Search still on for suspect in Grays Harbor Co. Courthouse attack
Authorities are searching for the man who stabbed a judge and shot a sheriff's deputy Friday afternoon in the Grays Harbor County Courthouse.
Seattle Times staff reporters
MONTESANO, Grays Harbor County — Around lunchtime Friday, Grays Harbor Superior Court Judge David Edwards peered down the courthouse's central stairway. Below, a slim, well-dressed man was stabbing and wrestling with a sheriff's deputy.
Edwards, 63, ran down the stairs and jumped into the fray.
The man stabbed Edwards in the back of the neck, according to the Grays Harbor County Sheriff's Department. Edwards tossed the man against a wall. The man then snatched a .45-caliber handgun from Deputy Polly Davin and fired twice, hitting her in the shoulder.
He then ran from the courthouse with the handgun, the Sheriff's Department said.
The attack touched off an exhaustive manhunt involving an estimated 100 officers from across the region and locked down the town of 4,000. But the search failed to turn up the man, who is presumed to still be armed with Davin's handgun.
Edwards and Davin, 45, survived the attack.
Undersheriff Rick Scott said Davin was responding to a report of a suspicious person at the courthouse when she confronted the man. He identified himself as Michael Thomas to Davin just before he stabbed the 5-foot-2 deputy with a small knife or scissors, Scott said.
But investigators don't know if the man gave his real name, and no witness has linked him to a getaway car, said Scott. They also have no motive for the assault.
"We don't know why this individual is at the courthouse today," said Scott.
The courthouse has no security cameras. Even the suspect description doesn't provide authorities with much to go on: 5-foot-10 to 6 feet tall, clean-shaven, with light-brown hair, a blue shirt, black pants. He carried a briefcase.
Investigators were trying to match persons with that name to the description.
Edwards and Davin were both released from Grays Harbor Community Hospital on Friday night, said spokesman David Quigg. Both were talking with investigators.
The apparently unprovoked assault underscored a long-standing local concern — by Edwards, other judges, lawyers and court staff — that the Grays Harbor County Courthouse had no screening staff or metal detectors, and often no security in courtrooms.
Last December, the three Superior Court judges, including Edwards, sued the county and its Board of Commissioners, alleging the court was systematically denied full funding for years — including the funding to implement security.
"We know there's a problem. We've been concerned about it. It's a very expensive matter to secure a courthouse," said retired Grays Harbor County Superior Court Judge David Foscue, who was succeeded on the bench by Edwards.
The manhunt for the suspect initially focused on a house about a half-mile from the courthouse after neighbors spotted a man running nearby. But when SWAT officers stormed the house, no one was there.
Kristi Freeman, who lives about a block from that house, said the scene that unfolded outside her door was frightening.
"It started with just one or two police cars," she said. "Then there were more and they diverted school buses down another street."
About two hours after the attack, authorities in Thurston County reported they had arrested a man named Michael Thomas, but he turned out to be the wrong man. Scott suggested that may have been coincidence based on a common name.
The statewide search sent police chasing reports of suspicious activity, but with no success. The investigation was being led by a multiagency team from four surrounding counties, coordinated by the Mason County Sheriff's Office.
Heroics no surprise
Edwards, of Aberdeen, was appointed judge in 2008 by Gov. Chris Gregoire after a career as a business and civil-litigation attorney, including acting as lead local attorney on a nationwide class-action lawsuit involving defective wood sealer.
Edwards, who is married with three children, moved to the area in the early 1970s from Illinois, where he went to law school. He served in the county Prosecuting Attorney's Office from 1974 to 1978, where he was the chief criminal deputy prosecutor for two years. He also taught law courses at Grays Harbor Community College.
In nominating him to replace Foscue, Gregoire's office cited Edwards' community service, including being a scoutmaster, school volunteer and on the boards of the local YMCA, city parks department and United Way.
Attorney Wayne Hagen, who shared a law practice with Edwards for more than 16 years, said Edwards' heroics on Friday were consistent with his community service.
"I'm sure he knew that he was putting himself in harm's way when he did it," said Hagen. "That doesn't surprise me at all. It would surprise me if he didn't do it."
Hagen said Edwards joked Friday that "he saw no reason to not make" a Sunday practice of the American Legion baseball team he coaches.
Davin "rock solid"
Davin found her calling in law enforcement while working as a reporter at the Aberdeen Daily World, where she was hired in 1990.
"She really had a knack for it," said Daily World Editor Doug Barker. "She had a real comfort around police and their work. And they responded to her."
Barker said he was just one of several people who suggested to her that she ought to consider law enforcement as a career. Scott, the undersheriff, did as well, Barker said. "He was something of a mentor to her," Barker said.
Davin was "rock solid," Barker said. "She's pretty quiet, someone with a strong faith."
She put down her notebook and donned a badge in 1998.
The Daily World profiled Davin in 2009, when she was working as a detective, mostly investigating sex crimes. She described law enforcement as a "different world," fraught with both danger and the satisfaction of making a difference.
She related to the newspaper about how she had few qualms about meeting people alone as a reporter, describing a sense of invulnerability that didn't translate well to law enforcement.
She said she once found a small device while searching a man following an arrest. She put it on her dashboard, drove to the police station and carried it into the squad room before finding out it was a blasting cap.
"I should have known, the guy had no fingers," she told the Daily World. "I was not taking it seriously that this is a dangerous job."
Seattle Times staff reporters Mike Carter and Christine Clarridge and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report, which includes information from the Aberdeen Daily World.