The class-action lawsuit filed by nearly two dozen entities in Seattle’s former so-called Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) was amended Friday, as the plaintiffs accuse the city of “deliberate indifference to the known and obvious harm” businesses and residents suffered.
The amendment was filed Friday in federal court, and now makes the argument that the city permitted the rampant lawlessness and destruction within the area some left-wing activists had earlier dubbed the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) because city officials, particularly Mayor Jenny Durkan, supported and endorsed the political view of the protesters.
“It’s an extreme example, obviously, but I don’t think you would have seen the degree of cooperation and approval we did from the city if it were Nazi sympathizers trying to take over a neighborhood,” said Angelo Calfo, lead attorney for the 21 plaintiffs.
In fact, most of the plaintiffs are also simpatico with the expressed aims of CHOP leaders and Black Lives Matter, as the lawsuit explicitly states in at least two places. However, that political alignment does not extend to suffering huge economic losses and mental anguish that CHOP caused local residents.
“This lawsuit does not seek to undermine CHOP participants’ message or present a counter message,” it reads. “Rather, this lawsuit is about the constitutional and other legal rights of Plaintiffs… which were 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 plaintiffs describe in detail both the intimidation they were often subjected to by sometimes armed CHOP participants, and the physical damage suffered by vandals, drug use and human excrement that flooded the downtown blocks after the Seattle Police Department abandoned its East Precinct on June 8.
But Mr. Calfo noted that there are also broad constitutional issues in play, given the city abandoned the rights of residents there while offering zero chance for debate or redress.
To make that case, the lawsuit relies repeatedly on the remarks of Ms. Durkan, who gushed on CNN that perhaps Seattle would have “the summer of love.”
“The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone #CHAZ is now a lawless wasteland of anarchist insurrection,” Ms. Durkan tweeted. “It is a peaceful expression of our community’s collective grief and their desire to build a better world.”
Within weeks of what the mayor “providing not just tangible benefits but also a de facto stamp of approval,” two people were killed and at least three others injured in a spate of shootings in the CHOP completely out of character with the neighborhood’s history, the lawsuit claims.
“Over the course of nine days, there were two homicides in CHOP,” the lawsuit said. “There had been no homicides in Capitol Hill in 2020 before CHOP started, and in all of 2019, there were only three homicides in the entire Capitol Hill neighborhood.”
The lawsuit also draws a stark distinction between Ms. Durkan’s characterizations of what was occurring in Seattle and those provided by Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best. The lawsuit captures multiple instances in which Ms. Best described the CHOP’s bleak and dangerous aura.
“There are also groups of individuals engaging in shootings, a rape, assaults, burglary, arson, and property destruction, and I have their police reports right here,” Ms. Best declared at one point, brandishing a stack of papers. “I’m not making it up. These things have happened. We cannot walk away from the truth of what is happening there.”
In late June, as the city finally moved to clear out CHOP, Ms. Best was even more emphatic.
“As an African American woman, with uncles and brothers and stuff, I wouldn’t want them to be in this area,” she said. “And I would question why we would continue to allow this to happen. And it’s not right. There are people who live here, there are multiple people who are being injured and hurt, and we need to do something about it. It is absolutely irresponsible for this to continue.”
City attorneys, who acknowledged receipt of the original lawsuit, have until July 24 to respond to the amended suit, Mr. Calfo said.
“In the face of all this destruction, City leaders, including Mayor Durkan, embraced the existence, message, and methods of CHOP and CHOP Participants,” the lawsuit alleges. “They did this with physical support and extensive verbal support and encouragement that has expressly endorsed the barricading and occupation of City streets and parks.”