Disconnect: Missteps Over an Intruder at a Seattle Elementary School

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Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

On June 2nd, a series of events occurred in the Sand Point neighborhood including an incident at Sand Point Elementary School where an intruder came onto the grounds and into a classroom. These events raise serious questions about how Seattle Schools deals with an intruder at a school. At the very least, the incidents raise issues about communications between Seattle Public Schools and the Seattle Police Department. These events happened, ironically, about a week after the killings at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. 

Here’s that disturbing Seattle story, compiled from police and parents reports, first reported in its entirety here.

Site #1 – View Ridge Swim and Tennis Club

June 2 in Seattle was a Thursday, somewhat sunny with an expected temperature of 72 degrees. Not particularly warm but there was an end-of-the year swim party for middle-schoolers at the View Ridge Swim and Tennis Club and that temperature was good enough for them. 

At about 1 pm, a young man later identified by police as Liban Harasam scaled the fence at the club’s main gate, one that was closed and locked. The club has had issues with theft from their locker rooms and now has cameras installed throughout the club. Harasam was immediately spotted on camera by security. Security staffers got to him, but a side gate was open and the intruder left the premises on foot. 

Staff notified the manager, Bruce Gillespie, who was at home nearby. He came to the club to check in and then drove off in the direction staff had seen Harasam go. Gillespie called 911 about the incident at 1:35 pm. Gillespie located Harasam and tracked him for about 15 minutes before he lost him in an apartment parking lot. Harasam was spotted throwing things at passing cars on Sand Point Way Northeast. One SPD officer attempted to find him there but could not.

 According to police, Harasam is a “high utilizer” which is the designation for repeat offenders who have multiple contacts and arrests with SPD. In the previous week, Harasam was reportedly arrested for felony property damage to a church.

Harasam made his way south to Sand Point Elementary School and jumped the fence around 2:15 pm. 

Site #2 – Sand Point Elementary School, part of Seattle Public Schools

There were two classes out on the playground almost at the end of the school day; one made up of 1st graders and one made up of 5th graders. The 1st graders were enjoying birthday cupcakes brought by a mother, Sam Scharenberg, who stayed to pass them out. 

Liban Harasam had jumped the fence and proceeded to the playground. The first-grade teacher spotted him and firmly told him to leave. He didn’t. She then hustled her kids off the playground, shouting for 911 to be called. 

Parent Scharenberg called 911 at 2:19 pm. Harasam started chasing the 5th graders until they ran back to their classroom which was in a portable. (It is unclear where their teacher was but he/she/they was not with them.) The school secretary called 911 at 2:26 pm. The school went under lockdown sometime between the two 911 calls.

The police officer searching for Harasam on Sand Point Way NE heard about the incident happening at the school, compared the descriptions of the suspect from the club and the school, found them to be the same, and then headed for the school.

Harasam followed the 5th graders. Finding the classroom door would not lock, multiple students attempted to hold the door closed but Harasam was able to pull the door open. It is alleged that he yelled at kids, claiming one girl looked like his sister and tried to grab her. He also grabbed the arm of another girl. 

 A teacher in the next portable came to investigate the noise and stepped in between the students and Harasam, asking him to leave. He finally did leave the classroom but continued to wander the school premises until the principal, Richard Baileykaze, accosted him and quietly started pleading with him to leave school grounds. At one point, Harasam took one student’s black backpack, emptied it and put his own bag into it. The principal later reported he had seen no weapons in Harasam’s bag.

At 2:29 pm, the police officer arrived on the scene but stayed in his car. He says that he “observed the suspect walking around in circles carrying what appeared to be personal property” and then dropping items on the ground. The officer said he had not been apprised of a crime in the 911 call from the school and thought he was called for a “welfare check” on someone who appeared mentally unstable and had entered the school grounds. He called Scharenberg, the parent who called 911, and it was she who told him that the school was in lockdown. 

The officer states in his narrative, “Principal R.B. and the other two teachers would not speak with me.” In a narrative at the neighborhood website Next Door by Scharenberg’s husband, he says the officer didn’t get out of the car and seemed busy with details like how to spell the principal’s name. The officer did get out of the car and requested that Harasam leave and eventually he did. 

Another officer showed up but the first officer could not tell her with any certainty of a crime.  It was after Harasam’s departure that the principal told the officers about the stolen backpack. But because Harasam had left and the principal would not tell the officer who the theft victim was, they could not claim a crime was committed. In short, SPD’s hands were tied without probable cause.

Why the principal and staff apparently stopped speaking with the officers is unclear. The Next Door account says “a school district supervisor/employee who lives nearby came on site and stepped in to support the principal.” It’s possible that this administrator directed the principal’s actions.

The Next Door account reported that after the incident, Scharenberg was told by “school authorities” that “the building and policies are being evaluated and updated, most notable the locks and mechanisms of the portable classrooms.” One speculation is that the SPS administrator on the scene told the principal and staff to stay silent given that this was after Uvalde and there was a lock on the door that students could not work and that allowed Harasam to access the classroom. SPS administration has been notably tight-lipped to this reporter’s questions about the incident.

