PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioners have sent a proposed Facility Trespass Ordinance back to staff for revisions.
Commissioners directed that the revision should incorporate public comments while achieving the objectives of the ordinance.
The proposed law, which was prompted by security concerns at the courthouse and other county facilities, was discussed during a public hearing on Tuesday. Three people commented.
“It’s unconstitutionally vague. It’s overly broad,” said Mike Belenski.” It covers a lot prior restraint. It chills free speech and people don’t know where the line is between lawful and lawful behavior.
“You are stepping on people’s rights,” Belenski said. “What exactly is a crime?”
George Yount said he supported the effort but that he is concerned about the trajectory of discourse in Jefferson Country.
He related a concern that he heard voiced about how the “Port Townsend elite and Seattle have somehow have captured District 3.”
Part of that discussion, he said, included the statement: “Maybe we’ll have to go up to the courthouse and remove some of those people.
“Think about that. What are we doing about this? Our public officials and those who come into this building need protection.
“This is the kind of stuff that should concern us.”
Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Philip Hunsucker and Jefferson County Undersheriff Art Frank presented the proposed ordinance, which they said would set a clear code of conduct for behavior while at various county facilities and provide a legal basis for enforcing codes.
It was developed jointly by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, the prosecutor’s office and Central Services.
Over the past year, security incidents at the Jefferson County Courthouse have included threats to employees and attempted assaults on security and law enforcement personnel, they said.
Additional incidents affecting other county facilities have included threats and vandalism to county vehicles at the Department of Community Development, they said.
The proposed ordinance was modeled after an ordinance that was adopted by the City Of Port Townsend in response to issues with illegal, dangerous and disruptive behavior at the City Library and other city buildings.
The city has had success using its trespass code to make buildings safe for employees and ensuring a safe experience for citizens engaging in government services, county officials said.
Hunsucker said there was a need for an ordinance “to provide something short of criminal that fills a hole in the code that currently exists.”
“People can show really disruptive and threatening behavior particularly in the courthouse and still allow people to exercise their first amendment and other rights even if they have been issued a trespass warning.”
Hunsucker talked of a man who wandered the courthouse and threatened people “causing great concern in the courthouse by his behavior.
“It wasn’t quite reaching the level of criminality, but still causing lots of problems,” he said.
Frank emphasized that the ordinance does not restrict First Amendment speech.
“It can’t be used to remove people just because of what they are saying from meetings,” Frank said.
Hunsucker said the ordinance applies to such behavior as threatening or harassing, assaulting staff or other patrons and sexual misconduct or harassment.
Unreasonably disruptive behavior is defined as unreasonably hostile or aggressive language or gestures and unreasonably loud vocal expression or boisterous physical behavior that interferes with the free passage of staff or patrons in/on public property as well as behavior inconsistent with the intended use of public property such as bathing, shaving, washing clothes and skateboarding.
Dangerous or unsafe behavior is defined as creating an imminent and unreasonable risk of injury or harm to either persons or property of another person.
“(The ordinance) provides clear expectations of what you can and can’t do when you are in any public building in the county,” Frank said. “It is restating laws that already exist.”
Hunsucker said it provides deputies with a civil tool.
“They don’t necessarily have to arrest someone who is displaying disruptive behavior. Our thinking was likely just trespassing them in some instances calms down the behavior.”
Commissioner David Sullivan said that some people don’t have a place to go during the daytime.
“They are looking for places that are warm and inviting,”Sullivan said. “Some of the behavior has been disruptive. The concern we’ll have is where people draw that line.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-3225 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.