Austin Jenkins | KNKX

Austin Jenkins

Olympia Correspondent

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.

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Accused in a House investigation of participating in an act of domestic terrorism, Washington state Rep. Matt Shea of Spokane Valley defiantly returned to the Capitol on Monday -- spurning calls for him to resign -- and declared: "I'm not going to quit, I'm not going to back down."

When Washington lawmakers convene a short, election year session on Monday, they’ll confront a range of issues from homelessness to gun control to whether to expel state Rep. Matt Shea.

But first, the 60 day session will begin with a historic vote and swearing-in ceremony of Democratic state Rep. Laurie Jinkins. She will become the state’s first woman speaker of the House and only the second openly lesbian House speaker in the nation after Oregon’s Tina Kotek.

Just before 3 a.m. on Feb. 27, 2019, an overnight caregiver woke up Marion Wilson, a developmentally disabled 64-year-old, so that she could be given a second round of colonoscopy prep medication.

Wilson, who relied on a wheelchair and was said to have the intellectual capabilities of a five-year-old, was scheduled to have the procedure later that same morning. After escorting Wilson to the bathroom, a second caregiver went to the kitchen to retrieve the remaining half gallon of bowel prep that Wilson was supposed to consume prior to the procedure.

But instead of retrieving the GoLYTELY solution from a “squared-off” plastic jug in the refrigerator, it’s believed the caregiver grabbed a round, gallon-sized jug of Heinz All Natural Cleaning Vinegar.

Lorenzo Hayes, 37, was brought to the Spokane County Jail on the morning of May 13, 2015 for violating a domestic violence no contact order.

As officers escorted Hayes to a holding cell, there was a struggle. Jail staff took him to the ground and then placed him in a restraint chair. At some point, he stopped breathing.

Responding firefighters and paramedics performed CPR and got a heartbeat back, but Hayes later died at the hospital.

The recently released 108-page investigation detailing Washington state Rep. Matt Shea’s connections to militia groups and extremist activities has prompted his own caucus to exile him and the House Republican leader to call for Shea’s resignation.

In response, Shea took to Facebook to denounce the investigation as a "sham" and declare: “I will not back down, I will not give in, I will not resign.” Shea has also said that all of his communications have been lawful.

The top-line conclusions of the investigation are that Shea is a prominent leader in the Patriot Movement, played a role in planning three armed conflicts in the American West, including the 2016 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, and that his actions have put law enforcement officers in danger of political violence.

Buried in the report are a number of details and revelations that give readers an inside look at how Shea reportedly operates behind the scenes. It’s a world of code names, encrypted communications and military-style directives.

Here are 15 easily-missed excerpts:

State Rep. Matt Shea speaks at a 51st state rally in the Capitol in February.
Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

The top Republican in the Washington House of Representatives is calling on state Rep. Matt Shea to step down following the release of an explosive independent investigation that alleges Shea, a Spokane Valley Republican, is a “prominent leader” of the Patriot Movement who engaged in “irresponsible and possibly illegal activities.”  The investigation alleges Shea played a role in three armed conflicts.

In a 7-to-2 decision, the Washington Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that individual state lawmakers are subject to the state’s Public Records Act (PRA) and therefore must disclose records such as emails and calendars. 

In doing so, the high court upheld a lower court ruling and delivered a significant victory to media outlets that sued over access to lawmaker records. 

The public radio Northwest News Network was a plaintiff in the lawsuit which was led by the Associated Press. 

The Medicaid fraud division of the Washington Attorney General’s office is conducting a criminal investigation into the death of a developmentally disabled woman who died last February in Spokane.

The existence of the state’s investigation, which began in August, has not been previously reported. The Spokane Police Department said it contacted the Attorney General's office after deciding not to investigate the case itself. That decision came after the Spokane County Medical Examiner ruled the death an accident. 

In a barrier-breaking appointment, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has selected a Whatcom County judge to serve as the first known Native American justice on the state Supreme Court since its founding in 1889.

Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis, 51, who is an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Isleta tribe of New Mexico, will replace Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst when she retires in January.

In the shadow of Washington’s Capitol dome is a broad boulevard -- called Deschutes Parkway -- with a popular walking and running path that curves along Capitol Lake and links the city of Olympia to the neighboring city of Tumwater.

The parkway, the adjacent lake and nearby Marathon Park are technically part of Washington’s expansive Capitol campus complex.

It’s along this picturesque stretch of road, where parking is not restricted, that in recent months motorhomes, trailers and campers in various states of disrepair have begun to take up residence.

As families of people with developmental disabilities in Washington struggle to get access to state-paid services, there’s a renewed push to link funding increases to growth in population.

Currently, nearly 14,000 people who meet the state’s criteria as developmentally disabled are not receiving services. They’re on what’s known as the no-paid services caseload.

The state of Washington has agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of a 29-year-old man who died by suicide in an isolation cell at the Airway Heights Corrections Center near Spokane in May 2014.

The settlement was announced Wednesday by the Galanda Broadman law firm in Seattle which represented the estate of Morgan Bluehorse.

Washington voters have said “no” to an effort to restore affirmative action in the state.

The Associated Press declared Referendum 88 rejected late Tuesday afternoon, one week after Election Day. Soon after, the pro-affirmative action Washington Fairness Coalition sent out a concession statement.

