Sheriff tells Seattle courthouse employees to stay remote over safety concerns

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Employees at Seattle’s King County Courthouse are postponing their return to work in-person due to safety concerns in the courthouse and the adjacent park at the sheriff’s orders after a man attempted to rape a county employee inside of the courthouse bathroom last week, reports The Seattle Times.

Courthouse employees plan a rally outside the courthouse on Friday at noon, according to Andrea R. Vitalich, a senior deputy attorney with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, who told The Seattle Times this incident was “the final straw” after years of unsafe conditions.

According to the Seattle Police Department, on July 29 a 35-year-old man attacked a woman — a county employee — who encountered the stranger in a bathroom. He tried to attack her, but she screamed and fought back. A court employee responded to the ruckus and stopped the attacker, police said.

In response to the violent and unsafe conditions in the area surrounding the courthouse, King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht this week told staff in a letter that her staff return to working remotely immediately, pausing the return of about 60 non-commissioned office employees who had already been working remotely, the Seattle Times reported.

“The safety and security of our employees is my top priority,” she wrote in the letter, dated Aug. 2, according to the Seattle Times. “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.”

Johanknecht will be meeting with other county officials to discuss safety solutions for the courthouse and surrounding area, the paper said.

On June 25, 33 King County Superior Court Judges signed a letter to Seattle Parks and Recreation Superintendent to shut down the park and relocate the homeless residents, according to The Seattle Times.

“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 to the paper.

“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.”

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn urged the county to condemn City Hall Park, citing the massive homeless camp after a 31-year-old man was fatally stabbed in June.

“King County employees should be able to return to work without fear for their lives, plain and simple,” the Republican councilman said in a statement. “While I have sympathy for those who are experiencing homelessness, there is nothing compassionate about looking the other way and letting violence against people of all walks of life continue.”

In a survey conducted by the prosecutor’s office, 160 of 220 employees have concerns about safety outside the building then, Dunn said.

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