Paula Wissel | KNKX

Paula Wissel

Law & Justice Reporter

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.

Paula's most memorable moment at KNKX: “Interviewing NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr about his ability to put current events in historical context. It’s something I aspire to.”

Ways to Connect

The facade of the building that housed the Fenix Cafe in Seattle's Pioneer Square crumbled following an earthquake Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2001, in Seattle.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press file

Twenty years ago Sunday, a 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit the Puget Sound region. If you went through the Nisqually quake, you probably have a story to go with it.

In this March 11, 2020, photo, a laboratory technician prepares COVID-19 patient samples for semi-automatic testing at Northwell Health Labs, in Lake Success, N.Y.
John Minchillo / The Associated Press file

The coronavirus variant that was first detected in South Africa has now been discovered in King County. It’s the first time the variant, which is more contagious, has been identified in Washington. 

Tonya Isabell speaks June 18, 2020, during a vigil for her cousin Charleena Lyles, pictured at right.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

The Washington State Court of Appeals says a lawsuit filed by the family of a Seattle woman shot to death by police can go forward. On June 18, 2017, Charleena Lyles was killed in her home by two police officers who said she had lunged at them with a knife.

Gavels and law books are shown in the office of California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George at his office in San Francisco, Calif., in July 2010.
Jeff Chiu / The Associated Press file

Hundreds of students, professors and deans at Washington law schools say recent graduates should be granted "diploma privilege" -- meaning they wouldn't have to take the bar exam to become members of the bar. The privilege was granted to students at Washington law schools last year, but the state Supreme Court has decided not to extend it for the winter exam this month.

Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

Early in the pandemic, King County worked to limit the number of people in jail as a way of preventing the spread of the coronavirus. To help meet that goal, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg pledged to limit case filings to the serious felonies. Now, the prosecutor has increased filings for a broader array of crimes. He says the growing backlog left him with no choice. 

Some domestic violence survivors say they face abuse in the courts, even long after they’ve severed ties with their partner. A new Washington law, which took effect Jan. 1, seeks to stop what’s known as “abusive litigation.”

The Associated Press

The demand for COVID vaccines is great - but the rollout here in Washington is slow going. It's been a month since the first shipment of vaccines arrived, and the state has only used a quarter of its doses.

U.S. Air Force Veteran Robert Aucoin, 78, gets his temperature checked prior to receiving his COVID-19 vaccine at the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke, Mass., on Dec. 29, 2020.
Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican via AP, Pool

Washington veterans homes are giving COVID-19 vaccines to residents and staff in the Puget Sound region this week, at facilities in Orting and Port Orchard. But David Puente, deputy director of Washington’s Department of Veterans Affairs, said at state veterans homes in other parts of the state, not everyone chose to get the shot.

Famartin/Wikimedia Commons

Employee break rooms can be danger zones when it comes to the coronavirus. Public health officials warn that the nature of the space and our behavior when we go on break make the spread of the virus more likely in a break room.

One of the glass works hidden in this year's Monkeyshines event.
Paula Wissel / KNKX

Author's note: I was reluctant to venture outside in the middle of the night with the rain coming down in sheets, knowing I’d be traipsing through muddy playgrounds and parks in the dark. But I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun doing a story. The “secretive” mission I was following was all about spreading a little joy to others. This was back in February, before COVID-19 took over our lives, and before we all realized how much we would need some of that joy to get us through dark times. (This story originally aired Feb. 11, 2020.)

The pirate ship display is among the most popular attractions at Fantasy Lights.
Fantasy Lights / Pierce County Parks

Fantasy Lights at Spanaway Park is attracting a record number of visitors this year. Jennifer Spane, Pierce County Parks & Recreation supervisor, says on weekends wait times can be up to three hours. She said the holiday tradition, now in its 26th year, is perfectly suited for a pandemic because it’s something you experience without ever leaving your car.

If you’ve seen Disney’s family film “The One and Only Ivan,” you know it tells the story of a lovable gorilla who lives in a shopping mall with other talking animals but longs to return to the natural world to be among other gorillas. As you might guess, he gets his wish. Believe it or not, the movie was inspired by real events that actually played out in our area, in south Tacoma.

Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times

The first shipment of COVID vaccine for Washington state arrived at Sea-Tac Airport Monday morning. For hospitals, it was a moment for some celebration.

John Locher / AP Photo

The attempt by President Donald Trump to overturn the election seems to have spurred interest among students in learning more about election law. A winter-quarter class on the topic at the University of Washington School of Law has double the usual number of registrants.

A tent stands at the emergency entrance to Seattle Children's Hospital. As health officials across Washington state prepare for the latest COVID-19 surge, rural hospitals face unique challenges.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

Rural hospitals are feeling the effect of the surge in coronavirus cases in Washington. Unlike earlier in the pandemic when urban areas felt most of the impact, this time small town hospitals are also being slammed with cases. And this is happening as some of the same hospitals are dealing with an influx of patients from out of state.

KNKX photo

King County will no longer be electing its sheriff. Voters approved a charter amendment that directs the county to appoint its top law enforcement officer. The County Council is planning how to go about making the change.

Charles Krupa / The Associated Press

Making the transition from being in the military to living and working outside of it can be challenging. COVID-19 has made it even harder.

When civic leaders wanted to tear down Pike Place Market in the 1970s, people rallied to save it. Pictured here is a demonstration from 1971.
MOHAI, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection, 1986.5.54096.1, photo by Tom Brownell

Sometimes in the heat of an election, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. But there are lessons to be learned from taking a step back and putting it in context.

