A group of Capitol Hill residents and businesses filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday against the city of Seattle for the "extensive harm" they've faced as a result of CHOP, or the Capitol Hill Organized Protest.
Demonstrators have occupied several blocks around the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct and Cal Anderson Park for about two weeks, since the police left the precinct following standoffs and clashes with protesters calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality.
Calfo Eakes LLP, the law firm representing the group, said in a statement the lawsuit is "not a step (their) clients have taken lightly," adding that they stand with the Black Lives Matter movement and support demonstrators' right to free speech and assembly. The plaintiffs include owners of apartment buildings in the area and local businesses such as Car Tender, Northwest Liquor and Wine, Sage Physical Therapy and Tattoos and Fortune. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.
"This lawsuit does not seek to undermine CHOP participants' message or present a counter-message," the lawsuit says. "Rather, this lawsuit is about the constitutional and other legal 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."
In a statement to The Seattle Times, a spokesperson for the City Attorney's office said they haven't received the lawsuit yet, but when they do, they will "review it and respond accordingly."
The lawsuit blames the city for aiding CHOP occupants by providing them with stronger barriers, public restroom facilities and medical supplies. It also mentions that residents and business owners now have difficulty accessing their buildings, receiving deliveries and providing services to customers, with elderly and disabled community members facing magnified obstacles.
"The result of the City's actions has been lawlessness," the Calfo Eakes statement said. "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."
Residents and business owners feel unsafe in their neighborhood because of the lack of public-safety assistance, the lawsuit says, citing police's delayed response times after recent shootings in the area. The complaint also lists individual businesses' stories.
Car Tender, an auto repair shop on 12th Avenue, has suffered a "dramatic drop" in business since CHOP's establishment, according to the lawsuit. A man also broke into the shop, started a fire and assaulted the owner's son with a knife and spike last week, and police never responded despite multiple 911 calls, the lawsuit says. Seattle police Chief Carmen Best said last week that officers "observed the location from a distance" but did not see a disturbance, and could not reach the business owner when they tried to call.
Several other businesses are seeing financial losses due to CHOP, and in one of the apartment buildings, CHOP occupants trespassed on the property and defecated in the building's lobby, according to the complaint.
A spokesperson for the mayor's office said in a statement sent to The Seattle Times that city officials have been on the ground daily to "determine a path forward that protects the right to peacefully protest and keeps people safe."
"Recognizing that solutions do not always require police, on the recommendation of community organizations ... the City has stood-up a resource hub at Seattle Central College to provide services for individuals who may be living onsite or who visit the site daily, including mental and behavioral health, access to shelter/housing, testing and other essential needs," the spokesperson said.
He added, "Over the coming days, City and community organizations will continue to work with individuals to encourage them to peacefully depart in the evening for their safety and the safety of the surrounding community, while also encouraging individuals to peacefully demonstrate across the City throughout the daytime hours."
The law firm, on behalf of the group of businesses and residents, also sent a letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan on Wednesday, asking a series of questions: Does the city have a timeline for removing barricades from streets? When will "normal policing" return to the area? When will the Seattle Police Department resume residence in the East Precinct?
According to the letter, the city has until the end of Friday to respond before the group files for injunctive relief, the letter said.
"It is time for this City-endorsed occupation to cease," the statement said. "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."