Dozens of people arrested Saturday for their alleged involvement in rioting and the looting of businesses in downtown Seattle were forced to forgo their first appearances before a judge Monday and so remain jailed due to an emergency closure of the county’s courthouses.
King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Jim Rogers closed courthouses in Seattle and Kent on Monday afternoon after receiving a credible threat of violence, which was relayed by the County Executive’s Office.
Rogers said the information he received at 1:30 p.m. Monday was vague, but he quickly shuttered the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle, the Children and Family Justice Center on Alder Street, the Maleng Regional Justice Center (RJC) in Kent, and the involuntary treatment courtroom at Harborview Medical Center.
The courtroom inside the King County Jail was also evacuated, just as the first-appearance calendar was about to begin, Casey McNerthney, a spokesman for Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, said in an emailed statement.
Seattle police made a total of 57 arrests downtown amid Saturday’s protests and afterward, mostly for burglary and assault, the department said. It wasn’t clear exactly how many of the people arrested were jailed as of Monday. During first appearances, a King County District Court judge makes a finding of probable cause and decides whether to release someone suspected of committing a crime or to impose bail.
Due to the emergency evacuation order, District Court Judge Gregg Hirakawa decided to make probable cause findings based on paperwork submitted by police and postponed bail hearings for those defendants until Tuesday, according to McNerthney and the King County Department of Public Defense (DPD).
DPD Director Anita Khandelwal was angry that a total of 104 people who were set to appear Monday, including those arrested during the protest — 61 of them jailed in Seattle and 43 others in Kent — were deprived of their right to appear before a judge and seek their release.
“Although the court was willing to sign release orders for those people whom the defense and prosecution could agree should be released on their own recognizance, the State refused to even discuss a single case, despite the pleas of several defense attorneys and family and community members,” Khandelwal said in an emailed statement. “I’m outraged that the prosecutor would not even consider release, dangerously driving up the jail population during a pandemic.”
Between the downtown jail and the RJC, the average adult daily population has been around 1,300, reduced from 1,900 in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, 1,414 adults were jailed in the two facilities on Monday.
Khandelwal noted that many of the people arrested Saturday don’t have criminal histories. She criticized the actions that she said “prioritize the convenience of the system” while forcing individuals to languish in jail without an opportunity to seek their release.
McNerthney responded that after the threat was made against King County buildings, officials ordered an immediate evacuation.
“We were trying to get our staff and attorneys out safely while also ensuring that the court had the correct information to make probable cause findings. We didn’t have the time to safely go through dozens of cases because of the court’s immediate closure,” he said in a statement.
Some of the people who were to appear Monday are accused of assaulting police officers and burglarizing closed businesses, McNerthney said. Before the hearings were canceled, he said prosecutors removed people from the calendar in cases where it was clear felony filing standards would not be met.
He said prosecutors are still waiting for cases to be referred to his office related to violence and looting that broke out Sunday in Bellevue, Auburn, Renton and Tukwila.
According to Rogers, there were reports of protests and possible looting Monday at Kent Commons, a shopping center across from the RJC. The Children and Family Justice Center was also badly damaged during Saturday night’s rioting, he said.
The court closure was ordered only for Monday and the courts are expected to reopen Tuesday, Rogers said.