Okanogan County Courthouse cleared due to mysterious substance found by election officials

Substance found by King County election office is fentanyl; substance in Okanogan County under investigation

The Okanogan County Courthouse was cleared Wednesday, Aug. 3, after an unidentified substance was found by election officials in the Okanogan County Auditor’s Office. <em>Gary DeVon/GT file photo</em>

The Okanogan County Courthouse was cleared Wednesday, Aug. 3, after an unidentified substance was found by election officials in the Okanogan County Auditor’s Office. Gary DeVon/GT file photo

OKANOGAN – The Okanogan County Auditor’s Office notified the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office dispatch of an unidentified substance found in an envelope in the Auditor’s Office on Wednesday, Aug. 2.

The Office of the Secretary of State is monitoring reports of suspicious materials in envelopes received by elections officials in King and Okanogan counties. Local, state, and federal authorities are investigating the incidents, which occurred while election workers were processing ballots from the Aug. 1 Primary election.

In Okanogan County, the Okanogan Fire Department, Lifeline Ambulance Service and deputies were advised of the situation and responded. Due to the nature of the circumstances, the entire courthouse building was evacuated, according to Okanogan County Emergency Management.

“While the investigation is being conducted the entire courthouse will be closed until further notice. Those offices closed include the Okanogan County Assessors, Auditor, Clerks and Treasurer,” said an alert from Emergency Management.

The investigation is still ongoing and the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office is working with the Washington State Patrol, and the FBI. There are no injuries to those employees that were involved, said Emergency Management in an update Thursday evening.

A suspicious letter received Monday by the King County Elections office was turned over to the United States Postal Inspection Service, which performed an analysis that detected trace amounts of fentanyl. The Okanogan County Courthouse was evacuated Wednesday after the auditor’s office contacted authorities that afternoon to report receiving an envelope containing an unidentified substance, which is being tested. Because both investigations are ongoing, the Office of the Secretary of State can provide no further information about either incident. No connection is known between the two situations

Those that have proceedings scheduled for Okanogan County Superior Court:

  • All Superior Court, court proceedings will occur as scheduled for Aug. 3, 2023. Court staff will be outside the courthouse to direct all parties and the public to the appropriate courtrooms. The Court Facilitator’s office will be closed.

If you have proceedings scheduled for Okanogan County District Court:

  • All District Court offices and courtrooms in the courthouse will be closed on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. All District Court civil matters and any out-of-custody criminal matters scheduled for Aug. 3 will be continued to a future date.
  • The District Court will not have access to phones or email during the closure.
  • Those with business before the court should contact the District Court next week, Aug. 14 for a new court date for those matters.
  • District Court will hold a morning criminal calendar for in-custody defendants in the jail courtroom as the court has been notified that the courtroom is safe. All other Okanogan County offices not in the courthouse will be open.

Information will be posted on the Okanogan County webpage at www.okanogancounty.org.

“Elections offices in every county in Washington have had to develop emergency plans and protective strategies for events like these, which should serve as a sobering reminder of the dangers that surround our elections process and elections workers,” Secretary of State Steve Hobbs said. “My office and I will provide all the resources at our disposal to any county that needs help confronting any challenge, and will continue to advocate for stronger protection for all elections workers.”

In July, Secretary Hobbs announced the availability of up to $80,000 in election-security funding for each Washington county that uses an Albert sensor to monitor security risks to their elections networks. This is the second year for this funding program, which distributed more than $1.57 million during fiscal year 2022-23 for county election security.

Washington’s Office of the Secretary of State oversees a number of areas within state government, including managing state elections, registering corporations and charities, and governing the use of the state flag and state seal.

This article was updated with additional information from the Washington State Office of the Secretary of State.