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‘It really feels like a tipping point.’ North Seattle on edge after shooting of homeless man

caption: Friends leave flowers near the spot where Daniel Alberto was shot in North Seattle
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Friends leave flowers near the spot where Daniel Alberto was shot in North Seattle
KUOW photo/Kate Walters

In a room filled with flickering candles on Aurora Avenue in North Seattle, dozens of people from all walks of life gathered on a recent gray Sunday to mourn another loss.

Here in King County, 171 people presumed to be homeless have died so far this year, an increase over last. Death in this community has become routine.

“Here we are again, grieving a fallen friend,” said Lisa Etter-Carlson, co-founder of the Aurora Commons, a community and service space for people who are homeless. “Death, it feels, is always lurking in the shadows for our little community.”

But the death mourned on Sunday felt different to those who gathered at the Aurora Commons. They were grieving for a man named Daniel Alberto, who was fatally shot by a local resident prosecutors say harbored “significant” animosity for Alberto and the local homeless community, which he blamed for an uptick in crime.

Prosecutors have charged suspect John Thomas Davis with second-degree murder after he allegedly confronted Alberto near Aurora Avenue and shot him through the passenger side window of his car. Police say Davis had called over the summer and said Alberto had broken his window—something he became “fixated” with, according to prosecutors.

 “Regarding the homeless population in his neighborhood, Davis told an acquaintance that ‘I might have to take extreme action against them in order to protect myself,’” senior deputy prosecuting attorney Jason Simmons wrote in a court filing.

The address listed for Davis is about three miles from the site of the shooting, near the Ravenna neighborhood.

Davis claimed he feared for his life and acted in self-defense after Alberto threatened him with a knife, according to police documents. A small knife was found near Alberto’s body.

But surveillance footage showed that Alberto had walked away from Davis’ car, then turned “as if something suddenly called his attention to the car,” police documents say. “Alberto then walked over to the passenger door of Davis’ car, only to be shot immediately,” the documents say.

Police charging documents also say that Davis had been warned by Seattle police more than once not to “hostilely confront” people he “found bothersome,” but call 911 instead.

Three months prior to the shooting, police say Davis called 911 to report “a black male trespassing on his property” and threatening him. Police say Davis told the 911 dispatcher to catch the man or else he’d have to confront him himself; later, he called police to report he was following the man. Police said Davis told the dispatcher that he had “a gun in his fanny pack and it won’t be good for the susp (suspect) if he comes back.”

Alberto had a criminal history, including harassment charges from this year. Police documents say he was known “to act out violently and to carry weapons.”

Nevertheless, those who knew Alberto spoke of him in different terms.

Etter-Carlson said she remembered the way Alberto cared for his friends.

"The true essence of Danny, as we all know, was tender and kind,” she said, speaking at his memorial. “He had such kind eyes.”

Tensions have run high in this area in recent months. The nearby Licton Springs tiny house village, which allows homeless residents to use drugs and alcohol onsite, has divided neighbors.

At heated community meetings this year, city officials heard from people who say crime has sky-rocketed since the village opened, and others who say it's saved lives.

"It really feels like a tipping point,” said Elizabeth Dahl, executive director of the Aurora Commons, the gathering point for Alberto's memorial. “There's been so much anger and hatred towards this population in this community for a long time.”

Dahl said there’s fear in the local homeless community after Alberto’s death.

North Seattle resident Jennifer Coats, a member of the Safe Seattle Facebook group, said she feels fear, too. Coats said she doesn't know all the details of the shooting, but if Alberto was targeted because he was homeless it's "really unfortunate." She said hurting others is not acceptable. But she also said she understands the frustration in the neighborhood and that she fears for the safety of her family.

“I think we need to stop being quote-unquote compassionate towards people that are criminals, that are causing crimes,” Coats said.

She said the city’s compassionate approach hasn’t worked. Coats said drug activity and property crime are common along Aurora and have a big impact on residents.

For her, the solution lies in better police staffing and a change in policies, which she said are too lax.

Back at the Aurora Commons, a woman who goes by Goldie said she understands some of the frustrations neighbors feel. Goldie is homeless and has spent years on Aurora. She said she wishes neighbors would talk to people like her.

"If they would just say, ‘hi’ sometimes,” Goldie said. “It's not us against them, or them against us. We're still all under one sky.”

John Davis, the man charged with shooting Daniel Alberto, remains in jail. He will be arraigned on November 14. 

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