Seattle, WA – An elementary school principal and two teachers refused to cooperate with police after a career criminal came into the school last week and allegedly grabbed two children, leading to a lockdown, according to police.
The incident occurred at Sand Point Elementary School at approximately 2:30 p.m. on June 2, KIRO reported.
Fifth-grade student Amani Powell-Rodriguez told the news outlet she was out on the playground when a man suddenly hopped the fence and headed towards the building.
“Someone said to run, so everyone ran into the class,” Powell-Rodriguez recounted.
She said the suspect entered her classroom two times, KIRO reported.
Initially he just looked around the room.
“Then he came back, but me and my friend were trying to close the door,” Powell-Rodriguez told KIRO. “He kind of looked confused and kind of worried, but he also kind of looked like he knew what he was doing.”
School Custodian Kale Tinsley said the suspect “grabbed” two children and appeared to be trying to kidnap them, KOMO reported.
“He grabbed one, and thought that’s the one girl he wanted to take, but then another girl tried to defend her friend and he deflected her, grabbed her too,” Tinsley said.
A teacher intervened and escorted the suspect from the property with the assistance of the principal, the custodian told KOMO.
Tinsley said the intruder was able to gain entry to the building through a door that was left unlocked by a substitute teacher who wasn’t familiar with the locking system.
According to the Seattle Police Department (SPD), no school officials called 911 to report the intruder or that the school had gone into lockdown, KIRO reported.
Police said an outside individual contacted them to let them know about the lockdown, at which point officers were dispatched to the school.
But when they arrived, the school principal and two teachers allegedly refused to cooperate with them.
“He provided very little information about the incident,” SPD Officer Nicholas Guzley of his interaction with the principal, according to KIRO. “I was only advised the suspect jumped the fence.”
With nothing else to go on, the officers made contact with the suspect under the belief they were “performing a welfare check due to his mental state,” Officer Guzley said.
The officer noted that the intruder, later identified as 20-year-old career criminal Liban Harsam, “appeared to be under the influence of narcotics or possibly having a mental episode,” KIRO reported.
According to court records, Harsam is a repeat offender who has been criminally charged nine times in the past year alone.
Harsam ultimately left the school after stealing a child’s backpack, but the principal refused to identify which child the backpack belonged to, so the officers had no victim or probable cause to arrest him, KIRO reported.
Because of the lack of evidence, King County Prosecutor’s Office Spokesperson Casey McNerthney said no felony charges could be filed.
“Really, what it comes down to is what evidence we have from investigators,” McNerthney told KIRO. “From our conversations with SPD, there’s a question about what they were able to get after those initial conversations.”
He said parents have expressed confusion over how a suspect can commit such an act and not be charged with a felony.
“I think when parents understandably say, ‘isn’t this a felony crime?’ It hasn’t been referred to us yet because of what they were able to get and not get and that’s certainly not the fault of police,” McNerthney told KOMO.
“In talking with the City Attorney’s Office and SPD about this on Friday, the [King County Prosecutor’s Office] learned that the principal was unwilling to assist and the only information they had was that the defendant entered the building,” he added.
A Seattle Public Schools spokesperson told KIRO they have scheduled a meeting with the SPD to discuss the “event” in order to “determine how we can improve communications and coordination when SPD responds to calls” at schools in the district.
The school district also said they “believe that all involved were working to do their best to keep students safe in a very challenging situation,” KOMO reported.
Moments after he left the school, SPD officers said they observed Harsam getting into a DHL delivery truck, KIRO reported.
Officers said Harsam attacked the driver and attempted to steal the vehicle.
He ultimately abandoned his attempt to steal the truck, then ran out into traffic and jumped on a bus, KOMO reported.
Police chased him onto the bus and arrested him.
One officer suffered a fractured wrist while brawling with the violent suspect, KOMO reported.
The SPD booked Harsam into jail on charges of assault and robbery, but prosecutors later downgraded those charges, according to the news outlet.
The case was sent to the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, which ultimately charged Harsam with vehicle prowling, criminal trespass, resisting arrest, and two counts of assault, KIRO reported.
A judge set his bail at just $10,000.
Prosecutors had asked the court to hold him on a $25,000 bail, according to KOMO.
During a municipal court hearing on the case, Harsam’s defense attorney raised concerns about his client’s competency, KIRO reported.
If the career criminal is found to be incompetent, the charges against him could be dismissed altogether, according to the news outlet.