I’m writing this, which I’ll post online and will also send to your office, in response to an incident that occurred in Pioneer Square after the Sounders game on March 15th. As a result three people were arrested, one person was stabbed and several injured in a brawl that could have been prevented. The policies of your administration continue to encourage an environment in Pioneer Square that allows this violence to continue.
While both KOMO and KIRO have published their versions of the incident, I will share mine so I can make clear to you and your administration that the lack of police presence in Pioneer Square before, during and for an extended period after sporting events is putting both residents and visitors at risk.
While walking my dogs after 5 PM yesterday I passed very close to the firefighter’s memorial in Occidental Park. As I approached I saw three people (two men, one woman) yelling at a homeless man who lying on the memorial. As I passed he responded when one of the men started yelling “What did you say?” as he then rared back to punch the homeless man several times in the head and face. When the man tried to roll away to escape the attack the aggressor kicked him several times. While the attack continued I called 911 reporting that I had just seen a man attacked, giving descriptions of everyone involved and that unless police arrived quickly that this could escalate further. While I was on the phone with 911 the second man of the original three got into a fight with another homeless man, taking the homeless man’s walking stick from him and beating him with it. The homeless rallied around to protect the victims and after a lot of yelling, shoving and some tense moments the attackers left north through the Square towards Washington. By 5:17 PM I had given my information to the 911 dispatcher, encouraged them to come quickly and given them my phone number to follow up.
Then nothing happened*.
I didn’t expect a rapid police response. I’ve called 911 before to report other fights on Occidental and never seen police arrive in a timely fashion. So again this time I waited. I followed the three people north through the Square with the goal of capturing a license plate number if they were going to get into a car, but they (apparently) went into McCoy’s Firehouse Bar*. A few minutes later I saw them return to Occidental to yell at a different group of men, screaming about “moochers” and “living off my tax dollars.” After I saw them leave the area again and no police had arrived, I decided to continue my walk with my dogs south along Occidental. It was by now approximately 5:25 or 5:30.
Looping back for home a few minutes later I saw police cars moving west on Main and Washington. I approached because I wanted to be able to give the officers any assisting information I could after my 911 call. When I arrived I saw this scene.
These were taken at 5:40. It shows two homeless men being questioned on the curb, the stick from the earlier beating on the ground next to them, and the female and one of the male aggressors in the street. The man is bleeding from what were explained to me later were stab wounds from a third altercation between they aggressive visitors and the homeless. The man wrapped in the “white” blanket in first photo is the original victim who was beaten and stomped for sleeping on the monument.
A homeless man was beaten and no police cars arrived. When one of the attackers was stabbed and four police cruisers, two ambulances, a fire truck and several fire department supervisor cars all arrived within minutes. After all the damage is done is this your definition of appropriate response?
Mr. Mayor, there will be police reports to read that will give a more complete view of events. I’m not going to speculate on the events immediately before the stabbing as I didn’t witness that fight. What I did see, both from the original altercation and the aftermath, convinces me that if your administration made active policing in Pioneer Square a priority, all of this could have been prevented.
Anyone who attends a Sounders, Seahawks or Mariners game is comforted by the large police presence. Officers are there directing traffic, coordinating and controlling the “march to the match” and as people leave the stadiums are there to keep things moving along in a safe and orderly fashion. Then where do they go? Once the games are done and the CenturyLink parking lots empty Pioneer Square becomes ignored by law enforcement until there is blood in the street.
At the time of this incident there was a police cruiser parked at 1st and Washington. It was empty. If there had been even a minimal police presence then don’t you agree that the likelihood of a vicious attack like this would have gone down? If the first attack had been deterred then the odds of the second, more serious fight which led to the stabbing would have also been prevented. Maybe the first attack would have happened even in view of the police, but they could have arrested the attackers. A man in handcuffs can’t start a new fight, nor get stabbed in response.
Without police in Pioneer Square to greet the high intoxicated and volatile visitors who pour out of the bars you are inviting violence.
I’m also not talking about a couple of mounted officers riding through, or four or five bicycle officers gathered on one corner. To be effective the officers need to be walking throughout the park. Instead of standing together talking to each other, officers should be talking to citizens and making themselves visible. Engagement, not intimidation. They have to actually engage the community to provide a presence that will deter most violence.
Pioneer Square is a critical part of the downtown renaissance that is happening in Seattle. We can dig tunnels and knock down highways, build living space and open restaurants but unless you make a commitment to keep Pioneer Square safe all the 12th Man signs in the world won’t matter. Pioneer Square is the southern anchor of Seattle’s downtown yet the policies of the Murray administration continue to give this critical neighborhood short shrift in public safety and law enforcement investment. Pioneer Square is a historic district but what I saw yesterday makes me wonder if the Murray Administration has just written us off to the historic dangerous and violent reputation of the area.
When I tell people in other parts of King County that I live in Pioneer Square their reaction is telling. Too often they think of the area as the equivalent of a third world conflict zone, a view fed by media reports that focus on violent confrontations such as yesterday’s. How long before people from other parts of the area think of coming to Pioneer Square is something they have to do in order to attend an event instead of something they want to do? Are we that willing to throw away all the positive emotion that came to PSQ and SODO through the Seahawks parade and celebration? If you want Pioneer Square to be the southern parallel to the tech industry explosion of jobs, residences and businesses in South Lake Union then you, Mr. Mayor, must make an investment to keep everyone in Pioneer Square safe. Business can’t thrive in an area where you aren’t willing to make a commitment to safety.
