(The Center Square) – More than a dozen individuals and small businesses located inside the Capitol Hill Occupying Protest (CHOP) zone in Seattle filed a 56-page class action lawsuit against the city.
The lawsuit comes a few days after three people were shot in the occupied area.
Residents’ livelihoods and businesses have been directly impacted by CHOP violence since Memorial Day weekend when rioters in Seattle set several cars on fire, including police and transit vehicles, used incendiary devices, including Molotov cocktails, and broke into stores downtown.
On June 8, protesters took over a six-block area, blocking it off with concrete barriers, prohibiting traffic or entry, and issued a list of demands to government officials, including abolishing the police. The Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct located inside of CHOP was also abandoned.
By June 20, two people were shot, one fatally inside CHOP; on June 21, a teenager was shot in the arm on the edge of the area, according to local news reports.
Police Officers Guild President Michael Solan told Fox & Friends Saturday that “police are still not allowed into that area and were prevented from providing that police service to the area to locate victims and/or render aid. [It’s] very troubling what’s going on.”
On Monday, Mayor Jenny Durkin said that Seattle Police Department officers would return soon to their precinct inside CHOP.
On Wednesday, the plaintiffs, represented by the Seattle law firm Calfo Eakes LLP filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
The plaintiffs argue that the city of Seattle has violated their constitutionally protected property rights, as defined by Washington state law. The law protects property owners’ use and access to their property, quiet enjoyment of their property, and ability to access their property via public rights-of-way.
The city has infringed on those rights, the lawsuit says, by “creating, assisting, endorsing, and encouraging an indefinite, unpermitted occupation and blockade of the public streets, sidewalks and parks in and around CHOP,” thereby denying plaintiffs' access to their properties, among other grievances.
The plaintiffs emphasize that they support the free speech rights of many of the people who have gathered on Capitol Hill.
The lawsuit is not about the protesters’ right to assemble but rather “the constitutional and other legal rights” of the plaintiffs whose neighborhood has “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,” according to the complaint.
The city’s decision has subjected businesses, employees and residents of the neighborhood to extensive property damage, public safety dangers, and an inability to use and access their properties, the plaintiffs argue.
Durkan has provided CHOP participants “with a de facto stamp of approval,” the lawsuit claims.
“Her tweets, interviews, and other statements have made it clear that the City is fully aware of what is happening, has no plan or timeline for remedying the ongoing harm, and in fact views the occupation of Capitol Hill as something akin to a perpetual block party,” the complaint reads.
“Rather than seeking to restore order and protect the residents and property owners within CHOP, the city instead chose to actively endorse, enable, and participate in the occupation of CHOP,” the plaintiffs argue.
The plaintiffs say they have been subject to “acts of violence, harassment, trespass and vandalism; denial of access to their property; loss of police protection and public services, including trash, medical, and fire services; loss of business revenue; loss of the use of public streets, sidewalks, and parks near or adjacent to their property, residence, or premises; reduction in property value; destruction of property; and other economic and non-economic injuries.”
On Wednesday, the de facto leader of CHOP tweeted, “the CHOP project is now concluded.”
“It is time we shift to the next phase of our organizing and move from direct action to virtual activism,” the group’s statement reads. “While we expect a very small handful of holdouts may try to remain in the CHOP, no further organizing will be occurring to support this presence and the number on-site will be too small to be more than an annoyance for pedestrians rather than a zonal blockade.”
The group said we “believe Jenny Durkan has stepped up and shown … leadership…”
Solan, who has vocally criticized the mayor, said that the city’s elected officials “have removed our ability to have less lethal chemical munitions that are effective for us to disburse unruly, violent crowds to protect those police facilities, let alone ourselves."
Durkan referred to the CHOP area as “a block party atmosphere,” on CNN. “It’s not an armed takeover. It’s not a military junta. We will make sure that we can restore this. But we have block parties and the like in this part of Seattle all the time. It’s known for that.”