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‘That investigation is on my mind all the time’: King County sheriff keeps picture of Burien shooting victim at desk

SEATTLE -- A recent uptick in violent crime in South King County has residents there on edge, particularly since the shooting death of a 51-year-old grandmother who was killed by a stray bullet while working at a Burien chiropractor's office in broad daylight.

King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, who was sworn in as sheriff in January, knew she was inheriting a problem with gang violence in the South Sound, but she concedes that the problem is now "broader" in some areas.

The sheriff sat down with Q13 recently in her first one-on-one interview since the high-profile murder of Gabriela Reyes-Dominguez.

"That investigation is on my mind all the time," Johanknecht said. "I have a picture of her that I keep by my desk."

Johanknecht grew up in Burien, and that's where she patrolled as a young deputy long before she was elected sheriff.

She said she believes the answer to the gang violence problem is a regional gang unit, a taskforce she said will help to save lives and solve crimes.

Johanknecht has asked for $900,000 in King County's budget to build the unit, one that's comprised of more than just law enforcement agencies.

"Getting youth and families the things that they need, and working with the schools to stop the recruiting of gang members, and all these others steps we can take so we don't have to do enforcements," Johanknecht said.

Johanknecht has also had to hear the frustrations from Burien's police chief when deputies are arresting the same teens over and over again. In one recent case, Burien officers tried to arrest a car full of alleged teen gang members who had guns, but the youth detention center refused to book one of the teens.

"When you're doing good work, you know who the players are. You know who to contact to find out information. That's our job, that's what we do, and sometimes we get frustrated by other parts of the system."

Meanwhile, Johanknecht and her department will push forward, building solid cases to keep gang members off the streets, even if it seems like it's taking a long time.

"We have to find probable cause, and we work with the prosecutor's office so we have really good cases to present to them, so we have a really good success rate," she explained.

Three 17-year-old boys have been arrested in connection with Reyes-Dominguez's death. The bullet was meant for another teenager. They're all believed to be involved in gang activity, deputies have said.