Tacoma-Pierce Health Department director says he was attacked

TACOMA, Wash. — A top health official with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department says he was attacked while walking across the Chihuly Bridge of Glass in Tacoma earlier this week.

In a blog posted Friday afternoon, Health Director Dr. Anthony Chen said he was assaulted on Wednesday.

“Violence is a public health concern. This week, I was personally affected,” Chen wrote.

“There is a model where you look at violence as a contagious disease,” Chen said later in an interview. “We need to change this culture, we need to turn this ship around,” he said.

Chen described that he noticed a man damaging public property, and he tried to engage with the man. He disengaged after he saw the man was “escalating” and walked away.

“Suddenly, he knocked me down from behind and punched me as I stood up. He continued to attack me even as I tried to back away,” he said.

He said he was able to drive himself to the emergency room and get treatment. He also said he was sore and didn’t have serious injuries.

“I am fortunate I was able to walk away from this attack and I am overwhelmed with the many heartfelt well-wishes from family, friends, and colleagues,” he said.

The motive of the attack is unknown.

KIRO 7 partner The News Tribune said the attack was reported at about 1:40 a.m. May 19. The report was not taken at the location of incident but was called in afterwards.

“It’s not unusual for me to be out late, walking or running. It’s very peaceful at night and I feel very safe in Tacoma,” Chen said.

He said he believes people should speak up if you see someone doing something wrong.

“Over the years I’ve learned a lot of people don’t like being told. But at the same time I think we all have a civic duty,” Chen said. “People throwing trash on the ground - you should say something to them. That’s for all of us, it’s for our kids,” he said.

The News Tribune also reported that the alleged attacker was a 20- to 30-year-old.

The investigation remains ongoing.

In his blog, Chen said he didn’t think the attack was related to him being the Tacoma-Pierce Health Department Director or because he is Asian.

“I do not think so, but the fact that people have to ask is a sad commentary for our times. I recently wrote about the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans during the pandemic. Public health officials nationwide have been threatened, fired, or pushed to resign as they made difficult and unpopular decisions; Washington public health officials have suffered as well.”