SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. — A woman was arrested in Spokane Valley on Wednesday night after police found her passed out inside a vehicle with a small child in the backseat. Deputies later discovered that the woman was a convicted felon.
Deputies were called to a convenience store near the 700 block on North Evergreen Road for a welfare check at 11:20 p.m. on Wednesday night. According to the caller, a woman appeared to be passed out in a silver Honda for several hours.
Once deputies arrived, they located the silver Honda backed into a parking stall near the front of the convenience store. Inside the car, 26-year-old Lisa Peterson was slumped over in the driver's seat and looked like she was passed out, according to officers.
The Spokane County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) said people who pass out in vehicles often try to drive away when contacted by police, so responding deputies took additional steps to keep Peterson from taking off.
While Peterson was still not awake, officers noticed that the driver-side window was rolled down, despite the temperature that night being near 20 degrees. Officers also noticed a small child, about one to two years old, sitting in a child seat in the back of the car. They also noticed an open box of bullets near the steering wheel.
A loaded handgun with the serial number scratched off was found in her waistband, according to police.
The child was not injured, according to officers, and was moved to a warm patrol car until a family member arrived.
Peterson was checked by a deputy and a drug recognition expert (DRE). According to SCSO, she "displayed signs consistent with impairment," but a full assessment couldn't be completed. Peterson was not charged with driving under the influence due to insufficient testing and evidence.
Officers checked Peterson's name and discovered she had several felony and misdemeanor convictions in Idaho. Because she is a convicted felon, she is not allowed to possess a firearm.
Peterson was taken to the Spokane County Jail and booked on a felony charge of second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and two misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment and possession of a firearm with altered identifying marks.
SCSO said a copy of the incident will be given to Child Protective Services for additional review.
A judge released Peterson on Thursday afternoon on her own recognizance, meaning she did not have to post any bond.
Spokane County Jail's revolving door
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said Peterson is the latest example of criminals getting a slap on the wrist and not being held accountable.
"After 16 years talking about this, I sound like a broken record. This happens all the time," Knezovich said.
The Sheriff said he gets asked all the time how a criminals with several felony convictions can serve little to no jail time and be released without bond.
"This is not a law enforcement problem. Your law enforcement officers are taking these people off the streets. This problem resides with our courts and it resides with our elected officials in this community who have adopted a no accountability philosophy."
Aside from serious, violent crimes like rape and murder, Washington court laws say defendants should be released if they have ties to the community, will not skip future court dates or commit a violent crime upon being released. Judges, however, have their own discretion.
"The judge can say, 'You know, after 50 felony arrests, 20 felony convictions, and you've been caught with guns in the last four times you've been arrested, you're a risk to the community and you're not getting bond,'" Knezovich said. "You need to take a hard look at the bench. Take a look at the bench. It is time to maybe clear the bench."
Knezovich also points his finger at the Spokane City Council president.
"Breean Beggs is at the center of the no accountability aspect. Breean Beggs has stood in the road of progress of fixing a broken criminal justice system."
Beggs told KREM 2 the Sheriff gives him too much credit— adding he's not a judge and does not have much influence over the County's criminal justice system.
Knezovich said the Spokane County Jail has been overcrowded since the mid 90s— he's pushed to build a new one. Beggs believes the hundreds of millions of dollars would be better spent on support services to keep people out of jail. Beggs said other cities have been successful.
"Until we as a community, stop electing elected officials that have adopted a philosophy of no accountability, and let them go, this is the way we have to live," Knezovich said.