Seattle, WA – Violence caused by the sprawling homeless encampment near the King County Courthouse has become so extreme that the county sheriff has ordered much of her staff to work entirely from home.
The King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) operates out of the courthouse building, which is located directly next to City Hall Park, KTTH reported.
The park is the site of a massive homeless encampment that has essentially taken over the area.
Community activists have complained that sweeps are inhumane, so the City of Seattle has thus far refused to disband the tent city, KTTV reported.
Late last week, a homeless man was arrested for allegedly trying to rape a woman in the bathroom of the courthouse, according to the news outlet.
The woman was seven months pregnant.
The park itself has been the scene of a fatal stabbing, a recent fatal drug overdose, a slew of assaults, and the fatal beating of a senior citizen’s dog, KTTH reported.
Multiple homicides have been linked to the encampment, as well as several random attacks on courthouse employees, according to KOMO.
Activists have blamed the growing homelessness problem on a lack of affordable housing and COVID, KTTH reported.
King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht issued a memo to her staff on Monday due to concerns about the “unsafe environment” they have been working in at the courthouse.
“The safety and security of our employees is my top priority,” Sheriff Johanknecht wrote. “Effectively immediately, due to the unsafe environment around the courthouse, administration, parking garage and corrections facilities, and concerns from labor unions, we are returning to 100% remote telework for professional staff members who do not routinely interact with the public.”
Any employees who will still be required to come to work at the courthouse will be contacted by their supervisors, the sheriff noted.
She said she will also be holding a virtual meeting with those employees so they can address concerns they have about working at the courthouse under these circumstances.
Sheriff Johanknecht assured her staff she is committed to doing all she can to make sure the workplace is safe, KTTH reported.
A group of 33 superior court judges have sent a letter to City of Seattle officials, demanding they do something about the dangers created by the encampment.
“This is the seat of county government and right now it is really dangerous down here,” King County Superior Court Judge Sean O’Donnell told KOMO. “You’re seeing people at a tipping point. Something has got to be done to change the status quo.”
King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn said the tent city has been growing for over a year, KOMO reported.
“It is certainly a crisis situation,” Dunn said, noting that Sheriff Johanknecht’s directive highlights the crisis even further.
“It shows you there isn’t any ability to control the safety of the courthouse with the encampment right next door and all the other crime going on,” he said.
King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a Democrat, said she is working on a land-swap proposal that she hopes will give King County control of the overrun park, KOMO reported.
“If we were to own the park, then we can make use of it as we see fit, including for security,” Kohl-Welles explained. “Maybe the best way to do that is engage in a trade of property so we would acquire City Hall Park and in the process be able to have the City of Seattle receive some property that we own.”
She noted the county has already been dumping additional funding into security inside and outside the courthouse, especially because the City of Seattle isn’t sending Seattle police to patrol the park, KOMO reported.
“No matter what we were doing as a county, we were obligated to pay for security because the City of Seattle wasn’t coming through,” Kohl-Welles said. “So, we’ve had to go ahead and provide security ourselves, so why not go ahead and acquire it?”
Dunn said he is backing Kohl-Welles’ proposal.
“If we can get an agreed land swap and allow us to police our campus and make sure that its safe for our employees and citizens that use the court house, that would be the best possible alternative,” he told KOMO.
King County and Metro employees said they will be marching around the courthouse on Friday at noon to demand a safe work environment and to put pressure on the City of Seattle to take action.