A year ago, Seattle was in the midst of what its mayor, Jenny Durkan, called a “summer of love” with the establishment of an “autonomous zone” called “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest,” or “CHOP.”
It proved instead to be a month of mayhem resulting in deaths, robberies and sexual assaults. Now the city may be relying an immunity defense despite leaders opposing such defenses for individual police officers.
Rioters took over a police station and were allowed to occupy an entire section of the city. At the time, I wrote that if someone sued over the resulting mayhem, Durkan and Seattle could find themselves clinging to the very legal doctrine they denounced in police brutality cases: immunity.
That has now happened with a number of state and federal lawsuits. In the latest, a suit by the mother of a young man killed during the reign of CHOP, the city is likely to argue that it has immunity for its discretionary decision-making, including abandoning parts of the city to a mob.
Donnitta Sinclair lost her son, Horace Lorenzo Anderson, across from Cal Anderson Park, which was a focus of the mob’s “re-imagining” government. City officials did nothing as the park and surrounding area became rife with crime and drugs. On June 20, Anderson, who had graduated the day before from an alternative youth-education program, was allegedly gunned down by Marcel Long, 18, after an altercation.
Due to the autonomy granted to CHOP by Durkan and the city, emergency treatment for Anderson was delayed since medical crews were treated as “foreign” in the occupied zone. Eventually, the dying Anderson was placed in a private vehicle to try to get him out of CHOP. Sinclair’s suit alleges that a “Medic One ambulance was about a block and a half away from where Anderson lay bleeding” and its crew repeatedly radioed for permission to enter the autonomous zone. When police and medical teams tried to gain entrance, they reported being met by protesters asserting their sovereign rights.
The violence in CHOP continued. A little over a week later in another shooting, a 16-year-old boy was killed, and a 14-year-old was seriously wounded. Crimes in CHOP included homicides, shootings, robberies and sexual assaults — as city officials watched and did nothing.
While first celebrated in the media as a fun “block party” with colorful art and gathering places like the “No Cop Café,” the truth about CHOP soon became clear and less popular. Durkan then belatedly ordered the police to restore control of the area.
For police officers, the city’s defense may seem as familiar as it is frustrating. This is the flip side to lethal-force cases such as last month’s shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant, 16, in Columbus, Ohio, in which Officer Nicholas Reardon used lethal force to stop the stabbing of another girl. In the case of CHOP, Durkan and other Seattle officials decided not to act despite deaths, sexual assaults and other crimes. They will now argue that their inaction was a well-intended but admittedly unsuccessful attempt at de-escalation.