A surge of gun violence in Seattle over the weekend continued through Monday morning, with two additional shootings reported as police and city leaders grapple with how to respond.
In total, between early Sunday morning and Monday morning, four people were killed and seven were injured in six separate shootings across Seattle.
In a city where the push to defund the Police Department has gained political momentum and leaders, activists and law enforcement officials continue debating what the future of policing should look like, Mayor Jenny Durkan argued Monday that the spike in violence shows there are times when traditional policing is still needed.
“It is a false choice between community-led solutions and police officers,” Durkan said. “We need both.”
Early Sunday morning, eight people were shot — three fatally — in four neighborhoods in the span of three hours, in Belltown, Pioneer Square, Chinatown International District and Capitol Hill.
Then, late Sunday night, there was another fatal shooting, this time in Lake City: A 28-year-old man was found shot in the chest just after 10 p.m. outside an apartment building in the 12700 block of 33rd Avenue Northeast, police said.
Seattle police spokesperson Valerie Carson said witnesses saw the victim returning to his apartment when a vehicle pulled up and multiple people opened fire. Another person was grazed by a bullet, but did not require medical assistance, she said.
On Monday, a 39-year-old man was wounded in a shooting at about 8:30 a.m. at an encampment near Eighth Avenue and Yesler Way. The man, who was shot multiple times, was being treated at Harborview Medical Center and his injuries were not believed to be life-threatening.
Few details have emerged about what led to each shooting. Police said they are unrelated, but haven’t shared information about suspects or victims. The scenes where they occurred are varied: A park, an encampment, outside a bar, outside a nightclub.
A Sunday morning homicide in Belltown is the only case in which arrests have been announced. One of the suspects in that shooting had his first court appearance Monday morning, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
The 25-year-old from Tukwila is being held at the King County Jail in lieu of $2 million bail, which a judge set Monday after finding probable cause for second-degree murder, according to court documents.
The man was arrested early Sunday after a fight broke out at Ohana Belltown, a sushi restaurant and bar. Police responded to Ohana at 1:48 a.m. and said they found the fight had spilled into the street, with the crowd mostly dispersing in a nearby parking lot, according to probable-cause documents.
As officers were clearing up the fight, they heard gunfire and people screaming that someone had been shot in an alley behind the 2200 block of First Avenue, probable-cause documents said. They found a man in the alley with a gunshot wound. Seattle fire medics attempted lifesaving measures but he died at the scene.
Officers took several people into custody at the time, including the 25-year-old Tukwila man, who later told police he was at Ohana for a birthday party when the victim got into a fight with the bar owner. He attempted to break up the fight inside, but when the crowd started moving outside and dispersing in the parking lot, he saw the victim hit someone and knock him to the ground.
He reportedly told the victim to calm down, and admitted to pushing him against the wall and hitting him at least once in the alley, police said. As the victim started to walk away, the 25-year-old told officers he heard three or four shots go off in the parking lot behind him, and decided to scare the victim by firing a warning shot in the air. Instead, however, he “pulled the trigger while he was swinging his arm up” and shot the victim, probable-cause documents said.
The man told police he knew “it was a bad decision to pull out and fire his gun in a crowd” and that he had intended to scare the victim, not shoot him, according to the documents.
The Seattle Times generally does not name suspects until charges have been filed.
A second man arrested in connection with the Belltown shooting was taken into custody on investigation of unlawful discharge of a firearm, a gross misdemeanor under state law. Seattle police sent his case to the city attorney’s office.
Locally and nationally, shootings and homicides have increased over the past year.
A report from the King County Prosecutor’s Office shows that the total number of shootings countywide — 580 — this year is 33% higher than the average number of shootings for the same time period between 2017 and 2020. The total number of people shot this year — 197 — has increased 61% compared to the same time period in previous years.
On Monday, Durkan said that last year’s protests have highlighted the generations of systemic racism that communities of color, specifically Black communities, have faced.
“Make no mistake about it, this gun violence is also disproportionately impacting those communities of color,” Durkan said. “We need to stand with communities and with mothers and with families and find a way to stop the senseless violence.”
As officers address the rising number of shootings, the department is also contending with staffing challenges: Interim Seattle police Chief Adrian Diaz reiterated on Monday that SPD has been stretched thin, losing 250 officers over the last 17 months.
Over the last weekend, officers from across from the city responded to the shootings and managed the crime scenes, Diaz said. Many worked past their normal shift or started shifts early, he said.
Diaz said he has been forced to make sure there are enough officers available to respond to multiple crime scenes instead of staffing special events and answering low-priority calls. More than five days a week on average, he said, the department has had to exclusively focus on the highest-priority calls.
“This is forcing tough choices,” he said. “I’m down a remarkable number of officers and I have a reduced and restricted budget.”
Police were also busy Friday night, responding to a fatal shooting in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood around 10 p.m., while traffic investigators were called out to a fatal collision on Aurora Avenue North, Diaz said.
King County sheriff’s deputies had just broken up a street race when a driver in the group made a U-turn and rear-ended a semitruck, he said. The 21-year-old driver of the car was pronounced dead at the scene.
Diaz was not able to offer any information on how long it took officers to respond to the shootings over the weekend.
Durkan said that next month she will send an ordinance to the City Council to promote more alternatives to 911 calls and address the Police Department’s staffing crisis. Last week, the city announced more than $12 million in funding for a variety of violence-prevention programs and community organizations that aim to increase safety for communities of color.