While Sweeping the Jungle, Seattle Police Shot and Killed a Man

UPDATED: After earlier protests, police say they shot a man who was attacking another with a knife.

Around 8 a.m. this morning, city and state authorities began to sweep the Jungle. The clearance of homeless campers from beneath the I-5 highway has been impending for months, and only a handful of campers (no more than 12, by UGM’s count) remained as of this morning.

About twenty protesters from SHARE, Nickelsville, and UW Tent City Collective demonstrated against the eviction with signs reading “Sweep trash, not people!” In front of this chanting backdrop, Union Gospel Mission president Jeff Lilley explained to reporters how UGM has been doing outreach for months into the Jungle.

Ashley Johnson, a member of the UW Tent City Collective, said that she was protesting against a violation of camper’s human rights. Authorities, she said, “are displacing people right before winter…The city today will sweep the worldly possessions of unhoused people just because they’re occupying public space.”

Stu Tanquist of the homeless shelter group SHARE said he and others were “here to stand in solidarity with the people who live in the Jungle.

“They have nowhere to go,” Tanquist said. “They’re going to kick them out of here, they’re going to move into town, and it’s going to be the same issue: moving them, moving them, moving them. It’s a whack-a-mole game.”

Mayoral public safety advisor Scott Lindsay was onsite and spoke at length (despite several attempts to politely disengage) with protesters. He told protesters that he agreed with their broad view that better affordable housing and human services are the right response to homelessness. But, he argued, the Jungle is especially dangerous because of its remoteness. “When there’s an incident deep in here like the shooting of five people in January, what happens is there’s a massively delayed police and fire response,” Lindsay said. “This is an inherently difficult place to get access to. It’s dark, the terrain is slippery. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of tons of garbage and debris, needles, biohazard. Every time police officers or firefighters or outreach workers go up there, they need to go through decontamination.” (SW reporters have so far eschewed decontamination after visiting the Jungle, without any noticeable health effects.) Lindsay contrasted the Jungle against the Field—a sort-of authorized encampment just across the street which is much more accessible to emergency responders. “If at [the Field] a woman was shot in the stomach, the fire department could get there in two minutes,” he told protesters.

One of Lindsay’s inquisitors was Michael Volz, about whom we previously wrote this summer after they were savagely attacked on Capitol Hill for being transgender. This morning, they unsuccessfully urged Lindsay to call in outreach workers from DESC to assist campers. Lindsay replied that UGM workers were already handling that.

According to the city’s Jungle cleanup plan, cleaning up and fixing up the area beneath the I-5 should take between 7 to 16 weeks, meaning it should be finished sometime in December or January. The plan acknowledges that keeping the Jungle cleared indefinitely is impossible: “No design solution will completely prohibit future encampments; rather, the intent is to make the area safer and more secure for everyone. Beyond design, the ways in which the space is utilized on an ongoing basis will inhibit the extent to which the area sees continued public safety challenges.”

UPDATE: Seattle police shot a man in the Jungle near the intersection of S. Bayview St. and I-5 at about 12:45 p.m. this afternoon. He later died at Harborview.

With the caveat that “this is preliminary information,” Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole this afternoon told reporters: “Shortly prior to 12:45 p.m. this afternoon, two veterans officers who were involved [in the Jungle eviction] this morning encountered two adult males involved in an altercation. The two adult males were fighting, and it appeared one of them have a knife. The veteran officers interceded [and, O’Toole said later, “tried to seperate the individuals”], and during the process one of the officers discharged the weapon and a suspect was injured.”

The officers were not trying to move the two men out, O’Toole said. She repeatedly emphasized that it was “coincidental” that the officers saw and intervened in the fight. O’Toole did not know how many shots were fired. She said that both men were taken to the hospital by Seattle Fire Department—one with very serious gunshot wound(s) and one with less serious knife wounds. Asked whether this incident made her reconsider the plan to clear out the Jungle, O’Toole replied, “No, not at all…I think it underscores the danger in this particular area. Hopefully the officers prevented something more serious from happening.”

Here are some photos from the scene:

UPDATE: According the SPD Blotter, the gunshot victim later died at Harborview Medical Center. From the Blotter:

Shortly before 12:45 PM Tuesday, Seattle police officers were assisting city and state agencies in contacting individuals living in the East Duwamish Greenbelt, also known as “The Jungle.”

Two veteran officers were in a wooded area east of Airport Way South and South Stacy Street when they became aware of two men involved in an altercation. One of the men was armed with a knife.

Officers attempted to separate the individuals. During the encounter, one of the officers discharged her weapon, striking the man with the knife. He was taken to Harborview Medical Center, where he later died from his injuries.

The second man sustained a non-life-threatening knife wound on his hand during the incident and was also transported to Harborview. No officers were injured during the incident.

The officer who discharged her firearm during the incident will be placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation.