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Seattle businesses and residents fight back with major class action lawsuit over autonomous zone

The suit claims that claims the group have had their rights “overrun by the city of Seattle’s unprecedented decision to abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood.”
Ari Hoffman Seattle, WA

Businesses located within and around the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) have filed a class action lawsuit against the City of Seattle seeking unspecified damages to be determined at trial. The 18 plaintiffs include owners of apartment buildings in the area. The suit claims that claims the group have had their rights “overrun by the city of Seattle’s unprecedented decision to abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood.” According to the Washington Times, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office said it had not yet seen the lawsuit but would review it.

Patty Eakes, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told Mayor Jenny Durkan in a letter Wednesday that she wanted the mayor’s office to provide a timeline by Friday for clearing out the protest and returning police to the area, or the plaintiffs would ask the court for an immediate order that full public access be restored.

In a press conference Monday, Mayor Durkan announced that Seattle police would be returning to the East Precinct but has yet to provide any concrete plans or timeline for taking back the area.  The lawsuit also blames the city for aiding CHOP occupants by providing them with stronger barriers, public restroom facilities and medical supplies.

The occupation began on June 8th following days of violent protests against the Seattle Police Department (SPD) in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. Mayor Durkan made the decision to abandon the East Precinct. Occupiers used barricades left behind by SPD to create a barrier around the zone and even stationed armed guards to secure their border.

According to the complaint, the CHOP has been “unchecked by police, unserved by fire and emergency health services, and inaccessible to the public at large.” The suit also states that the elderly and disabled community members face magnified obstacles in accessing the area.

Mayor Durkan has called the armed occupation a “peaceful expression”, a “street fair” and even a “block party”.  These phrases and sentiments have been parroted by the media including CNN and The Seattle Times and others who turned a blind eye to the problems of the armed occupation. There have been numerous videos depicting violence within the CHOP. The struggles of business owners have been exacerbated in the wake of 3 shootings, which took the life of a 19 year old and injured 3 others. The lawsuit says the city has actively endorsed and enabled the CHOP.

According to the complaint, business owners have been threatened, their properties vandalized and have lost business due to the occupation. The complaint stated that “…the city’s decision to turn over the blocks and a nearby park to the demonstrators deprived them of their property rights without due process and amounted to an illegal gift of public property to the protesters.”

Business also stated that customers were afraid to come to the area and that they were unable to send or receive deliveries because of the barriers. Some of the businesses, such as Magdalena Sky, the owner of Tattoos and Fortune, mentioned that they were supportive of the cause of the protesters, but that their business was down because of the occupation.

“This lawsuit does not seek to undermine CHOP participants’ message or present a counter-message. Rather, this lawsuit is about the constitutional and other legal rights of Plaintiffs—businesses, employees, and residents in and around CHOP—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.”

The owners of Car Tender said a protester broke into his shop on June 14, started a fire and attacked his son with a knife.

According to the suit, the father-son duo were able to detain the burglar, but police did not respond and other protesters forced them to release the attacker. The incident of protesters attacking the facility was caught on video.

911 has received hundreds of thousands of calls from the area, with callers stating they had called as many as 18 times with no response since the occupation began. According to SPD, crime has risen 250 percent in the area including according to chief Carmen Best, “…rapes and robberies”

According to a statement by Eakes “The result of the City’s actions has been lawlessness. There is no public safety presence. Police officers will not enter the area unless it is a life-or-death situation, and even in those situations, the response is delayed and muted, if it comes at all.”

The statement continued: “It is time for this City-endorsed occupation to cease. Our clients need their neighborhoods and lives back, and the City has been indifferent to our clients’ other calls for help. Our clients sincerely believe that peaceful protests and the message of those protests should continue, but in a way that does not attract violence and destroy our clients’ neighborhood or their livelihoods.”

The plaintiffs are seeking damages for lost business, property damage and deprivation of their property rights as well as the restoration of full public access.

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