Pierce County | KNKX

Pierce County

Three counties will return Friday to Phase 2 of the Healthy Washington plan.
Office of the Governor

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday afternoon that three Washington counties are not meeting the Phase 3 Healthy Washington metrics for reopening activities. 

In this Feb. 18, 2020, photo, then-Pierce County Sheriff's Department spokesman Ed Troyer answers questions during a news conference in Tacoma. Troyer was elected Pierce County sheriff in November.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press file

Pierce County leaders say they are "concerned" and want more information about an incident in which county Sheriff Ed Troyer followed a Black newspaper delivery driver and then called 911 on him, prompting a large police response.

Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

Officials across Washington state are trying to vaccinate people for COVID-19 more quickly, and some of those plans begin this week.

The pirate ship display is among the most popular attractions at Fantasy Lights.
Fantasy Lights / Pierce County Parks

Fantasy Lights at Spanaway Park is attracting a record number of visitors this year. Jennifer Spane, Pierce County Parks & Recreation supervisor, says on weekends wait times can be up to three hours. She said the holiday tradition, now in its 26th year, is perfectly suited for a pandemic because it’s something you experience without ever leaving your car.

A sign directs vehicles toward a drive-up testing site at the Tacoma Dome in March 2020. It was one of the test sites hosted by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department early in the pandemic.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press (file)

Gov. Jay Inslee put the brakes Monday on an effort to dissolve the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

A sign directs vehicles toward a drive-up testing site at the Tacoma Dome in March 2020. It was one of the test sites hosted by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department early in the pandemic.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press (file)

Pierce County residents had their first opportunity to respond to a controversial proposal that would terminate a public health partnership between the county and the City of Tacoma.
And their collective response during Monday’s Pierce County Council committee meeting was overwhelming: many called the effort “reckless” and “dangerous” as the county faces a surge of COVID-19 cases.

A person wears a mask as she waits to enter the RAM Restaurant and Brewery, Tuesday, June 23, 2020, in Tacoma, Wash.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press (file)

Pierce County officials, in an effort to help restaurants stay in business and retain jobs, will offer an incentive for customers to dine inside restaurants next month.

The two-week "restaurant rally," is scheduled for Nov. 8-19, excluding Friday and Saturday. Restaurants will offer a 30 percent discount to customers who dine inside, and then the county will reimburse the businesses. 

A bed sits made at a long-term care center in Rockland, Mass., back in March. Long-term care facilities in Washington state and across the country have been particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks during the pandemic.
David Goldman / The Associated Press (file)

For months, long-term care facilities in Washington were closed not only to visitors but also to state regulatory authorities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These facilities were early hotspots, driving the nation's coronavirus death toll this spring.

That posed a big problem for the staff and volunteers of Washington's long-term care ombuds office.

"For our role, visitation is key," ombuds Patricia Hunter told KNKX. 

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards, left, and Harold Moss in 2018. Moss died Monday night at the age of 90. Woodards describes him as a father figure to her.
Courtesy of the City of Tacoma

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards says the feelings she gets talking about her mentor, friend and adoptive father Harold Moss, who died late Monday at the age of 90, are still raw. Even so, she feels compelled to talk about him — now more than ever.

A person wears a mask as she waits to enter the Ram Restaurant and Brewery, Tuesday, June 23, in Tacoma.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

Health officials in Pierce County are taking steps to learn just how many people are wearing masks in public, and if they’re wearing them correctly. They say their findings show it’s not enough, and habits vary widely depending on the type of location.

Staff and volunteers with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department recently conducted a 48-hour survey, during which they observed people in more than 20 locations countywide.

Senate Television / Associated Press

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the child care industry into turmoil nationally and in Washington state. Many providers lost clients as parents shifted to working from home or got laid off.

Protesters gather in Tacoma on June 2 to demand justice for Bennie Branch, who was shot and killed by Tacoma police in September 2019.
Ashley Gross / KNKX

Two cases in which police in Pierce County shot and killed Black men in their 20s are getting renewed attention following weeks of protest sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Bennie Branch, 24, and Said Joquin, 26, were shot and killed in separate incidents eight months apart. 

Pierce County is losing ground against COVID-19. That’s the word from Dr. Anthony Chen, director of health for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

In a blog post, Chen said the county will pause its plans to advance in the state’s four-phase reopening plan. He said the move to Phase 2 also brought an increase in cases.

Art Crate Field in Spanaway, where high schools in the Bethel School District share athletic fields for sports, including track.
Markelle E.G. Photography

For the second time in less than a month, a coach in the Bethel School District in Pierce County is out of a job after posting inflammatory messages on social media.

A friend of Manuel Ellis, who died in the custody of Tacoma police in March, holds a sign demanding justice after Ellis' death was ruled a homicide. Four officers involved are now on leave.
Will James / KNKX

Nationwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis are hitting home especially hard in Tacoma, after the Pierce County medical examiner ruled the death of Manuel Ellis a homicide. In March, Ellis died in handcuffs while Tacoma police restrained him. The cause of death was respiratory arrest. 

Jamika Scott is an organizer who has worked with Ellis' family to bring attention to his death. 

