People defecating in a building lobby. Assaults and harassment. Trespassing and vandalism. Numerous reports of sexual assaults. A man shot, dying while a mob chasses off emergency responders. Police ignoring 9-1-1 calls for help; the area so out of control they say that cannot enter it. A condominium owner “physically assaulted by a CHOP participant while attempting to negotiate with CHOP participants in his capacity as President of the” condominium homeowners association. These are just some of the long list of allegations in a class action filed in federal court against the City of Seattle centering on the Capital Hill Occupied Protest.
The plaintiffs allege that pervasive graffiti covered most available surfaces and if painted over soon returned, often with threats of violence and arson. The Complaint relates the alleged account on one such encounter.
As he started to paint over the graffiti, the worker was accosted by a group of CHOP participants. The participants ordered him to stop removing the graffiti and threatened to burn the building down if he did not comply. Because of the threats, the maintenance worker left without painting over the graffiti, emotionally distraught due to the threats of violence and arson.
The plaintiffs argue that “the City’s active support, encouragement, and endorsement of the occupation” of Seattle’s Capital Hill neighborhood led to the area becoming dangerous and unlivable.
CHOP participants occupied the streets and sidewalks 24-hours a day with “speeches, debates, movies, music, and various other activities—including, in some instances, illegal fireworks shows” with “disturbances and noise pollution extend well past 10 p.m. and typically into the early morning of the next day.”
The plaintiffs assert that Cal Ansderson Park in Capital Hill was turned into a tent city with “violence, vandalism, excessive noise, public drug use.”
According to the Complaint, residential Capital Hill tenants have threatened to break their leases.
A new property opened in the area with 45 residential units, with only 3 having been leased out. To those unfamiliar with Seattle, even in the current economy, available rental units typically go quickly. Not in the Capital Hills area, according to the complaint. There is “no interest in the 42 unleased units, because no one is interested in moving near CHOP.”
The plaintiffs had no way of attracting customers, and/or could be accessed due to blocked streets. Unable to generate revenue, many residential and commercial tenants asked landlords for rent relief. Many are small, locally-owned stores. Some landlords gave concessions in the form of free rent, resulting in economic loss, but even so many of the small commercial tenants are still facing bankruptcy.
The plaintiffs make a clear statement that they support first amendment rights and the message of “those like Black Lives Matter who, by exercising such rights, are bringing issues such as systemic racism and unfair violence against African Americans by police to the forefront of the national consciousness” including “many of those who have gathered on Capitol Hill.”
According to their statement in the Complaint, they do “not seek to undermine CHOP participants’ message or present a counter-message.” Their “lawsuit is about the rights of…businesses, employees, and residents” who “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” subjecting “businesses, employees, and residents…to extensive property damage, public safety dangers, and an inability to use and access their properties.”
While the Complaint reads as a parade of horribles, bad policy does of itself not lead to government liability. The plaintiffs allege violations of civil rights under color of state law (known as a ‘1983’ action after a statutory code provision), and assert other legal theories of liability