In closing Mr. Mayor here is the last photo I took last night showing the police arresting the original attacker. The Seattle Police Department officers I dealt with were professional and courteous. They listened not only to my account but to the comments and feedback of others in the area who saw the incident. I appreciate their service to our city. Support them, and the residents of Pioneer Square, by directing the police to make a presence in Pioneer Square a priority all day long on game days, and not just in response to assaults and calls for help.
Hugh Steven Banfield
Pioneer Square resident since 2010
* I found out this morning that the assailants left the Square and went into McCoy’s Firehouse where they asked the owner to call the police because “they had been jumped by 20 or 30 men” in the Square. Apparently several police officers responded and spoke to the men, but no action was taken because obviously the men left the bar went back to the Square and continued their aggressive behavior which led to the stabbing.
Just to be clear, are you saying that the man in the last photo was the one who was punching the homeless man?
I’m saying that I saw that a bald white man in a Sounders shirt/jacket punch and kick a homeless man on and around the Firefighter’s Memorial. That was what I stated when I called 911 and again when I was interviewed by police after they arrived. The man in the photo surrounded by police is the man I saw. Of course everyone involved should be presumed innocent until the legal process runs its course.
Hey Steve: Well said, especially regarding the more activist community policing role. SPD could perhaps adapt the visitor kiosk to their standard and/or add a similar type structure. Also my friend Dan Lieberman dropped me a note re this entry (I live at 2nd Ave S and Washington) and mentioned that you actually live in my old unit at 111 1st. Small world – Mark
It is a small world. Love the apartment and the neighborhood, despite tragedies like this one. Hopefully this incident will gather enough attention to cause some change in how the area is policed.
I actually apologize in that Dan reminded me that we have met once before, along with Shelli, at Shelter Lounge. How is the Japanese Maple on the deck doing? Loved that tree….
The tree is still there and looks great. We’ve never been able to figure out how the giant pot it’s in got on the deck. It’s too big to fit through the door. Was it on the roof when they built the apartment?
I often wondered that myself….. maybe came through one of the other units and/or as you as was there when they renovated the 6th floor…. Also, when I moved out I left a wrought iron patio table and 4 chairs (as well as a on its last legs bbq)… don’t how if they’re still there, but if they are hope you’re enjoying!
Fellow P^2 resident for the past 3 years; share your sentiments exactly and also hope Pioneer Square will one day be a place for people to hang out rather than visit.
Thanks. Lets hope your letter moves the right people to review present policies-
Nice way to handle a bad situation Steve 🙂
Are you aware of the danger level that the police present to persons sleeping in public parks? Have you asked any of the people you frame this call for increased police presence as protecting whether or not _they_ would feel safer if you got your request? Or is is simply you, Mr. Banfield, that would feel safer with an officer within earshot? Personally, I’d rather face the sports fan. At least the average sports fan is not presumed by the law to have the right to tase you, shoot you, or beat you to death as a job perk.
Clearly I have more faith in our public servants than you do. My call for an additional presence has nothing to do with my feelings. I’m 6’2″, weigh well over 300 lbs and have *never* felt threatened in Pioneer Square. Just because I don’t feel afraid doesn’t mean the city shouldn’t invest in making Pioneer Square safer for everyone — visitors, transients, residents (both those with homes and in shelters/outdoors) and businesses.
While I’m certainly aware of abuses that have happened at the hands of law enforcement on the homeless and indigent I’ve seen fights between drunken visitors (fans), the homeless residents of Occidental Park and now this most recent confrontation between visitors to the neighborhood and the homeless. Given what I saw I think additional police would have made everyone in the area safer.
Thank you, Steve. I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of my story as well…
I run a prominent business in Belltown. On several occasions within the past two years I have been unequivocally let down by the Seattle Police Dept. The most recent occasion was during the 2013 holiday season when two intoxicated and extremely aggressive men were waiting for a bus at the stop outside my building. They were throwing (throwing!) beer bottles at my customers and trying to physically engage everything within sight – even small children. SPD was immediately called and informed of the danger. 10 minutes later and no response. Call again. Inform them that the situation is escalating and now there’s broken glass everywhere on a busy sidewalk that my customers must walk on. 10 minutes later and still no response. At this point I have one of my assistant managers call SPD and pretend to be a patron of my business – he told the 911 dispatch that he was worried for the safety of his children. 10 minutes later and still nothing. Now this is where it gets good. This whole time buses are coming and going and the drivers are denying these guys entry onto their buses because they’re so drunk and disorderly. Finally they get angry enough to attack the next bus driver that says no. They pull him out of the bus and are beating him on the sidewalk. Myself and one other try to intervene to no avail (the other guy gets cut by broken glass in the process.) During the course of the fight, the bus driver is thrown out into the street and hit by a car passing by (minor injuries, but still!). Call again and inform that a Metro driver was just assaulted – FINALLY SPD decides to get off their ass. They literally send the entire force (at least 12 cars + some special investigation unit since the Metro driver was attacked) and it all would’ve been prevented if they had just sent one car to drive by and have a look in the first place. I tried to file a formal complaint with SPD and absolutely nothing happened. SPD is a joke from top to bottom. They’re clearly doing nothing about these issues, so yes we should take it to the mayor.
That’s a terrible situation but it seems to run consistent with what I’ve seen and heard about SPD response. I appreciate that it might be too dangerous to send one officer alone, and for single officer cars that means 2 or 3 might need to arrive. That said I’ve seen three, four, and more cars at a “scene” when it seems the only “crisis” is one individuals in cuffs on the sidewalk who’d just be disorderly.
When you combine the tendency to over respond (too many cars) with the challenges of slow response (your example and the situation in Pioneer Square) it seems we’ve got a police staff management problem that will require more than just “study” by the interim Police Chief.
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