Tourists visiting from Rhode Island were attacked and robbed near the downtown bus tunnel, prompting police to increase patrols in the area.
Seattle police say a downtown emphasis on crime launched four months ago has helped reduce robberies.
But for a group of visitors from Rhode Island, the statistics don’t matter: They’re not likely coming back.
The three — two women and a man — were near Pine Street and Third Avenue Monday night when they were attacked and robbed by a group of people. All three were battered, but not seriously injured.
“I was so excited,” said one of the victims, a 23-year-old woman who was in town with her fiancé to attend a graduate school conference. “I’d heard so many great things about the city, but after what happened I’m afraid to go back.”
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According to police, the three tourists were walking to the entrance of the downtown bus tunnel about 11 p.m. on Monday when they passed a group of men and women on the street.
One of the women accused the 23-year-old of bumping into her, police said. The visitor thought she might have nudged the other woman with her purse and she apologized immediately, she said.
That’s when the accuser tried to burn her with a cigarette, the victim said.
“As she was doing that, someone else took my phone out of my back pocket,” said the visitor, who didn’t want her name used. “I tried to grab my phone and someone punched me in the face.”
The woman said she dropped a bag of bottled wine she had been holding.
Police say the group then used the broken bottles to attack the woman’s 29-year-old fiancé.
“They were attacking me and the girls when more people ran from across the street to attack us. More and more people kept coming,” said the man, who also did not want his name used.
The couple’s companion, a 24-year-old woman, was also punched in the face, according to the victims and police.
The fiancé said that when he continued to fight back, one of the assailants pulled up his shirt, moved his hands toward his pants and told the visitors he had a gun and would shoot them, the police report says.
Police said the attackers — who the victims described as “older” people in their 20s and 30s — had left by the time police arrived. The woman who tried to burn one victim with a cigarette was described as black and in her 20s, about 5-feet-8 to 5-feet-10 with a heavy build. She was wearing a brown jacket, gray shirt and jeans, police said.
Officers arrested one man at the scene after he interfered with medics as they treated the victims, and told the victims they deserved to be beaten and robbed, police said.
Police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said they are investigating whether the man was also involved in the robbery and are scouring the area for any surveillance video that may have captured the attack.
“It’s an incredibly important part of our city,” said Whitcomb. “So many people go there to shop, dine, watch a sunset and we want them to feel as safe as the data shows they are.”
According to Whitcomb, data shows that strong-arm robberies in the immediate neighborhood are down 10 percent so far this year compared with the same period in 2014. Robberies involving firearms are down 43 percent, he said
However, police data also shows that during the same time period aggravated assaults are up by 16 percent and nonresidential burglaries are up by 63 percent.
In April, Seattle police announced the start of a new “9 1/2-Block Strategy” to combat street crime in the area between First and Fourth avenues and Union and Stewart streets. The launch of the new effort coincided with the arrests of scores of people for drug dealing and other crimes.
Under the plan, bus stops were to be moved, alleys restricted and newspaper boxes used by drug dealers removed as part of the new “9½ Block Strategy,” which refers to the small section of downtown where much of the city’s crime is concentrated.
The strategy also included coordinated outreach efforts to help people living on the street and addicts as well as a crackdown focused on gun-toting dealers who return to the same blocks day after day.
James Sido, a spokesman for the Downtown Seattle Association, called Monday’s attack “extremely unfortunate,” but said it did not reflect what he described as legitimate improvements downtown.
“One of the reasons why it’s so unfortunate is that, really, for the last few months we have seen an improvement in downtown safety. If you were to ask people downtown whether things have gotten better, I think they would say yes to a person,” Sido said Wednesday.
Dave Blandford, the vice president of communications for Visit Seattle, which promotes the city’s tourism industry, agreed that progress has been made downtown.
He said Seattle police and the mayor’s office “have done a wonderful job and made noticeable, positive impacts.”
“We really have a pretty low violent crime rate and we’re happy about that, but there is room to improve,” Sido said.
The man attacked on Monday night said he has traveled in Turkey, Dubai, Boston and New York City without ever experience anything like what transpired in Seattle.
“They weren’t there to take our stuff,” said his fiancee. “Their intent was to hurt us and to intimidate us.”
“It’s really bizarre,” the man added. “We’ve had a lot of people from Seattle who apologized for what happened and were shocked, but it seems there is also a growing subculture with an attitude of unremorseful and inhumane behavior. It’s not at all the city we expected.”