Anti-vax concerns prompt courthouse closure

Threats made against Dr. Berry

PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County Courthouse will be closed Tuesday until 1 p.m. for safety reasons until after county commissioners conduct a public comment period with Dr. Allison Berry, the public health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, who has received threats over her COVID-19 policies.

“I’m scared and stressed and committed to doing the right thing in spite of it,” she said Friday in a text message, a day before her mandate took effect that indoor restaurant and bar patrons in both counties must be vaccinated, a tipping point for many residents already upset over having to wear face masks.

Public comments will be taken between 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. during the board’s regular meeting, which begins at 9 a.m., according to a public notice of the courthouse closure issued by the commissioners office late Friday afternoon.

Berry will appear remotely, not in person.

The tight controls were prompted by the angry demonstration at the courthouse Friday morning by hundreds who trained their anger largely on Berry and to the vitriol directed at Berry and the commissioners, board chair Mark Ozias said.

Ozias said county leadership made the decision in consultation with the Sheriff’s Office,

The commissioners office also has received communications that have included threatening language “but not actually anything I would characterize as a threat,” he said.

“It’s different from one I’ve seen [toward] Dr. Berry.”

Having to close the courthouse over such concerns “is not a place I would ever hope we would be in our county,” he added.

The demonstration Friday included an impromptu hour-long rally in the courthouse lobby during which protesters were prevented by law enforcement officers from entering a meeting room where they thought Berry was conducting a COVID-19 briefing and from circulating inside the courthouse.

The meeting was cut short after protesters entered the courthouse.

The courthouse closure was announced at 4:30 p.m. Friday, about six hours after the demonstration.

In interviews Friday and Saturday, Brian King, county chief criminal deputy, said the sheriff’s office received a report of people showing up Thursday at the address of a former residence of Berry’s apparently to confront her about coronavirus restrictions.

King said the group was nonviolent and left once they realized she was not there, and that there was no indication that criminal acts were committed.

That they showed up at what they thought was her home was still worrisome, he said.

“That would make anyone feel uneasy,” King said.

On Twitter, at SequimLibertyTree, @SequimT, Sequim Mayor William Armacost can be seen in a video walking up to more than a dozen protesters in a residential area.

“I’ve been working with my council,” he said. “We are working on a resolution, specifically dealing with this mandate, to keep our businesses afloat.”

In another video, dozens can be seen walking up to what appears to be a residence, many bearing American flags, before stopping and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Sheriff’s Office is patrolling Berry’s residence as a precaution and investigating threatening emails and communications that have been made against her.

“There have been a number of unpleasant communications, emails, etc. that she has received,” King said.

“Some are more threatening in nature than others, including those that appear there is an intent to do her bodily harm, so we are investigating those.

“There are some that are really pushing on that edge,” he added.

“We can see there is a whole lot of anger and hostility toward her, based on what we see in social media.”

The guidelines for Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting will include limited occupancy in the board meeting room on the first floor that protesters wanted to enter Friday.

Speakers will be allowed into the room through the exterior doors on the south side of the courthouse, with no access available through the main entrance — which protesters streamed through en masse Friday.

Audio speakers will be placed outside the courthouse for those who cannot obtain access to the meeting room.

Ozias said Saturday that individual comments will be limited to three minutes.

“One of the things we are trying to prioritize is, we are anticipating a lot of people are going to want to share their thoughts with the board,” he said.

“We are also trying to create a plan that is going to allow for that to be done in a safe fashion so people’s voices can be heard and that part of the responsibility of public officials is to listen, particularly when people are upset. We are trying to make sure we facilitate that so there can be participation in our meeting.”

The Granicus live streaming of Tuesday’s meeting is available through http://www.clallam.net/features/meetings.html.

Those with court-related matters should go to the east side of the courthouse sheriff’s office entrance.

“Other steps are being taken to accommodate the expected numbers of citizens attending,” according to the notice.

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, [email protected]

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