In 2005, information technology consultant James E Simmons III came to Seattle to perform contract work for a large local company using his experience with IT security compliance that, at the time, was a highly prized skill set that kept him busy with contract engagements all over the US.
All that changed in November of 2006 when Simmons was violently arrested and injured by now-former King County Deputy James Schrimpsher on allegations that Simmons was seen selling crack at two different bus stops, including one bus stop that apparently doesn’t even exist.
Even though the suggestion that a highly-paid professional with everything to lose would be selling crack at bus stops would seem suspect on the face of it, Simmons was still convicted in 2007 of possession with intent to distribute despite a lack of any evidence.
Indeed, that conviction appeared to have solely depended on the word of deputy Schrimpsher himself who, unknown to all involved in the case at the time, was under investigation during the trial for another questionable drug arrest he made just one month after he arrested Simmons… an arrest that would ultimately cost him his job in December of 2007 after a year-long investigation that eventually found that he had lied about the arrest.
Despite the fact that the findings of dishonesty against Schrimpsher forced King County prosecutors to dismiss similar charges against another person Schrimpsher had arrested, they never reviewed the highly questionable arrest of James Simmons and, by the time we originally wrote about the story in April of 2009, James had already served one year in prison and was left homeless and destitute after his long legal battles and appeals… and the conviction on his record was holding him back from finding employment and rebuilding his life again.
Schrimpsher, however, had no problems moving on to yet another job as a cop with the Algona Washington Police Department where he was hired despite being fired for dishonesty in King County and for having a questionable history in Phelps County Missouri before that, where he was the subject of at least two excessive force lawsuits and had been in trouble for mishandling evidence prior to signing on in King County Washington.
Hopefully, though, at least some of that story may be changing soon.
A few months after we first published the story of James’ arrest we were contacted by Gary Preble with Preble Law in Olympia Washington who was interested in finding out more about the Simmons case. Luckily, despite difficulty getting a hold of James because of his homelessness, we were able to get James in touch with the attorneys and, in December of 2009, Gary Preble, with assistance from attorney Chris Morales, filed a motion to vacate James’ conviction.
While it was apparently too late for them to build a case for a civil suit by the time the started looking into it since the statute of limitations had expired as of November 2009, the King County Prosecutor’s Office decided not to challenge the motion to vacate and, instead, has filed to dismiss the conviction against Simmons with prejudice.
Local attorney, Aaron Pelley with The Pelley Law Group, explained what this means for James.
Essentially, says Pelley, while dismissing the conviction with prejudice has the same effect as vacating the conviction as it means that, basically, as far as the courts are concerned he was never convicted and that, since the motion is with prejudice, he can never be tried over the same incident again. It doesn’t clear his record of the arrest and charges themselves, though, it may clear the way to have those expunged from his record too… which is something Pelley is meeting with James to discuss doing for him.
Gary Preble, the attorney who took up James’ case, says “We took this case because it appeared to be a clear injustice.” While Preble normally handles CPS cases and doesn’t do many criminal defense cases anymore, he was struck by James’ credibility and character when they met to discuss the case. “When I met with James… he was clearly a victim of injustice and very credible… I took this case because I believed we had a good chance of prevailing.”
While James is still struggling, homeless on the streets of Seattle, and even though he seems to have no chance at being compensated for the time he wrongfully spent behind bars or for losing everything in his efforts to defend himself from the now baseless charges against him… he does feel vindicated by this victory and more hopeful now that he might be able to move on with his life.
“At least now,” Simmons says, “I want to live again.”