Keiro Northwest Rehabilitation and Care Center is one of nearly 20 skilled nursing facilities to close in Washington over the past nearly three years.
Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

In response to a rash of nursing home closures in Washington, a Republican state senator is calling for an increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates and other steps to stave off additional closures.

“We are in a crisis of skilled nursing facilities and beds,” said Sen. Steve O’Ban, a Pierce County Republican.

In a potential rejection of a vote earlier this year by state lawmakers, Washington voters on Tuesday evening were narrowly saying “no” to restoring affirmative action in the state.

The vote to reject Referendum 88 and overturn Initiative 1000, the affirmative action measure that previously passed the Legislature, was 51 percent to 49 percent as of 10 p.m.

In this April 18 file photo, former Washington governors (from left) Dan Evans, Chris Gregoire, and Gary Locke sit together before testifying in favor of Initiative 1000 before a joint Washington state House and Senate committee in Olympia.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

In 1998, Washington voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 200, which effectively ended affirmative action in the state.

Now, 21 years later, voters in the Nov. 5 general election will once again have a chance to weigh in on the issue. The vote will test whether attitudes about affirmative action have changed over the past two decades.

When the highest ranking African American woman in the Washington State Patrol abruptly retired in August, she was lauded as a “trailblazer” who had risen to become the first black woman sergeant, lieutenant and captain in the history of the nearly 100-year-old agency.

The day the brand new Mason County, Washington jail opened in 1985, it was already full. The previous jail on the top floor of the courthouse held just over 40 inmates. The new facility wasn't much bigger.  

Nearly 35 years later, the one-story cinder block jail located in the town of Shelton now holds about 90 inmates on any given day. A few years back, as many as 150 people were crowded into the facility.

Tarra Simmons, an attorney who previously served time in prison, plans to run for the Washington Legislature.
Courtesy of Tarra Simmons

A Washington attorney and criminal justice reform advocate who previously served time in prison is seeking to become the first formerly incarcerated person elected to the Washington Legislature, at least in modern times. 

Tarra Simmons, of Bremerton, who in 2017 won a Supreme Court fight to sit for the state bar exam, despite her prior criminal conviction, formally announced her candidacy for the state House on Monday.

The chief justice of the Washington state Supreme Court, Mary Fairhurst, will retire in January as she continues to battle her third bout of colon cancer since 2008. 

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Fairhurst said: "It is with a clear head and a sad heart that I have made the decision that it is time for me to leave the Court."

For years, families of the developmentally disabled in Washington and their advocates have been frustrated that services in an institution, like one of the state’s Residential Habilitation Centers (RHCs), are an entitlement, but services in the community are not.

MaryAnn Brookhart remembers the day in 1964 when her parents dropped off her 12-year-old brother, Gregory Paul, at the Rainier School for the developmentally disabled in Buckley. She was 17 and had insisted on riding with them.

Last winter, Anthony Hill and his wife Anita came to Washington state from Michigan to gather voter signatures for I-1000, an initiative to the Legislature to restore affirmative action.

Hill, who is African American, said he believed in the cause, but this wasn't a volunteer effort. He and his wife were among nearly 300 paid professionals who gathered a record 394,716 signatures in nine weeks.

This January, Carolyn Guinotte took her son Alan to the emergency room because he was unable to go to the bathroom. Alan is 30 years old, autistic and mostly non-verbal. But when it was time for Alan to get out of the hospital, Guinotte and her husband said they couldn’t take him back. 

Dawn Akerman and her brother Fred pose while having lunch together before he returned to the hospital in June.
Courtesy of Dawn Akerman

Editor's note: Olympia correspondent Austin Jenkins first reported this story Monday. Today, he talked in more detail about it with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick. Listen to their conversation above, read his in-depth story below, and  listen to his on-air feature here

In recent months, court commissioners on both sides of the Cascades have found the state of Washington in contempt, and even imposed fines, over access to state psychiatric care for people with severe developmental disabilities.

In recent months, court commissioners on both sides of the Cascades have found the state of Washington in contempt, and even imposed fines, over access to state psychiatric care for people with severe developmental disabilities.

In this photo, Christopher Davis, who is autistic and nonverbal, is shown restrained to his hospital bed in Spokane. He has been hospitalized for more than eight months without a medical need to be there.
Courtesy of Deborah Davis

Editor's note: This story originally published Aug. 29. Olympia correspondent Austin Jenkins talked more about it on Morning Edition with Kirsten Kendrick. Listen and revisit in-depth reporting from Jenkins. 

Christopher Davis was lying on the floor watching cartoons one night last December while his mother, Beverly, decorated her Spokane home for Christmas.

From time to time, she showed him a decoration. But Christopher, a 46-year-old developmentally disabled man, just pushed them away.

“It’s going to be OK, Chris,” his mother recalled telling him that night. With that, she says, Christopher stood up, picked her up and tossed her across the living room.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will run for a third term, seeking to become only the second governor, and the first Democrat, in state history to serve three consecutive terms. 

The state of Washington is canceling two more contracts with a troubled provider of in-home care to people with developmental disabilities in Spokane County.

The Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) announced the contract terminations Tuesday, the same day the state placed Aacres Washington LLC (Spokane) and Aacres Washington LLC (Spokane County #2) on provisional certification status “based on serious non-compliance with the law and regulations.”

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