Code of conduct ordinance to be discussed in public hearing

PORT TOWNSEND — Threats to judges and others working in public county buildings have prompted an ordinance that defines acceptable behavior and conduct.

The proposed Code of Conduct/Trespass in County Facilities ordinance is the result of repeated security incidents at county buildings, including the Jefferson County Courthouse, said Chief Civil Deputy Trevor Hansen, who supervises civil enforcement and court security.

“There have been security threats or threats acted out to a serious degree in court,” Hansen said. “Some examples are folks wandering the halls and following particular employees, including going into the office and badgering them about a perceived conspiracy or perceptions of things that are not real.

“We’ve had folks wandering the courthouse, prior to security going in upstairs, with scissors and making bizarre statements that are sort of vaguely threatening but not rising to the level that we could arrest them for harassment.”

After reviewing a second draft of the proposed law, the three commissioners voted unanimously to conduct a public hearing at 10:15 a.m. Feb. 19 in the commission chambers at the courthouse.

The proposed ordinance sets the goal of conduct and expectations at the courthouse with security staff or elsewhere for onsite staff or responding law enforcement.

The document outlines what is acceptable, yet allows for flexibility because every facility has a different purpose and what is reasonable at one may not be reasonable at another.

The exception to this ordinance is for those who are attending open public meetings.

Hansen said there have been death threats against judges from individuals who have carried out violent acts in the past.

“Those incidents were handled through a criminal approach,” he said. “But this [ordinance] would be a useful tool in this circumstance. A trespass admonishment in this case would create an extra layer of safety. You aren’t welcome here, you have to leave.”

Commissioner Greg Brotherton asked Hansen for a description of disruptive behavior.

“The first step when someone does something unreasonable is not to throw them out of the building,” Hansen said.

“It’s more that when we have these disruptive incidents, my staff and I don’t have anything other than common sense to point to and say this is inappropriate. It would be handy to have something posted to define what is unreasonably disruptive and use that to help people change their behavior so they can stay inside.

“If people continue to persist as to what is unreasonable or other prohibited behavior, then we would issue a trespass.”

County Administrator Philip Morley said this ordinance would provide county staff and law enforcement officers additional legally-sound tools for the enforcement of such rules as an alternative to arrest and prosecution.

“This is one of the tools for de-escalating a situation rather than disrupting someone’s life by putting them in jail,” Morley said.

Brotherton then asked if some of the disruptions are due to mental illness, substance abuse or both.

“Almost all of them,” Hansen replied. “They are taken to Jefferson [Healthcare] hospital or given courtesy rides to the shelter, Dove House or to Discovery Behavioral Health in the case of voluntary.”

He said a lot of the behaviors aren’t criminal.

“At a sociological level, we are still struggling for the answers to both,” Hansen said. “We are fortunate to live in an area where I can take people up to DBH [Discovery Behavioral Health] or run them down to the shelter, or where our local businesses allow people to stay. As long as they don’t cause trouble, they can stay there when it’s cold.

“We have places where people can go.”

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]

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