Urine, assaults have jurors avoiding King County Courthouse

May 23, 2019, 6:40 AM | Updated: 3:00 pm
King County Courthouse...
King County Courthouse in Seattle. (Dyer Oxley, KIRO Radio)
(Dyer Oxley, KIRO Radio)

Concerns around the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle have potential jurors worried for their safety, with some even asking to be excused altogether.

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Superior Court Judge Sean O’Donnell says that safety is a common reason people are asking to be excused from jury duty. Judge O’Donnell read one letter for KIRO Radio.

“As a female I do not feel safe waiting for the bus to take me home from the Seattle Courthouse. I also do not feel safe walking from the bus to the Seattle Courthouse. There’s an overabundance of addicts congregating around the courthouse and I’m concerned for my safety. I ask to be excused from jury service due to safety reasons.”

O’Donnell says “These are the letters we are contending with.”

The judge voiced those same concerns to KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott back in March, when he cited unsafe conditions, open air drug use, tents lining the street, and assaults. Since then, the city has initiated emphasis patrols in the area. Still, O’Donnell says the situation is getting worse.

“Three weeks ago, we had to send out a note to employees that there’s been an uptick in violence against women,” he said. “Men walking up and touching and grabbing and harassing. We’ve had the incidents of the employees … two were assaulted and one was harassed. We had the commuter that had the urine thrown at her.”

You heard that right: A container with urine was thrown off the Yesler overpass onto a commuter. O’Donnell invited me down for a tour and his bailiff, Rianne Rubright, showed me the spot.

“I was walking behind her over towards the Yesler Bridge and then I just heard this bag hit the ground right in front of her,” Rubright said. “I turned around and it was a bag of urine. Someone ran over to comfort her, but she was distraught, upset and rightfully so. I would have been too. But I think it dropped from the top of the bridge right onto her.”

Rubright says for commuters, the Yesler overpass is an unavoidable gauntlet, that has them walking through tents, feces, drug abuse, and harassment.

“There are a lot of feces on the streets — I walk over it every day,” she said.

King County’s Caroline Whalen says these issues can be more problematic considering people with special needs coming into the courthouse.

“I think this morning there were not tents there, and now they are setting up again,” Whalen said. “So, it’s just an ongoing issue to keep this sidewalk clear, because we have a lot of commuters like Rianne who are coming to the courthouse, and some are disabled, and so the only way they can get from the train to the courthouse in their wheelchair is through here. It’s an ongoing effort with the Seattle police and the Navigation Teams because they just re-establish.”

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This is all despite significant efforts by the county to get a handle on human waste that has cleaning crews washing the pavement around the perimeter of the courthouse regularly.

O’Donnell gives high marks to Parks and Recreation for their ongoing efforts to clean up the park next to the courthouse. They’ve also added food trucks and games to make it more welcoming, but the area is a constant struggle to maintain.

Even so, the county says the city needs to do something about the Prefontaine Fountain across the street.

“Basically, it’s a gathering place and I think a lot of drug dealing occurs there,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve been working with the city to try to get that fountain relocated and operational, because it is a problem.”

Another issue: You never really know what you’re going to encounter on a daily basis.

“Broad daylight from the morning commute coming up from the trains, and an employee is witnessing a graphic sex act occurring right on the sidewalk as everyone walks by,” Judge O’Donnell described. “And, you sort of shrug that off. But for this employee to have that burned into her eyes, you don’t unsee that. That’s sort of the atmosphere occurring as you try to get into the building.”

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Urine, assaults have jurors avoiding King County Courthouse