The Point Ruston development in Pierce County, home to many local businesses, is among the places that have been quieter after businesses shuttered due to the novel coronavirus. Those businesses may be cleared to open up soon.
Tom Collins / KNKX

Pierce County is preparing to reopen its economy, after Gov. Jay Inslee announced a more flexible strategy  for easing social-distancing restrictions in counties across Washington.

Friday’s announcement came just as the governor’s original stay-home order was set to expire Monday.

In an exclusive interview with KNKX Public Radio, County Executive Bruce Dammeier said officials plan to move swiftly on an application to begin reopening the economy under the new criteria of Inslee’s so-called Safe Start plan.

Wikimedia Commons

One size does not fit all. That's the message from the mayors of Sumner and Bonney Lake, neighboring communities in eastern Pierce County with a combined population of about 31,000 people. They wrote a joint letter to Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this month asking for a little more leeway in the state's phased reopening plan, especially for small businesses in their communities.

Dr. Karen Cline-Parhamovich stands in the autopsy suite at the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office in Tacoma on May 11, 2020. She starts work as the new chief medical examiner Monday.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Pierce County is finally getting a new medical examiner, after nearly a year and a half of turmoil and uncertainty.

The County Council confirmed Dr. Karen Cline-Parhamovich in a unanimous vote Tuesday. Cline attended the meeting remotely after recently relocating here from New Mexico, where she has served as interim chief medical investigator for the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator. She begins work in Pierce County on Monday. 

The press release from the Pierce County assessor’s office was blunt: “There’s no sugar-coating it, property tax bills will be bigger this year.”

The state legislature has invested in public education in recent years to satisfy the long-running McCleary school-finance lawsuit, and that money is coming from a state property tax increase. The legislature also raised the maximum that school districts can collect in local levies.

Seth Wenig / AP Photo

It's not only a new year but Jan. 1 also marks the start of new regulations on recycling for residents of King and Pierce counties.  

Seattle Public Utilities and King County Solid Waste are no longer accepting plastic bags or plastic wraps in curbside bins. (Pierce County already made this change). Instead, residents are asked to bundle these thin plastics up at home and take them to drop off sites at retail stores.

The main reason for the change is that thin plastics get caught in the gears of the sorting machines that separate different kinds of recycling. 

Pierce County has found its next chief medical examiner, to replace Dr. Thomas Clark.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Pierce County has found its next chief medical examiner, shortly after reaching settlement agreements with the office’s top two officials.  

The county announced Tuesday that Dr. Mark Fajardo will lead the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office as soon as he relocates from Southern California. He’ll succeed Dr. Thomas Clark, who recently announced his intent to retire amid a whirlwind of complaints

Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor, right, stands outside a Pierce County Superior courtroom in May 2019 following an appearance by a teen suspected in a robbery and murder of a 79-year-old convenience store owner.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

Washington’s second largest county is about to get a new sheriff for the first time in two decades. Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor announced last week that he will retire at the beginning of 2020. 

Courtesy of WorkForce Central

Nearly half of jobs in Pierce County are at "high risk" of being replaced by advancing technology, according to a recent report assessing the threats posed by automation. 

The report by WorkForce Central found that four of the county's six most common occupations — retail salesperson, food preparer or server, cashier and office clerk — are at "high risk" for automation. 

Pierce County has less than half the population of King County, but the two counties have almost the same number of children in foster care or other out-of-home placements. In Pierce County, a new effort is underway to keep families intact.

Will James / KNKX

Results from Pierce County's annual census of the homeless population show a striking, but familiar, pattern around race. 

Nina Summerrise and her husband, Robin, hold a picture of Summerrise's son, Ian Sherls, whose body was found in a well in the ground at Tacoma's Swan Creek Park. They want responses to unanswered questions from Pierce County Medical Examiner Thomas Clark.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

This story was reported by digital content manager Kari Plog and South Sound reporter Will James, and written by Plog.

Nina Summerrise tried to stay positive when a friend alerted her of the news reports: a body wedged deep in an abandoned well discovered in Tacoma’s Swan Creek Park.

medical examiner van
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

Pierce County officials have accused an employee of "possible misconduct" a month after she filed a whistleblower complaint against her boss, the medical examiner.

Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

The Pierce County medical examiner is facing a second complaint about his job performance from his second-in-command.

Megan Quinn, the county’s associate medical examiner, sent the complaint this week to regulators with the state Department of Health, her attorney said. 

medical examiner van
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

UPDATE, Feb. 1: Pierce County's medical examiner faces another complaint from his second-in-command, according to a complaint obtained by KNKX. This one was sent to regulators with the state Department of Health, her attorney Joan Mell said. 

The chief medical examiner with Pierce County is accused of violating a laundry list of laws and standards, according to a whistleblower complaint filed with human resources Thursday.

The second-in-command at the Medical Examiner’s Office accused Thomas B. Clark of altering death certificates, mismanaging evidence and creating a toxic work environment, according to the complaint.


Four homeless people who challenged the city of Puyallup's practice of clearing away encampments have agreed to a $40,400 settlement.