Even two decades ago, King County Superior Court judges routinely complained about the absurdity of sentencing drug dealers to prison while watching drug deals go down in the adjoining park once nicknamed Muscatel Meadows.
“It was never Shangri-La,” said Andrea R. Vitalich, a senior deputy attorney with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
But over the last couple of years, things took a hard dive from “gritty to downright dangerous,” said Vitalich.
The attempted rape of a woman inside a courthouse bathroom last week was “the final straw,” she said, after years of escalating assaults on courthouse employees, jurors, witnesses and others.
Courthouse employees and others have scheduled a noon rally Friday at the King County Administration Building on Fourth Avenue and a march around the courthouse. It’s not a demand, Vitalich said, but rather an entreaty.
“Please do something. It has become an intolerable situation for everyone,” she said.
Citing the unsafe environment around the courthouse, King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht this week said noncommissioned office staff would be returning to remote work immediately.
“The safety and security of our employees is my top priority,” she wrote in the Aug. 2 letter. “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.”
The announcement effectively pauses the return of about 60 employees who had already been working remotely, said Sgt. Tim Meyer, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office, and does not affect the duties of commissioned deputies.
Johanknecht said she will be meeting with other county officials to discuss safety solutions for the courthouse and surrounding area.
Pleas for help from people who work in the blocks around the courthouse — where the Sheriff’s Office is stationed — are not new.
In June, 33 King County Superior Court judges and four court commissioners asked Seattle Parks and Recreation Superintendent Jesús Aguirre to shut down City Hall Park and relocate residents of the sprawling encampment immediately south of the courthouse.
“We are writing out of deep concern for the safety of jurors, Courthouse employees, the general public and those who find themselves unhoused and sheltering in and around City Hall Park,” the judges and commissioners wrote.
“As you know, conditions in and around the King County Courthouse vicinity, including City Hall Park, have been in a critical, unsafe and unhealthy stage for years. As a matter of last resort to address these issues, we are requesting that you close City Hall Park.”
The letter cited a Seattle Times story about legislation introduced by Metropolitan King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn to condemn the 0.56-acre park as a public-safety hazard after a fatal stabbing and several other violent crimes.
In 2017, two King County Superior Court judges asked the County Council to clean the streets around the courthouse entrances after two jurors were attacked and employees were hit and spat upon.
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.