Citizen complaints prompt police to monitor playfields

The last thing people who live on Mercer Island’s South end think about is that they might get a ticket for walking their dog along a city street.

That’s what happened when Daniel Jacobson was walking his dog, a Norwich Terrier, near 84th Avenue S.E. and S.E. 78th Street at 9 p.m., Jan. 25. However, the section of S.E. 78th Street is in front of Lakeridge Elementary and adjacent to the South Mercer Playfields, where dogs are not allowed.

After years of not enforcing the rule, the city and the schools have made it plain that they will now enforce the policy.

Police Chief Ed Holmes said that calls from citizens who use the playfields prompted the recent patrols.

“It is our sense that most people comply with the rules,” he said. “We were responding to citizens who called about people letting their dogs off leash at the playfields and about dog feces in the grass.”

However, Jacobson said he was being very careful to stay on the street with his dog on a leash, yet he was issued a citation by Officer J. Pritchard, with the Mercer Island Police Department, for an animal violation.

The police report indicates that Jacobson had been contacted earlier that evening by another police officer who saw him near the North end of the fields and the Islander Middle School parking lot.

Pritchard cited Jacobson for violating statute 7.04.230, which doesn’t address any specific violation. It states, “Any person who violates, or whose animal violates, any provision of this chapter may be issued a civil infraction,” without listing a specific violation.

Jacobson decided to defend himself in court. On March 1, in Mercer Island municipal court, Judge Wayne Stewart took about one minute to dismiss the case as the city code does not specify that animals cannot be on school property.

Yet signs posted by the school district two years ago indicate that the South Mercer Playfields, owned by the school district but maintained by the city, says that pets are not allowed.

Jacobson and several supporters were in the courtroom ready to speak their case, but never had the chance. Sabina Garrett, Kathy Bruce and Linda Summers, fellow dog owners, said they all had been stopped by police recently on S.E. 78th Street near the school and warned about their dogs, all on leashes, all on a public street.

“We didn’t realize you couldn’t walk on the streets with dogs,” Garrett said.

The playfields are located between Islander Middle School and Lakeridge Elementary School grounds, bordered by S.E. 78th Street to the south, adjacent to Lakeridge Elementary. In recognition of the fact that people have long brought their dogs to the open space, the park used to have plastic courtesy bags available for dog feces, as well as signs that warned walkers to keep dogs leashed. But no more.

The six signs installed in March 2009 say: “This is an educational facility used by children. No dogs allowed on campus.”

The dog walkers are not happy.

“There are 25-30 people who have exercised our dogs on school property for years, and now they are warning us,” Garrett said. “Police have been sent out to patrol us.”

Summers and her husband, Donald, were both on the capital fund drive for the school district recently. She said community support to pay for the fields was based on the fact that the play fields and tracks could be used for community use.

“We're taxpayers,” Garrett said. “There should be some provision that we can use the campus between 8 and 10 p.m. after games are over, or before 8 a.m. They do that in Central Park in New York.”

Jacobson said they are all very conscientious about picking up after their dogs. As far as taking their dogs to Wildwood Park, a small park to the east, which is an off-leash park, Garrett, Bruce and Summers said it is not lit, has a swamp in the middle and they don’t feel safe there. And, it’s bordered to the east by Island Crest Way, a serious danger to dogs, they said.

Jacobson spoke to the prosecutor who agreed with him that S.E. 78th Street is indeed city property. He said he was told that the chief of the Mercer Island Police Department was taking the information under advisement.

“Other people might be bullied, but I’m not going to put up with it,” he said.

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