Seattle settles with business owners over 2020 'autonomous zone' failures for undisclosed sum

The settlement is expected to be completed by March 10 when the parties will formally ask for the case to be dismissed.

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA
The City of Seattle has settled a lawsuit with business owners who claimed the deadly Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) violated their constitutional rights and caused damage to their property.

News of the settlement came just weeks after a federal judge imposed sanctions against the city for deleting thousands of text messages between Seattle officials including former Mayor Jenny Durkan, former police chief Carmen Best, and Fire Chief Harold Scoggins during the armed occupation by Antifa and BLM rioters of 16 blocks of the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

On Wednesday, the Seattle City Attorney's Office filed a notice of a settlement in a US District Court, but the notice did not contain additional details or a settlement amount. The settlement is expected to be completed by March 10 when the parties will formally ask for the case to be dismissed. The group is seeking $2.9 million.

The CHAZ, also known as the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) was established on June 8, 2020, after Seattle police were ordered to abandon the department’s East Precinct after riots in the wake of the death of George Floyd in May of that year. The zone occupiers would not allow police into the area. Rapes, robberies, and murders spiked 250 percent in the zone during the occupation and the CHAZ/CHOP was finally broken up by police on July 1, 2020, after two fatal shootings and rioters vandalizing the former Mayor’s home.

Business owners in and around the zone sued the city claiming that Seattle’s leaders supported and encouraged the armed occupation which put them in harm’s way.

According to court documents, business owners alleged that city officials’ "unprecedented decision to abandon and close off" the 16-block section of the neighborhood "subjected businesses, employees, and residents to extensive property damage, public safety dangers, and an inability to use and access their properties."

It was revealed after the occupation that Seattle officials, including Durkan, Best, and Scoggins, deleted thousands of text messages from their city-owned phones regarding the zone, including communications with the infamous “warlord” of the autonomous zone, Raz Simone.

The lawsuit alleged the Seattle officials deleted the text messages in "complete disregard" of their legal obligation to preserve relevant evidence, and that Seattle ignored litigation holds and multiple letters from business owners requesting they preserve all CHAZ/CHOP-related communications.

US District Judge Thomas Zilly previously ruled that there is evidence of “gross negligence” by the city and significant evidence that the destruction of evidence was intentional and city officials were attempting to conceal having deleted texts for months knowing the lawsuits were underway.

Zilly sanctioned the city and thereby allowed the jury to view the missing evidence as a strike against the city in the case. Zilly Wrote, “City officials deleted thousands of text messages from their city-owned phones in complete disregard of their legal obligation to preserve relevant evidence. Further, the city significantly delayed disclosing … that thousands of text messages had been deleted” and could not be reproduced or recovered.”

A previous lawsuit filed by the Seattle Times regarding the missing texts was settled for a pledge by city officials to improve Seattle’s public records process and $200,000.

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