Man assaults Uwajimaya worker over face covering requirement, returns with hatchet

RENTON, Wash. — Renton police say a man who walked into Uwajimaya without a face covering Monday got upset when he was asked to comply with the company’s mask policy. The man also attempted to shoplift, assaulted a worker, threatened to “return and shoot everyone” and came back the next day armed with a hatchet.

“Was in our parking lot waving a machete at people and making threatening statements,” said Uwajimaya President and CEO Denise Moriguchi in an interview with KIRO 7. “We haven’t had much pushback. I think people understand it’s for their safety and it’s for everyone else’s safety.”

Investigators say that the suspect, who left the store before officers arrived Monday, was arrested Tuesday when he returned with a hatchet and was booked into jail on suspicion of assault and harassment.

"It’s traumatic, and it’s already on top of the stress of the coronavirus,” said Moriguchi.

Renton police said the man had been staying at the nearby Red Lion Hotel that King County had recently converted into a temporary homeless shelter to meet social distancing requirements in shelters elsewhere. The temporary shelter houses for more than 200 people who are not infected with COVID-19.

The City of Renton said the temporary shelter has tripled its homeless population and led to a spike in fire and police calls at and around the hotel. Shoplifting reports in the area have more than tripled this year, compared to last year.

“We’ve seen an increase in shoplifting,” said Moriguchi. “It is a challenge because it detracts from our employees doing their job.”

Moriguchi said the store is now considering additional security, on top of extra police patrols in the area and security she said the landlord had brought in because of the shelter. She wonders if the social services offered at the temporary shelter are enough.

“I think unless the shelter has more services, it’s a danger for the community,” said Moriguchi. “So I would like to see, once the lease is up, it not be renewed.”

The City of Renton said the shelter has “overwhelmed our police and fire departments, disrupted nearby businesses and severely taxed the already limited resources of local human services providers,” and called on King County to honor its promise to remove the shelter after 90 days by July 9.

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