The shooting happened just as police and city crews were clearing the last residents of the trouble-plagued homeless encampment known as The Jungle.
Seattle police fatally shot a man Tuesday after encountering a fight near The Jungle as city crews were moving out the last remaining residents of the troubled homeless camp.
Police said the two veteran officers had been participating in the homeless-camp sweep when they saw two men fighting about 12:45 p.m. in a wooded area east of Airport Way South and South Stacy Street. One of the men was armed with a knife, police said.
The officers tried to separate the two men and one of the officers fired, hitting the knife-wielding man, according to police.
Both men were taken to Harborview Medical Center, where the man shot by police later died. The second man was in satisfactory condition, with a knife wound to the hand, police said.
Neither officer was injured.
Investigators recovered a knife at the scene, Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said.
Police don’t yet know if the two men were residents of The Jungle, where Tuesday’s sweep came just as public debate over the city’s policy for managing homeless encampments is reheating.
Five people were shot, two of them fatally, at The Jungle in January, prompting an assessment by city, county and state officials that declared the encampment lawless and unsanitary.
“It’s unfortunate we had an officer-involved shooting, but it’s a dangerous area,” O’Toole said Tuesday.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the man shot by police had threatened the officers with the knife. Police said the two officers were contacting people who live in The Jungle as part of the sweep when they saw the two men fighting.
O’Toole said the officers were on foot and she was not aware of patrol-car video of the confrontation or shooting.
Jeffrey Wertz was about a block away when he heard about five gunshots. He then saw a police officer arrive on the scene and give CPR to one person.
“It’s called The Jungle for a reason, you know,” Wertz said.
The female officer who shot the man has been placed on paid administrative leave, which is routine after an officer-involved shooting.
The department’s Force Investigation Team, which examines the most serious uses of force by officers, was conducting interviews, O’Toole said.
Detectives were conducting a felony assault investigation of the stabbing, including questioning the injured man, she said.
During Tuesday’s sweep, the last residents of the sprawling camp were forced out as crews began a scheduled cleanup of the area under Interstate 5.
Crews planned to toss trash left behind by campers and upgrade a dirt access road to the area, said Travis Phelps, a state Department of Transportation spokesman.
A dozen or so protesters stood behind officials and chanted, “Stop the sweeps!” as news media were briefed on the cleanup.
Four protesters were arrested on suspicion of trespassing, a police spokesman said. They were not booked into jail and were later released, he said.
Jeff Lilley, president of the Union Gospel Mission, said about 13 residents had remained in The Jungle, while about 75 homeless people are living in a nearby alternate camp on Airport Way South.
Lilley and outreach teams from the mission have been working to find permanent homes for homeless people in the area.
Torie Rynning, a spokesman for the gospel mission, said their team had moved nine of those 13 residents to other locations before the shooting.
“The four that remained were extremely resistant,” Rynning said.
Mayor Ed Murray defended the cleanup in a statement Tuesday evening, saying, “Today’s operation in the Greenbelt was needed, both because of the long history of public safety issues in the area and because of the long-overdue work the Washington Department of Transportation needs to do on Interstate 5. We expect this work to continue at the conclusion of the (police) investigation.”
Earlier this year officials found more than 200 tents in the encampment, which stretched under and near I-5 from Georgetown to I-90.
More recent estimates put the remaining population of The Jungle at 42 people, after extensive efforts to persuade residents to move to alternative sites.
The Seattle City Council recently voted to consider a measure drafted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington laying out protocols for how and when the city removes homeless encampments.
Under the proposal, homeless people camping on public sites that are deemed “unsafe or unsuitable” could be cleared with just two days’ notice. But city officials would be required to give campers in other areas as much as 30 days’ notice, and to provide them with alternative shelters.
Officials say there have been 441 encampment sweeps since the state of emergency on homelessness was declared by Seattle and King County last November.
But as the city continues to struggle with how to address the crisis, the sweeps have been plagued by disorganization and miscommunication, often resulting in homeless residents losing their possessions, a Seattle Times investigation found.
Murray has hired a cabinet-level director of homelessness, who has been tasked with streamlining the city’s protocols for managing the camps.
Earlier this month, the council voted to consider a measure drafted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington laying out protocols for how and when the city removes homeless encampments.