An online exhibit at the Museum of History and Industry, or MOHAI, in Seattle does that. It looks at how democracy has played out in Washington state over the years, from how we cast our ballots to our use of the initiative process to our history of protesting.

Nurses put on PPE outside Harborview on April 2, 2020.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

A major expansion of Harborview Medical Center is on the ballot in King County. It’s listed as King County Proposition 1. If approved, the $1.7 billion, 20-year bond would pay for a new 10-story medical tower along with upgrades to emergency and behavioral health facilities, as well as earthquake proofing.

A flu vaccine is administered in Seattle in 2018.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press (file)

Have you gotten your flu shot yet? It’s something you hear every year, but this flu season public health officials are going the extra mile to convince you. They say a bad influenza outbreak could overwhelm the health care system, which is already stretched by COVID-19. This year, there are more flu shots available for free. 

Paula Wissel / KNKX

When was the last time you had to put your official signature on something? These days, we rarely have to use it. We aren't writing many checks and even when we have to sign for something, it's on a digital device where a squiggly line will suffice.

Maybe that explains why two-thirds of ballots rejected in Washington state, which is an all mail-in state, are because the signature doesn't match the one election officials have on file. The other third are because ballots were postmarked after the deadline.

People gathered on the East 34th Street bridge to remember the late Harold Moss on Thursday. The bridge was renamed for Moss last year. The Tacoma civil rights icon died Sept. 21.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Members of the community gathered Thursday to remember Tacoma civil rights icon Harold Moss, who died last week. Services were held on what would have been his 91st birthday.

People regard Moss as a trailblazer who fought, among other injustices, the discriminatory real-estate practice of redlining.

Thursday’s events included a socially distanced funeral with people in their cars, and a procession over the East 34th Street bridge, which was renamed for Moss last year.

A mural covers the boarded up windows of a business in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood back in April. State officials say economic decline brought on by the pandemic could be with us long after COVID-19 ceases to be a public health emergency.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX (file)

The state’s economic decline brought on by the pandemic could be with us long after COVID-19 ceases to be a public health emergency, says Lisa Brown, director of the Washington Department of Commerce.

If previous recessions both here and around the world are any indication, Brown says, it will be three or four years before the economy in Washington reaches its pre-COVID level. The state commerce department has created an economic recovery dashboard to track everything from taxable business income to food insecurity. 

Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler poses for a photo, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, in his office at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press (file)

If you’re trying to find an individual health plan because you lost your job, beware of scammers. That’s the warning from Washington’s Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. He says right now there are a lot of people desperate to find affordable coverage and they’re easy marks for con artists.

Washington Supreme Court Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis, left, reacts to applause after she was sworn in, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, in Olympia, Wash. Montoya-Lewis wrote the unanimous opinion calling for the Indian Child Welfare Act to be more broadly applied.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press (file)

A Washington Supreme Court decision saying the Indian Child Welfare Act should be more broadly applied is being called a big win for Native American rights.


Congress passed the Act in 1978. Washington state has its own version as well, called the Washington Indian Child Welfare Act. What the welfare acts do is require that tribes be notified and allowed to intercede in child custody or loss of parental rights cases if the family has any tribal relationships.


The unanimous opinion was written by Washington’s first Native American justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis, who cited the long history of Native American children being taken from their communities.

Adrian Florez / KNKX

The King County Prosecutor’s Office recently filed it’s 11th domestic violence homicide charge for the year. There were only four domestic violence murder cases all of last year. Calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which includes Washington state, also are up. Domestic violence experts say COVID-19 is making the situation for domestic violence victims worse.

Xuyen Le, Tommy Le's aunt, speaks while Sunny Le, Tommy's father, listens in the background during a news conference Wednesday at the Asian Counseling and Referral Service in South Seattle.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

An outside investigator presented the King County Council with a scathing review of the sheriff’s department on Wednesday, centered on its handling of the fatal shooting of 20-year-old Tommy Le.

Le was killed three years ago by sheriff’s Deputy Cesar Molina, who was responding to a report of a disturbance in Burien. Initial reports said Le wielded a knife in the incident, but the review concluded all he had on him was a ballpoint pen.

Police stand in a line on the streets of downtown Seattle during protests in May.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX (file)

The Seattle agency that investigates complaints against police is struggling to keep up with the volume of filings. Andrew Myerberg, director of the Office of Police Accountability or OPA, said there are 87 active investigations related to this summer’s protests. 


He said 80 to 90 percent of the complaints allege excessive use of force by police. Meanwhile, he said investigators are still handling their regular caseloads.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

In a mostly white neighborhood, you'll see phrases like "vintage charm" and "classic" when searching rental advertisements. In neighborhoods that are predominantly people of color, you're more likely to see an apartment advertised as "safe and secure" and "convenient transportation."

These are examples of what University of Washington researchers found when they analyzed a year's worth of rental ads for Seattle, Tacoma and Bellevue on Craigslist. 

Backpackers in the Central Cascades in August 2020. Search and rescue crews say more people in the outdoors means more calls for help.
David de Graaf

Search and rescue teams in Washington had their busiest July ever.

King County Search and Rescue conducted 43 missions last month. That's more than double the 20-a-month average for July. Olympic National Park has had 39 search and rescue incidents in 2020, 22 in July. That's up from the 17 incidents in July of 2019. 

Because rescue teams are stretched thin, crews say it's more important than ever that hikers and backpackers be prepared before heading into the wilderness.