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Woman sexually attacked in Seattle claims police took hours to respond

May 7, 2024, 4:52 PM

woman assault seattle spd...

A Seattle Police Department vehicle seen during the day (Photo courtesy of the Seattle Police Department SPD Blotter)

(Photo courtesy of the Seattle Police Department SPD Blotter)

A woman who called Seattle police after being assaulted on a downtown street in broad daylight said an officer didn’t respond to her 911 call until hours later — and that she never spoke to them face-to-face.

The woman, Grace, called the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) response “disappointing” after she was approached by an unknown man while walking toward the Macrina Bakery & Café in the Belltown neighborhood on First Avenue on April 26. She told KIRO Newsradio the man began following her and muttering.

“I kind of gave him the stink eye, so that he’d go away, which he did,” she told KIRO Newsradio. “And I made it into the bakery.”

But as she exited the bakery, the man approached her again.

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“I kind of told him just to f*** off and to just leave me alone,” Grace said. “I guess he didn’t like that. He just immediately slapped my butt very hard.”

Grace said she instinctively turned around and kicked him in the gut.

“It’s something I don’t normally do,” Grace said. “Usually, I freeze up.”

As the man began to walk away, Grace called 911 and followed him. The operator told her to stop and stay where she was, and that an SPD officer would meet her there shortly.

“I waited for an hour and they never showed up,” she said.

An SPD spokesperson confirmed the call came in shortly after 3 p.m., and an officer was dispatched to the scene at 5:48 p.m. By that time, Grace had gone home and asked someone to meet her there to take her statement. According to Grace, no one ever did. An officer called her later that night and told Grace he would file a report on her behalf.

Grace said she did not feel as if her situation had been taken seriously.

“The officer taking the report over the phone? Who does that?” Grace said. “I’ve never had the police call and say, ‘OK, well, I can’t show up to your place, so I’m going to go call you instead.'”

If it had escalated there on the sidewalk, she said she could have been in even more physical danger, with no officer nearby to intervene.

“The man could have been p****d off and turned around, and tried to find me and do something else to me,” she said.

Short staffing and delayed response times for Seattle police

A source within SPD told KIRO Newsradio “there’s no way an officer would just not respond to a call. We don’t do that.”

But Grace’s experience bears some similarities to another incident reported last month in which a man reportedly threatened and assaulted employees at a Pike Place Market coffee shop and bakery in Seattle. In that case, the business owner said his employees also called 911 but officers were not dispatched, reportedly due to staffing.

The SPD has a well-documented history of staffing shortages in recent years. The department told “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH last month the current number of deployable officers is at its lowest level since 2009. Data from SPD showed response times have significantly increased since 2020, according to a KIRO 7 report last year.

KIRO Newsradio reached out to city officials regarding both incidents. SPD confirmed in Grace’s case, the 911 call was received by the Community Assisted Response and Engagement (CARE) team. Officially launched last October, the department is separate from the SPD. It operates the city’s 911 Communications Center and consists of behavioral health specialists trained to provide support and resources to support people experiencing crises. Dispatched alongside an SPD officer, team members respond to 911 calls where it is determined there is no threat of violence and no medical emergency.

More on the SPD: What Seattle police officers are saying during exit interviews

Police records indicate the CARE team was responsible for assigning priority to Grace’s call. The officer who arrived on the scene nearly three hours after the initial report cleared it about an hour and a half after speaking to Grace by phone. The CARE public affairs department said it is continuing to investigate the circumstances of the other incident at Pike Place Market.

SPD’s handling of sexual assault cases

Amid concerns over delayed response times, Grace told KIRO Newsradio she thinks there could be major improvements to how officers treat people reporting crimes, especially of a sexual nature.

“He got my name and my date of birth, and then he kind of joked with me about, ‘You know, Valentine’s babies, our parents were having fun, haha,'” Grace said, referring to the phone call she had with an officer hours after the assault.

Grace said she found that treatment was inappropriate under the circumstances.

“We’re already in shock. And it’s fine. If you ask us questions, we’ll answer,” Grace said. “But making light hearted jokes like that, we’re not in the right headspace to deal with something like that.”

Emily, a woman who spoke to KIRO Newsradio after being attacked on the Howe Street Stairs last year, shared a similar story. She said the SPD officer who took her report “was super blunt.”

“I gave him all the details but he was not empathetic at all. Just asking me, ‘What’s your name? What’s your address? Be clear about what happened,” she said. “Which isn’t a great feeling when you’ve just been attacked.”

SPD has seen similar condemnation in the past

It’s not the first time SPD has faced such criticism.

A 2022 Seattle Times watchdog report revealed an internal memo within the police department that said a lack of staffing in the sexual assault and child abuse unit meant cases with adult victims aren’t being investigated by SPD. It generated so much outcry that SPD Police Chief Adrian Diaz addressed it directly in a video message promising to devote more resources to investigating sex assaults.

More from Kate Stone: Ex-Bothell City Council member charged with South Seattle homicide

“Sexual violence is one of the most serious crimes our department investigates, and when I learned of staffing concerns in SAU in April (2022), I immediately began work to bolster the unit with additional detectives, as well as non-police staff who provide support to victims of sexual violence,” Diaz said in part. “If you are reporting a sexual assault, please do not call the non-emergency line; call 911. With the transfer of 911 to the new Community Safety and Communications Center, SPD does not have access to the non-emergency line, which is not always staffed. We want to make sure we are not missing any calls, and we are committed to ensuring every victim’s voice is heard.”

Grace said she did exactly that, and nothing happened.

“I told them I couldn’t wait any longer,” Grace said, stating she waited on the sidewalk for over an hour. “And the 911 operator said ‘Go home, give us a call when you get home and we’ll send an officer,'” she recounted. “I called them and I told them I was home. They said ‘OK, we’ll send somebody out there.’ And they never sent anybody.”

SPD could not confirm if the officer assigned to the case attempted to meet Grace at her home, as she requested. While some both inside and outside of SPD have blamed staffing shortages and long response times on the COVID-19 pandemic and the so-called “Defund the Police” vote by the Seattle City Council in 2020, Grace said getting help from officers was a problem long before that.

“I had an incident back in 2015, where I got hit by a car and I was riding my bike. And I didn’t want the driver to leave, I called the police,” she said. “We waited for two hours for the cops to come. They never came. So I had to go home. And finally a cop showed up like 30 minutes after I got home then to go take my statement. So this to me feels normal, and it should not feel normal.”

You can read more of Kate Stone’s stories here. Follow Kate on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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