After Uvalde, Seattle Schools Superintendent Brent Jones did issue a statement at the district’s website saying in part, 

Because the event happened at a school, students may feel a heightened concern about their safety in their schools or communities. The well-being of our students is our top concern. We have put numerous measures into place to ensure schools are safe, and to provide a place where students feel cared for and find comfort.”

Site #3 – Building near Sand Point Way NE

That same afternoon, DHL driver Dung Hoang Le had left his van running to make a quick delivery. When he came back, he observed a person thought to be Harasam entering the van from the back. Le thought he might be trying to steal the van, but then saw Harasam taking the driver’s cell phone. Le ran to the van and argued with Harasam who then hit Le in the face with a binder. Harasam then reportedly ran to a Metro bus stop and got onto a waiting bus. 

The two SPD officers who had been at Sand Point Elementary School now came on the scene and attempted to get Harasam off the bus. They stated they “still did not know if he was armed with any weapons.”

He resisted being put in handcuffs, smacking one officer’s wrist against a window, causing her injury. Another officer who had arrived jumped into the fray. Even after they cuffed him, Harasam continued to fight back. One officer stated that she thought her left wrist had been broken in the struggle, which turned out to be true. 

Other units arrived as Harasam flailed on the grass. He continued to fight but was finally put into a medic car that took him to Harborview Medical Center to ascertain his mental state. The police report says “a spit sock” had to be used on Harasam to protect the medics.

The SPD officer who first arrived at Sand Point Elementary then went back to the school to follow up. It was then that he said he learned about what had happened at the school and said “none of this information was advised to 911 or to me when I was first on the scene.” The report goes on, “If this information was advised, at the time of initial contact or to 911, the suspect could have been legally detained or arrested while conducting the investigation.” In talking to the principal, the officer said the principal asked that Harasam be banned from Sand Point Elementary School “for life.” 

Numerous items were found in Harasam’s backpack including a cell phone, a driver’s license, a Goodwill ID card, and blue filing folder (possibly the one used to hit the DHL driver). None of the items appeared to belong to Harasam. 

From a psychological evaluation on Harasam in November 2021, which stated:

  • He is unlikely to have the capacity to understand proceedings against him. 
  • He is 20 years old.
  • He is possibly an immigrant, coming to the U.S in 2012.
  • Another evaluation in October 2021 stated about Harasam – “presents as guarded with paranoia demeanor.”
  • He didn’t finish high school and admitted to several suspensions due to pot use. 
  • He has tried to set several cars on fire. 

Originally, because of the lack of information given by Principal Baileykaze, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said the other actions committed by Harasam did not rise to the level of felonies and referred the case to the Seattle City Attorney’s office.

Harasam was charged with five misdemeanor counts stemming from the incidents of June 2. Two are for assault (one on a police officer), one for vehicle prowling, one for criminal trespass and one for resisting arrest.  The City Attorney’s office had asked for $25,000 bail, but the judge reduced it to $10,000.

However, court documents from June 16 show that those misdemeanor charges were dropped and new felony charges filed by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office with a recommended $250,000 bond. SPD’s investigation found new information that led to these charges which include burglary and assault of a child. Harasam remains in jail. 

At every point of contact that day, those on the scene observed that the suspect appeared to be having a mental episode or was under the influence of drugs or both. Indeed, both the police officer on the scene at the school and the principal were very careful in interacting with the suspect, worrying about escalation if they were more forceful.

On two parent sites on Facebook, parents loudly complained that it was wrong for SPD to have allowed Harasam to walk away from the school. This impression may have spurred SPD to further investigate, presumably because they did not like the accusation that the officer on the scene at Sand Point Elementary School did nothing. The SPD narrative indicates frustration from officers due to a lack of cooperation from Sand Point Elementary School staff about what had happened at the school. 

SPS also told KOMO-TV news, one of the few media outlets to report this story, that the school district was going to have a “debrief” with SPD on these incidents and “determine how we can improve our communications and coordination when SPD responds to calls at our school.”

SPD told me that the entire incident was under investigation by OPA (Office of Professional Accountability) and that therefore they would have no public comment. 

The district made a statement to KOMO-TV saying they didn’t dispute what SPD said about the Sand Point Elementary School incident and that “we believe that all involved were working to do their best to keep students safe in a very challenging situation.” Superintendent Brent Jones has never made any public statement about the incident but Principal Baileykaze praised staff and students. 

Subsequently, Principal Baileykaze announced he would be leaving SPS and making a previously planned move to teach in another country.

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Melissa Westbrook is a veteran observer of Seattle Schools and blogs at Seattle Schools Community Forum https://saveseattleschools.blogspot.com/

1 COMMENT

  1. Both the Police and the School District are reverting to the blame game in this incident. Media need to dig deeper on this story, not just following the finger-pointing. Both parties (the schools for unlocked doors, the police for sitting in the patrol car) have reasons to shift the blame to the other guy. The mayor and the school board may also want to avert their eyes.

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