The King County Council voted Wednesday to declare an emergency situation outside King County Superior Court’s Third Avenue entrance, which remains temporarily closed following the Nov. 27 attack of public defender Kevin McCabe by a person on the street.

The emergency declaration allows the King County Council to move $600,000 from its general fund to increase security around and inside the courthouse, and to also connect people experiencing homelessness in the area to various services.

King County Council chair Rod Dembowski sponsored the legislation, which equally divvies up the $600,000 for three purposes. The first $200,000 will be spent providing on-street security by two sheriff's deputies at the entrances at Third and Fourth avenues; Third is expected to remain closed until at least Jan. 1. Another $200,000 will cover posting two more screeners and a marshal at the Fourth Avenue entrance to keep it consistently open, and the last bucket of funding will staff Department of Community and Human Services outreach worker around the courthouse to assist at-risk individuals.

The legislation passed unanimously.

District 6 King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci said the council has heard about the safety concerns employees and visitors to the courthouse have about the Third Avenue entrance for quite some time. The safety concerns are real and need to be dealt with, she said, but so do the actual root causes of all the disturbances.

“I think we all know that posting guards, like building walls, does not solve the problem,” Balducci said. “It only protects you from it, and it only goes so far. I think this is important for now, because we need to keep our entrances safe, and we need to keep our employees and our jurors and the people coming to this building for justice safe. But I think we need a longer-term, deeper, broader approach to everything that is going on.”

District 8 Councilmember Joe McDermott said it’s fair for people to ask for protection, but he fears that such an action would only move the problem somewhere else.

“My concern, as we’ve addressed this issue, is that not necessarily that we build a wall — we might be building a wall protecting ourselves — but that we might be asking, particularly of our partner, the City of Seattle, to provide spot protection [at the courthouse] and thus moving the problem elsewhere,” McDermott said, “maybe even a block, maybe further.”

He said that, in the grand scale of things, wanting to “hyper-protect one block” is not the appropriate response. His support of the security actions hinged on the $200,000 that will be devoted to social work in the area, he said.

Several courthouse employees and people who work in the area testified as to the kinds of assault they have been subjected to on their way to work during the Dec. 10 King County Council Government Accountability and Oversight Committee meeting.

King County Superior Court clerk Dale Gillian said he commutes to work and uses the bus stop in front of the courthouse on Third Avenue.

“I’ve had the unfortunate experience of kind of watching the chaos that happens daily in front of the courthouse…” he said. “I apologize in advance if what I am about to describe is offensive, but I can assure you that it is not as offensive as having to witness it on a daily basis. I’ve seen open-air drug dealing. I’ve seen people urinating in public; people defecating on sidewalks; people walking around with needles sticking out of their arms, belts still attached to their arms; people smoking crack out of crack pipes leaned up against the courthouse; people vomiting on themselves and on the sidewalks.

“I’ve had four coworkers, including two who are with me here today, who have been assaulted out in front of the courthouse in the last year. Personally, I’ve been harassed, yelled at, and a couple years ago I’ve even had a firearm pointed directly at my face out in front of the courthouse.”

He said he sees graphic details on a daily basis in his line of work. He understands that much of this violence and disturbance is caused by people who are most vulnerable in society, he said, but something must be done about the situation in front go the Third Avenue entrance to the courthouse.

Hannah Matson said she has also bee assaulted on Third Avenue.

“I’ve been a victim of someone who is a repeat offender,” she said, “someone who was not convicted, [who] repeatedly hit multiple people before that person decide to assault me. With that being said, the end result of my case with him…all charges were dropped. He could not be found competent.”

Nadia Simpson said she has been harassed and stalked by people on the block surrounding the courthouse in her half-decade of service with the court.

In response to these comments, and many more, King County sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht was visibly moved.

“I’d like to apologize on behalf of law enforcement to those folks who have been victimized around our campus, our government campuses,” said King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, “whether it’s the courthouse, the administration building, wherever it is. And so, I humbly say that I’m sorry on behalf of the sheriff’s office, but I’m also digging in my heels, because we are going to do something about it for you, OK?”

When Presiding Judge Jim Rogers initially closed down the Third Avenue entrance, there was some concern about how people with disabilities would be able to access the courthouse, due to the high grade change between Third and Fourth avenues, but the entrance will still be accessible to people with disabilities.

A few public commenters said the notification system regarding the Third Avenue closure could have been more streamlined. In particular, there were no messages sent to people in the building that are blind, and no messages put forth in languages other than English.