A group of residents and business owners in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood have filed a class-action lawsuit against the city for failing to protect them from protesters who took over a six-block zone dubbed the “CHOP.”
The plaintiffs alleged that the city abandoned its duties and that led to vandalism, property damage and the lack of police, fire and ambulance services.
The lawsuit filed this week arose after a group of Black Lives Matter protesters took over a police precinct and about six blocks in a downtown neighborhood, putting up barricades and patrolling the area with weapons. They named the region CHOP for “Capital Hill Occupy Protest,” and have demanded the city defund the police.
The lawsuit also notes that two people have been shot in the CHOP zone, and one died from the wounds on June 20 after first responders couldn’t get to the victim because protesters guarding the blocked-off area prevented them entry for nearly 20 minutes, according to court papers.
One of the businesses joining the lawsuit, “Car Tender,” has suffered a 40% decline in revenue because of CHOP.
CHOP also vandalized the car shop’s property, destroying a fence and tagging the building with graffiti.
One night, an intruder broke into Car Tender and set fire to the building. The owner and his son arrived to extinguish the fire, but the intruder was still there and attempted to attack the son with a knife.
The owner is forced to sleep at the shop to protect it, as police did not respond to the 911 calls for arson, burglary, and assault.
The group of plaintiffs is demanding a jury trial, seeking damages from the city to pay for the destruction caused by CHOP.
The protesters set up the CHOP zone during nationwide racial justice demonstrations over the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while a White police officer in Minneapolis knelt on his neck during an arrest.
The plaintiffs said they did not want to undermine the Black Lives Matter message but they need to protect their rights.
“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 … an entire city neighborhood,” the complaint reads.
“The property owners, businesses, and residents in the area suffer ever-increasing property damage and economic loss every day that CHOP exists in their neighborhood,” it said.
Dan Nolte, communications director for the Seattle City Attorney’s office, noted they’ve received the complaint.
“We intend to review this complaint and respond accordingly,” he said.
When CHOP began taking over the area, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan did not interfere, nor did city police. City leaders suggested police were told to stand down by the mayor.
Ms. Durkan denied the need for federal intervention, which President Trump suggested, telling CNN it would be a “summer of love” when she was asked about the CHOP activists.
After the shootings and the death of the one man, Ms. Durkan has recently said the city will be de-escalating CHOP and taking back its territory.
The lawsuit specifically calls out the mayor’s lack of response for the past several weeks.
“Plaintiffs and others have repeatedly pleaded with Mayor Durkan and others to cease enabling the destruction of their property and the imminent dangers posed to them and their neighborhood. But the City has not listened or has not cared, and the Plaintiffs have had to resort to litigation to make themselves heard,” the complaint said.
Jeff Feldman, a law professor at the University of Washington, said the lawyers representing the plaintiffs are experienced and have spent much time in front of juries, so the Seattle city attorney should take the case seriously.
But Mr. Feldman noted it is difficult to hold the government accountable for acts of third parties.
“There’s a long way to go in this case, but it seems unlikely the court would dismiss all of the claims that have been pled. It’s more like that one or more of the claims will survive summary judgment and make it to trial,” he added, though he noted most class actions end up settling.
Brian Fitzpatrick, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, said it’s difficult to sue the government for not enforcing the law.
“I seriously doubt this lawsuit will ever go to trial. If it is not dismissed — which is probably the most likely outcome — it is likely to settle months from now when the city would probably reenter this area anyway,” he added.