Law & the Courts

Seattle Businesses, Residents Sue City for ‘Extensive Harm’ for Allowing ‘Autonomous Zone’

A demonstrator sits at the self-proclaimed Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) in Seattle, Wash., June 15, 2020. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

Over a dozen businesses and residents in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood have filed a lawsuit against the city for its “unprecedented decision to abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood” to allow for the creation of the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone/Organized Protest” (CHAZ/CHOP).

The suit, which is seeking damages as well as the restoration of full public access to Capitol Hill, emphasizes that, while it does not want to “undermine CHOP participants’ message or present a counter-message,” the city’s decision to abandon the East Precinct earlier this month allowed the rights of the plaintiffs to be “overrun.”

“The City’s policies have effectively authorized the actions of the CHOP participants. The City has communicated clearly to CHOP participants that they may indefinitely continue occupying the streets in the area, maintaining their barricades, and blocking traffic, all without interference from the City,” the lawsuit reads.

Seattle police chief Carmen Best has told reporters that her officers are unable to respond to emergency calls — including rapes, robberies, and “all sorts of violent acts that have been occurring in the area” — because they are not allowed inside the area.

“The City’s decision has subjected businesses, employees, and residents of that neighborhood to extensive property damage, public safety dangers, and an inability to use and access their properties,” the lawsuit reads. It explains that, since CHAZ was created several weeks ago, the neighborhood has been left “unchecked by the police, unserved by fire and emergency health services, and inaccessible to the public at large.” Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan, who has been heavily criticized by President Trump for her response to the situation, said this week that the city would move to dismantle the area after multiple deadly shootings.

“The cumulative impacts of the gatherings and protests and the nighttime atmosphere and violence has led to increasingly difficult circumstances for our businesses and residents,” she admitted at a news conference. “ . . . There should be no place in Seattle that the Seattle Fire Department and the Seattle Police Department can’t go.”

The plaintiffs detail how anarchists in CHAZ “threatened business owners with retaliation if they paint over graffiti” and threatened to steal the phones of local residents who tried to take pictures near Cal Anderson Park. “CHOP participants have been observed carrying guns in the public streets and parks in broad daylight,” the suit also states.

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