the fullest, would do anything for someone in need and his kids were his world. He was so funny, life of the party very infectious smile and laugh. Words cannot express our loss and the holes we have in our hearts, I’m completely torn up over this and his kids have to spend the majority of their lives without him. Its not fair! But our babies will always know how great he was and much that he loved them.”
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It is the policy of TacomaStories not to mention killers by name. However, when the suspect has been identified but not yet arrested, we will mention him in hopes that a reader may have information that leads to the perpetrator’s arrest. 19-year-old Demetrius Jackson has been charged with second-degree murder and a warrant has been issued for his arrest. If you have any information regarding the whereabouts of Demetrius Jackson, please contact that Tacoma Police Department at (253) 798-4721.

As always, the comments section is reserved for those who knew Manuel and want to share their thoughts or memories of him. This section is moderated and each comment is approved before it shows up on the site. If a friend or loved one has a photo they would like to share of Manuel for this article, please send it to jackcameronis@gmail.com.

– Jack Cameron

 

Eighteenth Tacoma Homicide of 2016 William Edwards

In the early evening of December 19th, 21-year-old William Edwards was outside a convenience store in the 2700 block of South 12th Street. His girlfriend sat in a nearby car. He was there to buy an iPhone. He met up with two men outside the Central Tacoma convenience store.

The seller handed him the phone to look at it. William started backing away with the phone once he had it. One man grabbed him as William backed away. Court documents say that William became irate, grabbed the other man’s shirt and pulled out a handgun putting it to the man’s head. “Don’t ever run up on me.” He shouted, “I’ll f*cking kill you,”

William demanded the man give him his wallet. At this point the man reached towards his waist as if grabbing his wallet, and removed his own handgun from his waistband firing two shots at William. His girlfriend grabbed William’s gun and put it in a backpack. William was taken to the hospital where he was later pronounced dead. The backpack was found and his girlfriend was detained. The shooter remained on the scene and was questioned by police. No charges are expected as the circumstances show the shooting to be a matter of self-defense.

William Edwards is the eighteenth Tacoma homicide of 2016. It has been an especially violent year. The last time we had this many homicides in a year was 2006. It is difficult to say what, if anything, has led to the increase in violence. Often it turns out that the violence has not really increased so much as shootings one year are more accurate than another.

At TacomaStories we focus on the victim and insist that a man is not his last or worst actions. Unfortunately, William’s common name makes an Internet search for more information about him difficult. This is why the comments section is reserved for those who knew William who might want to share memories of him. All comments are moderated and approved before being posted. Also if any friend or family member has a photo of William they would like me to share, please email me at jackcameronis@gmail.com.

– Jack Cameron

Wednesday in the Park #4: Baltimore Park

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Which Park?  Baltimore Park

Who Or What Is It Named After? Baltimore Street

Where Is It? 4716 N. Baltimore Street

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Child Area? Yes

Bathroom? No

Amenities? Basketball Court

Overview:

At just under two and a half acres, Baltimore Park is the smallest park I have visited so far for these articles. In fact if you are driving down Baltimore Street towards the water you may notice as much of it is behind a large flat building that is the Ruston Senior Center.

Baltimore Park has been around since 1981. The play area for the children takes up a small corner of the park. It appears to be for smaller children. There big toys with tiny steps and a swing set.

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In another corner of the park you’ll find a paved basketball court with two hoops.

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The rest of the park consists of an occasionally tree-lined gravel trail around a large, flat grass field. The field would be perfect for kite-flying, playing soccer, or sun bathing. Of course since it is close to winter right now, none of that was happening during my visit.

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As parks go, Baltimore Park is about as basic a park as you can get. Nothing particularly good or bad about it. And with Point Defiance nearby this park is definitely a neighborhood park. If you’re here, you probably live in the area or you’re from the attached senior center or the VFW Hall across the street.

– Jack Cameron

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Next: Brown’s Point Lighthouse Park

Seventeenth Tacoma Homicide of 2016: Bruce Randall Johnson II

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38-year-old Bruce Randall Johnson II did not have a good day on November 30th. He had been fired from his job as a barber and Sam & Terry’s barber shop up on Tacoma’s Hilltop where he had worked for the last eight months. He had gotten into an argument with his wife in which he had locked her out of the house they shared in the 400 block of East 52nd Street. When police knocked on the door he did not answer. When the landlord unlocked the door, he and his two children, an eight-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son, were on the third floor. When a police officer came up the stairs, Bruce opened fire, killing him.

It is unknown what exactly caused Bruce to behave the way he did on November 30th. In recent weeks friends and coworkers say he had become increasingly volatile. In mid-November he was spotted dressed as a plainclothes police officer at the Tacoma Mall, wearing a Sheriff’s cap and carrying a rifle case. He had been fired from the barbershop for altercations with customers and disagreements with staff.

Multiple people who knew him called said that Bruce was ‘troubled’. We will likely never know the mental state he was in or what caused him to take the actions that he did. We do know that there were people who enjoyed his company.

During the eleven hour standoff, Bruce would refuse to leave the house, at times using his children as human shields, at other times firing his guns at unknown targets. At one point his son was near the front door and a SWAT team member removed him from the house. Near 3:30am, a Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy outside the house fired one round through a window killing Bruce Johnson.

Bruce Johnson is the seventeenth Tacoma homicide this year and the second police involved shooting this year. TacomaStories treats police involved shootings like we treat any other homicides. This is because we operate under the concept that no one should be judged by their worst actions alone.

As always the comments section is moderated and reserved for those who knew Bruce and want to share thoughts of memories of him.

If a family member or friend has a different photo they would like me to use for this site, you can send it to jackcameronis@gmail.com.

– Jack Cameron