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Small Business Owners Sue Seattle For Handling of CHOP: an Overview

“This lawsuit is about the constitutional rights of Plaintiffs which have been overrun by the City of Seattle’s unprecedented decision to abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood, leaving it unchecked by the police, unserved by fire and emergency health services, and inaccessible to the public at large”

Hunters Capital et. al. v. City of Seattle

On June 24, 2020 a group of Plaintiffs filed a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. Federal District Court captioned Hunters Capital et. al. v. City of SeattleThey are suing the City of Seattle for its handling of “CHAZ”, standing for the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” or “CHOP” for “Capitol Hill Organized Protest” of “Capitol Hill Occupying Protest.”  Plaintiffs allege that the City violated their legal rights by effectively authorizing the actions of the protesters.  This blog post is based on the review of the Class Action Complaint filed with the court and represents a summary of the allegations asserted by Plaintiffs.

PLAINTIFFS

The group of Plaintiffs consists of sixteen businesses who bring this class action on behalf of residents, tenants, property owners, and small business owners in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood that have been harmed by CHOP.  Among the named Plaintiffs are an automotive repair business, a label printing business, a specialty liquor store, a physical therapy office, a homeowners’ association, a property management company, a real estate investment company, a tattoo parlor, a lock and key service, and an apartment building.     

The lawsuit alleges that Plaintiffs’ constitutional and other legal rights have been overturned by the City of Seattle’s unprecedented decision to abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood, leaving it unchecked by the police, unserved by the fire and emergency health services, and inaccessible to the public at large.  This subjected businesses, employees and residents to extensive property damage, public safety dangers, and an inability to use and access their properties.

THE “NO-RESPONSE” ZONE

Plaintiffs allege that the SPD has adopted a policy and practice of not entering the area except in the case of life-threatening crimes, and that the police consider the area from Denny Way to Union Street and Thirteenth Avenue to Broadway to be a “no response” zone where the SPD will not respond to anything but the most serious crimes.  

Reportedly, the City reached an informal agreement with CHOP participants to allow limited one-way access to Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues starting on June 16, but as part of that agreement the City fortified the rest of CHOP with new barriers.  

ALLEGATIONS

On June 8, 2020, the City abruptly deserted the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct, leaving behind numerous barriers that had previously been used as a line between police and protesters.  Those barriers were taken over by CHOP participants and used to block off the surrounding streets. 

The City has provided Cal Anderson Park to CHOP to use as the staging ground supporting CHOP’s occupation of the surrounding area. It encompasses the entirety of Cal Anderson Park, and sixteen city blocks in all. At any given time, hundreds of CHOP participants are camped out in the park.  Violence, vandalism, excessive noise, public drug use, and other crimes are rampant within the park. 

CHOP participants have created various unpermitted, ad hoc food dispensaries and stores on public property in front of private residences and businesses.  They established a “medical tent” in a private parking lot.  On occasion, CHOP participants have acted as a replacement police force, attempting to perform their own crime investigation.  They have been observed carrying guns in the public streets in broad daylight. 

INDIVIDUAL STORIES

Burglary & arson: On June 14th at around 9:30 a.m., a person broke into an auto-repair business called Car Tender, armed himself with a knife and a spike that he found inside the building, and lit a fire in the shop.  After receiving a call from a neighbor, Car Tender’s owner and son found that the shop’s garage had been broken into and the property had been vandalized with Purell hand sanitizer, used as fuel for the fire he had started.  The fire was still burning when the owner and his son arrived, but they were able to extinguish it.  The intruder was still on the premises.  He accosted the owner’s son with the knife and spike, but the two men were able to wrestle the intruder to the floor, as he was trying to cut the son’s femoral artery.  Despite the multiple 9-1-1 calls, the police never responded to the scene.  

Several CHOP participants who witnessed the incident approached the shop and demanded the release of the apprehended intruder.  An angry mob, perhaps as many as 500, gathered around Car Tender’s fence and broke it down, insisting on the release of the intruder.  Members of CHOP mob insisted that the police would never dare to respond.  Faced with a threat of mob violence, the shop owner handed the intruder over to CHOP participants.  Because the police did not protect Car Tender’s property from burglary and arson, the shop owner now is forced to sleep at the shop to protect it.   

Homicide: At approximately 2:20 a.m. on June 20, two people were shot in CHOP.  One of the shootings happened at or near the intersection of Tenth Avenue and Pine Street, around the corner from the abandoned East Precinct.  One of the victims died before reaching the hospital.  The second was admitted to Harborview with life-threatening injuries. No suspects have been identified.  Raw video streamed from the area shortly after the shooting captured these events.

The video appears to start a couple minutes after the shooting.  One shooting victim was taken to the CHOP “medic tent” located in the parking lot under a festival tent.  No professional medicas arrived until approximately 15 minutes later.  No police were in the area until approximately 18 minutes into the video, where police can be heard on megaphones demanding that the barriers be moved to allow the police to enter. 

Approximately 19 minutes into the video, a small phalanx of 8 police officers entered the area on foot apparently for the purpose of trying to locate and extract the first shooting victim.  The officers were immediately surrounded, yelled at, and pursued by CHOP participants.  One police car finally entered the area approximately 20 minutes into the video.  The police did not engage with the crown and promptly left the area, after which CHOP participants created a human chain across the street to bar any further entry.

There was a second shooting victim in CHOP located a couple of blocks away.  It appears from the video that no medics or police responded at all to the location of the second victim.  Approximately 35 minutes into the live stream, the second victim was placed into a plain white cargo van and presumably taken to the hospital.  A voice can be heard explaining that Medic One drove by but did not come to the assistance of the shooting victim.  Shortly after the second victim was driven away, private citizens began looking for bullet casings.  No police were on the scene to perform any investigation in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. 

On June 21, 2020, another shooting occurred at approximately 11 p.m.  There was no police or medic response, and the shooting victim was transported to the emergency room by a private vehicle.  

LEGAL RIGHTS VIOLATED

      

Plaintiffs allege that the City’s conduct has resulted in the elimination of basic public safety within CHOP and nearby areas.  They bring the following causes of action:

Constitutionally protected property rights: the City has infringed on Plaintiffs’ constitutionally protected property rights without providing Plaintiffs a notice and an opportunity to be heard (due process rights).  These protected property rights include the rights to exclude others from their property, to use and quiet enjoyment of the property, and to access their property via public right-of-way.  42. U.S.C. Sec. 1983.  The City has deprived Plaintiffs of those rights by affirmatively endorsing an unpermitted occupation of the public roads and allowing the physical invasion of Plaintiffs’ private properties by CHOP participants.   

Nuisance: the City has directly participated in the creation and maintenance of the nuisance, including by providing concrete barriers to be used by the CHOP participants to block foot and vehicular traffic in the area.  RCW 7.48.010 et. seq

Unlawful gift: the City ceded to CHOP the public’s property interest in Cal Anderson Park, the East Precinct building, multiple concrete barriers, and the public streets in the area, all in violation of Article VIII, Section 7 of Washington State Constitution which states that no city shall give any property to any individual or association except for the necessary support of the poor and infirm.  CHOP participants have used their newly gifted rights in public property as a staging ground for acts of vandalism and trespass against adjacent private property.

Plaintiffs ask the court to enter an injunction restraining the City from continuing its policies of supporting and enabling the occupation of the CHOP area.  They also seek monetary damages to be proven at trial.  

We will continue to monitor this lawsuit and report on any significant developments.