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Officer-involved shooting near sweep of Seattle’s notorious Jungle

Seattle emergency crews respond to Airport Way and Bayview Street after an officer-involved shooting. (KIRO 7)

An officer-involved shooting happened near Seattle’s infamous Jungle homeless encampment during a time when officials were moving the last homeless residents out of the area.

The man a Seattle police officer shot has died.

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said that there was an altercation between two men near the Jungle Tuesday afternoon. Two veteran officers got involved. Then the shooting occurred. Authorities claim that the shooting had nothing to do with the Jungle deadline and a planned sweep.

“Two homeless men were reportedly fighting – one trying to stab another,” KIRO Radio’s Josh Kerns reports. “When the man wouldn’t put down his knife and stop, a veteran officer opened fire. He hit one of the men – who is in critical condition. The other man was wounded.”

More specifically, the other man has a wounded hand. The Seattle Fire Department reports the man who was shot suffered life-threatening injuries.

“(Chief O’Toole) as well as the Union Gospel Mission insist this had nothing to do with the clean up – just coincidental with the timing,” he said.

The shooting was reported at Airport Way and South Bayview Street. The intersection is within one block from access to underneath I-5, and a neighboring greenbelt where the Jungle is located. Video of the scene indicates that the area police blocked off is in a wooded area along, and under, I-5.

KIRO 7’s Deborah Horne reports that officers were combing the wooded area near the scene of the shooting. It is uncertain what they are looking for.

“It does sound like pure coincidence this fight broke out and the officers were here,” Kerns reports. “Officers had been staying away because of pressure from the community. I’ve been told by a number of cops, off the record, that for months they have been washing their hands from this (area) because they are under such scrutiny. And they’ve been told repeatedly, ‘Don’t do anything.’ So they’ve been hands off for the most part. There’s a good chance they were down here because of the clean up today. There are probably fights like this going on all the time, it just happens they were there this time.”

Jungle deadline controversy

Seattle police were in the area because of a deadline in place to clear the Jungle. Officials with the city, the Washington State Department of Transportation, and the Union Gospel Mission were making one final push to move homeless residents out of the Jungle.

“They had cleared most people out. About 15 people remained after numerous warnings and encounters with Union Gospel Mission telling them they had to move today,” Kerns report.

“I am told that this morning there was a small group of protesters that tried to prevent the clean up from happening,” he said. “At one point some even came out in front of reporters and police — shooting up heroin and smoking crystal meth in defiance of the law and they were allowed to continue.”

Seattle police arrested four protesters for attempting to block the cleanup of the Jungle Tuesday morning, KING 5 reports.

Officials began clearing the encampment of any remaining people living there Tuesday morning, in order to start work on I-5. There was a 30-day notice in place before the Jungle deadline.

“Bottom line, [Tuesday], a lot of folks will be going in from the City of Seattle, WSDOT crews, as well as Union Gospel Mission will be a big force doing outreach to the remaining folks living there,” said Travis Phelps with the Washington State Department of Transportation.

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“It’s a multi-agency team,” he said. “We expect to work with this team to let the final folks in there know it’s time to go. But also we will start mobilizing for some major road work that will actually take place under I-5. Eventually, this area will turn into one big construction site.”

Phelps said he didn’t have exact numbers on who is in the Jungle — also known as the East Duwamish Greenbelt. But he did say that the last number he heard, recently, was 13.

At least one person still living in the ‘Jungle’ refused to leave.

Tent City Collective, Stop the Sweeps, and other groups disrupted an 8 a.m. news conference about the operation, according to KIRO 7. The groups were trying to work with the homeless there to stop the sweep of the camp.

The roadwork WSDOT intends for under I-5 will include improving an existing access road for emergency responders and WSDOT crews. They will be inspecting sections of I-5, looking for expansion joint issues and other potentially needed repairs.

“Right now, if you go under I-5 there are some paved portions of access road,” Phelps said. “A lot of times it’s dirt, though. It can get muddy and it’s overgrown with bushes and small trees. Once it’s done we hope to have better sight lines in there. And our crews, emergency responders, law enforcement and others can have easier access in there to do work and do outreach for folks who may be in there in the future.”

“It’s quite a big plan here,” Phelps said about the Jungle deadline. “The greenbelt actually goes up the side of Beacon Hill. There are a lot of heavily overgrown shrubs up there so Seattle Parks will be working to clear out certain portions to also improve sight distance and increase access.”

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