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Jan. 29, 2023

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Seattle man charged with felony stalking for targeting Jayapal


SEATTLE — King County prosecutors on Wednesday filed a felony stalking charge against a 49-year-old Seattle man, accusing him of repeatedly harassing and intimidating U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who feared the armed man wanted to injure or kill her.

Seattle police arrested Brett Forsell outside Jayapal and her husband’s house July 9. He was jailed on suspicion of committing a hate crime against Jayapal but released four days later because police couldn’t say with certainty that he told the congresswoman to go back to India or that he threatened to kill her, according to King County prosecutors.

After the felony stalking charge was filed Wednesday, a warrant was issued for Forsell’s arrest, with bail set at $500,000, court records show.

“The news today from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office that they have charged Mr. Forsell with felony stalking demonstrates that the justice system is doing its work,” Jayapal said in a statement Wednesday. “I am grateful to the King County Prosecutor’s Office for holding this man accountable for his dangerous actions, to the victim’s advocate for her assistance throughout the process, and to the Seattle Police Department, U.S. Capitol Police, and the House Sergeant at Arms for continuing to keep my family, me, and my staff safe. Now, the Prosecutor’s Office and the courts will do their important work to protect all of us.”

Jayapal, 56, is a former state senator who became the first Indian American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016. A Democrat, Jayapal represents Washington’s 7th Congressional District, which includes most of Seattle. Jayapal was born in India and came to the U.S. at 16 to begin college at Georgetown University.

Jayapal told detectives she was scared by Forsell’s behavior because it was reminiscent of the anger and vitriol she experienced Jan. 6, 2021, when insurgents attacked the U.S. Capitol in a failed attempt to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s election win, according to charging papers.

“In this incident at her residence, she was specifically named, she felt like she was re-living the previous trauma and she was fearful that they were there to do harm to her,” a detective wrote in the charges. “She did not know if they were armed or coming to get her, either to physically harm or kill her.”

Jayapal also expressed concerns that she had been doxxed — having her home address and other private information maliciously posted online — and that more people would show up at her house, the charges say.

A little after 10:30 p.m. on July 9, Jayapal and her husband heard a man yelling expletives and for her to “go back to India,” say the charges. When Jayapal’s husband went out the front door, the man sped off in a car with another man behind the wheel, according to the charges. Jayapal called 911 but canceled the police response because the men had left.

About 45 minutes later, Jayapal and her husband heard the roar of a car speeding down their street and saw the driver make two U-turns to drive by the house again before he parked in front of their driveway, got out of the car and continued yelling toward the house, the charges say.

Jayapal called 911, and police arrested Forsell, who had a loaded .40 caliber handgun holstered on his waist, the charges say. Neighbors also reported hearing Forsell’s verbal attack and saw him try to erect a tent across the street from Jayapal’s house, according to the charges.

While Forsell was initially in custody, police cameras captured him talking about firearms, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Gary Ernsdorff noted in the charges.

“Those remarks demonstrate that he is focused on getting his Glock .40 caliber semiautomatic handgun back as quickly as possible and that he also plans to obtain an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle,” Ernsdorff wrote. “He also stated that he intends to continue his pattern of returning to Representative Jayapal’s house until, in his words, she ‘goes back to India.’”

Seattle police on July 13 obtained a temporary extreme risk protection order — commonly known as an ERPO — to require Forsell to surrender any guns and a concealed pistol license, citing concerns about his escalating behavior toward Jayapal and increasing struggles with his mental health, court records show. The temporary ERPO was reissued Tuesday, the records say.

Public records show Jayapal and her husband live a half-mile from Forsell in the Arbor Heights neighborhood.