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Aug. 1, 2021

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Fatal stabbing prompts proposed legislation to condemn Seattle’s City Hall Park

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SEATTLE — The fatal stabbing of 31-year-old Bradley Arabie last week at Seattle’s City Hall Park, located immediately south of the King County Courthouse, was the final straw for Metropolitan King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn: On Tuesday, he introduced legislation to condemn the city-owned park, which is the site of a large homeless encampment, as a public safety hazard or nuisance property.

Under Dunn’s proposal, King County would acquire the park from the city of Seattle and request that Executive Dow Constantine relocate the park’s current residents to transitional or permanent housing, provide additional security, and fix damage done to the park as a means to abate health and public safety concerns, according to a copy of the legislation provided to The Seattle Times.

The proposal would also direct Constantine to explore future uses for the park as “an enclosed meeting and events space” that would become part of the courthouse campus. Dunn has requested an update to the council on the condemnation process by Sept. 1.

“The city of Seattle has no one to blame except for themselves for failing to abate the nuisance and keep that area safe,” Dunn said in a phone interview. “They’ve opened the door to a condemnation action by the county government … People have the right to a safe county courthouse and we shouldn’t have to fight this hard for it.”

The courthouse belongs to the county and taking over City Hall Park would allow it to be policed by the King County Sheriff’s Office instead of Seattle police, he said. The little-used state law would require the county to pay the city fair value for the property, said Dunn, whose own staff has expressed fears for their personal safety when entering or leaving the courthouse.

Dunn said he needs five votes, including his own, to move the legislation forward: “It’s going to be a spirited debate,” he said.

But transferring the park from the city to county could be difficult under a 1997 city ordinance created in response to a citizen initiative aimed at protecting Seattle parks from development, Anthony Derrick, a spokesperson for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, noted in a Tuesday email.

The city has worked closely for several years with the county and King County superior and district courts on improving safety in the park, adding lighting, trimming trees and stepping up police emphasis patrols in the area, Derrick wrote.

On Monday, the Seattle City Council committed $7.5 million to address homelessness in City Hall Park and Pioneer Square over the next year, matching the $7.5 million the county has dedicated to a homelessness outreach program, Derrick said in the email. Since March, the city’s new HOPE team — which replaced the city’s former team of police officers and outreach workers tasked with removing encampments — have worked with other service providers to refer 17 people living in the park and surrounding area to shelters, according to Derrick.

County property records show that City Hall Park sits on 0.56 acres, bordered by Third and Fourth Avenues to the west and east, and Dilling Way to the south. It was a battleground during the short-lived Battle of Seattle, led by Chief Leschi in 1856, and was later used to drill ground troops during World War II, according to Seattle Parks and Recreation’s website.

Now, though, “it’s pretty full of tents and people and [park residents] are increasingly hostile to anyone walking through the park,” said King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Jim Rogers. “It’s unbelievable there.”

Several King County District Court employees quit their jobs after last week’s homicide and just this week, three prospective jurors notified court staff that they were refusing to serve, specifically citing the dangers of City Hall Park as the reason, said Rogers.

“It’s had a terrible effect and we routinely have jurors tell us they won’t serve because of City Hall Park,” he said.

Rogers temporarily closed the courthouse’s Third Avenue entrance in December 2019 after an attorney was repeatedly punched in the head and a Metro bus driver was socked in the face in an unprovoked street attack, The Seattle Times reported at the time. The assaults were indicative of the increasing incidents of harassment and street violence faced by county employees, jurors, witnesses and other court visitors, Rogers said.

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically reduced the number of people visiting the courthouse each day but protesters smashed out the courthouse’s windows and glass-paned revolving door on Third Avenue during last summer’s racial justice demonstrations, Rogers said. Though the glass has since been replaced, the Third Avenue entrance remains boarded up until funding is available to staff its reopening, with visitors still required to enter the courthouse on Fourth Avenue.

But violence and illegal activity in the park hasn’t improved and if anything, it’s getting worse, Rogers said. He’s seen people pile into port-a-potties together and was screamed at himself as he walked through the park last week with a TV camera crew.

The park “just needs to be closed,” Rogers said.

Seattle police Sgt. Randy Huserik, a department spokesperson, said police responded to 100 calls of service at City Hall Park between April 13 and June 20, including assaults, robberies, warrant arrests, public disturbances, crisis calls, vehicle theft and a possible missing person. Last week, officers responded to a report of an unattended child and found a 2- to 3-year-old girl, who lives in the park, by herself, Huserik said.

Court records also partially show the scope of public-safety issues in the park:

In December, a 62-year-old man was beaten so severely that a witness told Seattle police he was certain the man was dead, according to a first-degree assault charge filed against Abdalla “AJ” Jama, 29. Jama remains jailed in lieu of $500,000 bail.

Earlier this month, Courtney Williams, a 29-year-old resident of the park, was charged with attempted first-degree theft and first-degree animal cruelty, court records show. Williams is accused of trying to steal a man’s jacket, then kicking the man’s 14-year-old Jack Russell terrier named Alice so hard that Alice flew into the air and fractured her skull on the concrete walkway, the charges say. Alice died and Williams remains jailed in lieu of $25,000 bail.

Last week’s homicide is the second criminal investigation since April involving suspect Michael Sendejo, 49, who was charged Tuesday with second-degree murder in connection with Arabie’s stabbing death. (He is booked under the surname Sedejo, jail records show, and the two alternate spellings are noted in charging papers.) His bail on the murder charge was set at $2 million.

Sendejo, who has lived in the park for about a year, was charged in April with second-degree robbery and fourth-degree assault, court records show. In that case, he is accused of punching a 65-year-old, formerly homeless man in the face and stealing the man’s camera because the man was photographing the tents inside City Hall Park, say the charges.

Sendejo was released from jail in early May after the Northwest Community Jail Fund posted his $5,000 bail, according to court records.

Then around 8 p.m. Thursday, Seattle police responded to a report of a stabbing in City Hall Park, where they encountered Sendejo with a knife still in his hand, say the second-degree murder charges.

Arabie, who apparently arrived in Seattle from Louisiana a couple of weeks ago and was known as “Louisiana” by the park’s residents, was the instigator in the fight with Sendejo, first demanding that Sendejo watch over Arabie’s belongings, then telling Sendejo to hand over the knife Sendejo kept tucked into his sock, the charges say.

During the ensuing fight, Arabie cut Sendejo several times with a box cutter before Sendejo — who outweighed Arabie by more than 100 pounds — got on top of Arabie and disarmed him, then pressed his left hand to Arabie’s neck, say charging papers.

Police say Sendejo told detectives that once he had control of Arabie, he pulled out his knife and repeatedly stabbed him, ignoring Arabie’s pleas to spare his life, according to the charges.

Women in Black, which holds regular vigils for homeless people who have died outdoors, will stand vigil for Arabie and three others on Wednesday, according to the Homeless Remembrance Project. Also being mourned is homicide victim Necia McKendrick, 45, whose body was found May 30 near Interlaken Park in Seattle’s Mountlake neighborhood, and an unidentified man and woman who were found dead after a fire at a Mount Baker encampment on June 14.

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