Dozens march for safety at King County Courthouse

SEATTLE — Dozens of King County employees and supporters marched outside the King County courthouse Friday, demanding new safety measures.

The area has been plagued by crime, harassment and violence for years, and many marchers stated they were fed up and wanted action.

“Enough is enough! Enough is enough!” they chanted.

Amy Freedheim, a senior deputy prosecuting attorney, has worked for the county for over 30 years.

“We are done with being told to be aware of our surroundings,” she said. “We’re done with the city saying it’s a county problem and the county saying it’s a city problem.”

“What we demand today is a clear plan as to what is going to be done to keep us safe in the workplace,” Erica Conway, a longtime employee with King County Superior Court, said.

KIRO 7 has covered safety issues and attacks in the area around the courthouse for years. Recently, assaults, gunfire and a deadly stabbing have unfolded in City Hall Park where a homeless encampment has grown during the pandemic. Then, just last week, a woman was sexually assaulted inside a courthouse bathroom by a suspect not linked to the park.

In the meantime, the Superior Court is ramping up its trials to deal with a massive backlog in cases.

“We’re subpoenaing twice as many jurors as we did before the pandemic,” King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Jim Rogers said. “And we’re hearing from a lot of jurors already who are saying they don’t want to come downtown to the King County Courthouse. We need to be able to assure them for their safety and the only way to really do that is show real progress on City Hall Park.”

Rogers said that since last week, the county has added roving Facilities Security inside the courthouse. They were already around the perimeter, and sheriff’s deputies were already stationed outside.

The city and county have agreed on a $15 million contract with the Public Defender Association to find housing and support for people downtown, including City Hall Park.

“We need to prepare rooms staffing and supplies to do this,” Tiarra Dearbone, with the Public Defender Association, said. “The safety issues at the courthouse are not limited to this park, and most of whom are living here are not posing the safety concerns.”

But KIRO 7 spoke with people Friday who wanted to make it clear that their demands are for a bigger, long-term plan for the area both outside and inside the courthouse—public safety that will last.

“We are not placing blame on our unhoused, unsheltered, and our historically excluded community members,” President of the King County Prosecuting Attorneys Association Darrah Hinton said. “We are placing blame on our city and county officials for their failure to act.”

KIRO 7 asked Executive Dow Constantine’s office about his reaction to the demands.

A spokesperson released a statement that read, in part, “We are taking immediate action to make our workplaces safer including boosting security in the courthouse and other King County buildings, designating some bathrooms as accessible only to employees with badge access, and increasing the availability of employee security escorts. We have already begun implementing some of these, and other changes will be put into place in the coming weeks.”