Man suspected of threatening to kill Rep. Pramila Jayapal released from jail

Ritu Jha-

An armed man who allegedly threatened to kill U.S. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) on Saturday, July 9 was arrested early on July 10 and later released from jail on Wednesday.

Casey McNerthney, director of communications at the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office told indica, “This is correct (that he is being released). The police investigation is active and ongoing. The King County prosecutors have not declined to file charges.”

Earlier, Noah Haglund, communications specialist, Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention told indica, “Brett Allen Forsell was booked into jail around 1 a.m. July 10 for investigation of malicious harassment. He has been charged under the Washington state statute for a hate crime.”

The King County prosecuting attorney told indica the incident is “disturbing and unacceptable.”

The armed 48-year-old Seattle man drove by Jayapal’s house thrice at 11:25 p.m., allegedly yelling obscenities, including, “Go back to India, I’m going to kill you.”

However, Seattle police released him because they could not say with certainty that he told the congresswoman to go back to India or that he threatened to kill her, according to King County prosecutors. Washington state law says that prosecutors have 72 hours, not including holidays and weekends, to file criminal charges against a person in custody. If charges are not filed within that time, the person must be released from jail. Prosecutors are also ethically bound not to file charges unless they have evidence to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that a person committed the crime they are accused of.

Jayapal’s office said in a statement: “Congresswoman Jayapal confirms that incidents occurred at her Seattle home on Saturday night when she was present. The Congresswoman and her family are safe and appreciate the many calls and good wishes she is receiving from constituents. She is very grateful for the swift and professional response from the Seattle Police Department, the U.S. Capitol Police, and the FBI investigators who are working together diligently on the investigation, and ensuring that she and her family stay safe. Because this is an ongoing investigation, she will not be commenting further at this time.”

Neil Makhija, executive director of the Indian American Impact, said in a statement: “We are grateful that Representative Jayapal and her family are safe, but we are horrified that they had to endure this terrifying hate crime. There should be no place for hate in our country, and Representative Jayapal and her family should not have to live in fear. Yet today, we see it everywhere.”

He said, “There have been over 11,000 hate incidents against Asian Americans last year and nearly 600 more every month. These hate crimes are rarely reported on the news – even this story about a member of Congress has barely been covered by national media. We remain extremely alarmed that a request for a criminal harassment protection order was denied, particularly considering the aggressive nature of the incident and the public nature of the Congresswoman’s job. Rep. Jayapal’s service to Washington’s 7th Congressional district should not be a threat to her life or her family’s lives,” said Makhija.

He added, “We urge the U.S. Capitol Police and FBI to conduct a thorough and exhaustive investigation into this incident and implement all necessary safety measures to ensure Rep. Jayapal and other AAPI members of Congress are safe in their respective districts and in Washington, D.C.”

Earlier, McNerthney told indica, “The recent incident outside Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s Seattle home is disturbing and unacceptable. In a time of increased political violence, security concerns against any elected official should be taken seriously, as we are doing here.”

“The suspect’s alleged language and actions, coupled with his possession of a concealed weapon, deserve the full attention of the justice system,” McNerthney said. “Presently, the investigation is ongoing and our office is working with police investigators to make sure we understand the full extent of the suspect’s actions to build the strongest case possible.”

Witnesses heard gunfire, and when police officers arrived on the scene they arrested the man, who had a .40 caliber handgun. Forsell, was in custody at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, Washington, south of Seattle.

The Seattle Police Department, the U.S. Capitol Police and FBI investigators are investigating the incident.

Elected in 2016, Congresswoman Jayapal is now serving her third term in Congress representing Washington’s 7th District, which encompasses most of Seattle and its surrounding areas including Shoreline, Vashon Island, Lake Forest Park, Edmonds, and parts of Burien and Normandy Park. She is the first South Asian American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and one of only two dozen naturalized citizens currently serving in the United States Congress.

Representative Jayapal was born in India, and came to the United States at the age of 16 to attend college at Georgetown University. She later received her MBA from Northwestern University, worked in a number of industries in both the public and private sectors, and published her first book in 2000, Pilgrimage to India: A Woman Revisits Her Homeland. She has since published a second book, Use the Power You Have: A Brown Woman’s Guide to Politics and Political Change.

The 2021 Hate Crime in California Report, made public by Attorney General Rob Bonta recently has pointed at a 339% spike in overall hate crimes reported in California during the last year alone.

The report states that 1,763 hate crime incidents were reported in 2021, an increase of 32.6% as compared to the number of similar incidents reported in 2020.

While reported anti-Asian hate crime events during the same period increased dramatically by 177.5%, and hate crimes targeting Black people that remain the most prevalent registered a 12.5% increase. Reported hate crimes involving a sexual orientation bias also rose by 47% in 2021.

The rise in hate crime incidents in California is also reflected in the spike in number of cases filed for prosecution by district attorneys and elected city attorneys. Cases involving hate crime charges increased 30.1% in 2021 compared to 2020.