Lesley Haskell, wife of Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell, has been in hot water due to her social media and community activism activities coming to light. Folks across the internet have become acquainted with Lesley’s abhorrent racism through her social media posts advocating for white nationalism and race wars. She has a history of organizing white nationalists and white supremacists, bringing together the likes of Proud Boys, paramilitary organizers, and bigots to insert their agenda into local politics. While her displays of racism are ostentatious, they are also forgettable, here one day and banned from Twitter the next. Her husband, however, upholds a quieter and more insidious form of racism, manifested as much in what the prosecutor’s office doesn’t do as what it does.
When confronted with his wife’s recent headline-grabbing comments, Larry Haskell has distanced himself from her opinions by defending her freedom of speech, saying she speaks for herself. But he takes that defense a step further by stating that in spite of his wife’s long history of racist remarks, she is not in fact a racist. If someone who spouts racism isn’t a racist, then who is, in Haskell’s book? 

Larry’s reluctance to identify his wife’s racism is a reflection of his inability to see the systemic racism embedded in how he operates as Spokane County Prosecutor. Failure to see the racism that surrounds both his wife’s work and his own policy is indicative of someone who fully embraces it as acceptable. While Larry might never casually drop the N-word or advocate for a race war, the system he controls is generating racially disparate outcomes.


Jail Alternatives for Some

Drug Court, Juvenile Court, Community Court, and other Therapeutic Mental Health Court programs are alternatives to jail that reduce recidivism by offering non-jail solutions, such as addiction recovery programs and community service. But for members of BIPOC communities, it’s as though these programs don’t exist. Larry Haskell’s policies in his first year as Spokane County Prosecutor in 2015 resulted in a 44 percent reduction in participation in drug court, which is still operating at less than half the capacity it used to. “When Larry assumed office, referrals to therapeutic courts dropped significantly, and more insidiously, virtually no POCs [people of color] were referred,” former coordinator of the Spokane County felony drug and mental health courts Sandra Altshuler told The Spokesman-Review in a letter to the editor. While Haskell’s office denied this information (and repeatedly refused to share referral statistics), attorneys who worked in Larry’s office were reportedly reprimanded for submitting referrals to the therapeutic courts, which require direct approval from the county prosecutor or his deputy.

Haskell admits the success of drug court and told the Spokesman in 2019 he hopes it’ll be used by those he charges with drug crimes. He reaffirmed his stance in November of 2020,  telling the Spokesman again that he refers to drug court when he can, but that “the criminal justice system has checks and balances” to justify his prosecutors’ actions when defendants are not granted referrals. Yet, despite Haskell’s assurances to the newspaper, drug court referrals – which his office controls – have fallen by half, with people of color most affected by this inaccessibility to jail alternatives. His prosecutors have a policy of seeking the maximum jail time, without considering plea deals or therapeutic courts, for anyone with nine or more felonies. Considering Spokane County’s shocking track-record of overcharging people of color, often saddling people with multiple felonies, this practice disproportionately bars marginalized people from alternatives to incarceration. Haskell’s policy has incarcerated more people, specifically Black Indigenous and People of Color, while driving up maximum jail sentences independent of public safety.

Haskell’s resistance to non-carceral solutions has put Spokane County at risk of losing some serious funding. The MacArthur Foundation, which has provided the county millions in grant funding to support criminal justice reforms to reduce the jail population and increase racial equity, has been so disappointed by the lack of progress that the foundation threatened July 2021 to take some of its money back. “If you should determine that you cannot use our funds to launch a Supported Release program, we would have to discuss, at minimum, the return of the $281,297 that is unspent under the old grant,” MacArthur Foundation Senior Program Officer Patrick Griffin said in an email.

Sheriff Knezovich, who has announced his planned retirement at the end of 2022, told the Spokesman his goal “is to collect data for the rest of 2022”. While this puts the remainder of the MacArthur Foundation grant money in jeopardy as it has to be used before the end of the year, Knezovich said he “wants to continue the pilot program through 2023.” By ignoring the success of therapeutic courts, the risk of pulled funding, any attempts at a supported release program, and criticism from judges and local community leaders, Haskell willfully clings to the racist status quo, opposing any progress toward racial equity in the courts.


An Enemy of Equity

In July 2020, Larry Haskell objected to a community task force’s goal of “racial equity” in Spokane’s criminal legal system. Haskell argued that such language would mean “you’ll have to adjust the scale for some people that you wouldn’t for others.” But, community activist and task force member Curtis Hampton said, “If you’re using the finger on the scale, it’s already been applied in a negative way to people of color.” Haskell has said that in his office, “We prosecute conduct, not skin color,” and that in the criminal-legal system, “Outcomes are largely determined by personal choices,” denying the realities of systemic racism.

When power holders within the system uphold systemic racism, it couples discriminatory policy with rhetoric which, on the surface, is often too abstract to come across as overtly racist. “The problem with Larry Haskell’s position,” according to former NAACP president Kurtis Robinson, “is he’s the person who holds power in a system that is set up to inherently harm people of color and favor people like him.”

In 2021, Haskell played a key role in dismantling the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council, an inter-governmental committee tasked with reimagining criminal justice in Spokane. Haskell’s proposal for revamping the committee left his own position intact while gutting community representation, including a committee devoted to racial equity. He argued that the positions he chose to cut were those not explicitly listed in state statutes. However, state law does not prohibit local governments from adding positions, and removing them was a deliberate choice. This policy of following the letter but not the spirit of the law conveniently favors Haskell and upholds his stubborn belief that the criminal legal system doesn’t play favorites.


It’s Up to Us

Larry Haskell is up for re-election this year. If Spokane County re-elects him as prosecutor, we are endorsing a broken, racist system. Larry Haskell isn’t going to change. Spokane voters need to bring change to the prosecutor’s office.


What we can do:

  • Vote in the primary to replace Larry Haskell as prosecutor.

  • Demand the county prosecutor’s office release demographic data. If your record isn’t biased, prove it.

  • Local leaders must condemn Larry’s record, and hold our future county prosecutor accountable.

  • Demand a holistic approach to public safety and wellness, with community care at its core. An unbiased court system is fundamental to this vision.