A machete-wielding father was fatally shot yesterday after he attacked a veteran Child Protective Services (CPS) worker in the worst-known case of on-the-job violence at the state child-welfare agency.

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A machete-wielding father was fatally shot yesterday after he attacked a veteran Child Protective Services (CPS) worker in the worst-known case of on-the-job violence at the state child-welfare agency.

The CPS worker, accompanied by a co-worker and a Ferry County sheriff’s deputy, was investigating a complaint that three children were living in a home near Curlew without running water or electricity when she was attacked by the children’s father, State Patrol trooper Jim Hays said.

Bryan S. Russell, 35, pummeled one of the social workers with a machete and a 2-by-4 as she lay on the ground before the sheriff’s deputy shot and killed him, Hays said.

The worker, whose name was not released, suffered cuts, a broken arm and wrist and a possible skull fracture. She was admitted to Deaconess Medical Center in Spokane for a CAT scan.

“It appears it (the shooting) saved this worker’s life,” Hays said.

The attack chilled social workers across the state. State policy prohibits the 2,000-person child-welfare staff from carrying pepper spray or guns but encourages workers to bring along a co-worker or call police when their work puts them in potential jeopardy.

The agency does require workers to bring an officer along if they’re going to take a child into state custody, and it’s common in rural Washington to have an officer on hand during a CPS investigation.

The incident likely will prompt the state to reconsider worker protection, said Dee Wilson, a retired CPS administrator who now heads a family-policy think tank at the University of Washington.

“The concern has always been that a worker will get shot or killed,” he said. “The potential is there, and it’s there a lot.”

Gov. Christine Gregoire, who represented CPS workers as an assistant attorney general, commended the injured worker for her 13 years of CPS work. “This incident reminds us all of the dangers that many state workers face every day,” Gregoire said in a statement.

Russell, who lived near Curlew in rugged Northeast Washington, had a lengthy criminal record of assault and drug charges, and CPS staff had visited him at least once before, Hays said.

The three children — between ages 1 and 5 — were home at the time of the shooting, as was their mother, he said. The children were taken into state custody. The mother wasn’t injured.

The deputy, Carroll Sharp Jr., fired “multiple” shots, said Ferry County Sheriff Pete Warner. The State Patrol is investigating, in part, because a state worker was injured.

Current and former CPS staff say the attack is the most serious in memory, although investigators say death threats are routine and less-serious assaults happen sporadically.

A survey of several hundred Montana child-welfare workers, published in 1994 in the journal Child Welfare, found that one in 10 had been hit on the job in the preceding year, and a third of the workers had faced death threats. A quarter of the surveyed workers feared their own families could face job-related violence.

Wilson, the retired CPS administrator, said his own survey of staff in southwest Washington found many suffered insomnia, anxiety and stress-related stomach pain. “Well over half had been threatened — their lives or their family,” he said.

Concerns for personal safety, he said, have followed the rise in popularity of methamphetamine, which is linked to paranoia and violence.

“The concern is you’re going to walk into a meth lab alone,” Wilson said.

At most of CPS’s state offices, staff members work behind locked doors, and some have security guards. But Seattle’s King West office on lower Queen Anne recently lost its security guards in a budget cut, worrying some staff, said John Birnel, a union shop steward and social worker.

“It gives people in child-protection, where the situations are a lot more dicey, a pause for concern,” he said.

Staff researcher David Turim
contributed to this report.


Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605

or jmartin@seattletimes.com