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Residents and businesses in 'autonomous zone' sue city of Seattle for 'encouragement' of CHOP takeover


'Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has provided the CHOP participants with not just tangible resources but also a de facto stamp of approval'

Jason Redmond / AFP

Residents and businesses in the Capitol Hill district, which is currently being occupied by protesters, are suing the city of Seattle for allowing the "autonomous zone" takeover. The class action lawsuit against Seattle cites the loss of business, widespread destruction, dangerous living conditions, and lack of public services stemming from the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), also known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP).

Residents and businesses located in the autonomous zone sued the city of Seattle on Wednesday for "extensive harm" the CHOP has caused. The plaintiffs include residents as well as owners of local businesses, including a tattoo parlor, auto repair shop, liquor store, physical therapy, and a property management firm.

Car Tender, an auto repair shop in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, noted in the lawsuit that it had suffered a "dramatic drop" in business since the CHOP was established. A man broke into the shop last week, started a fire and assaulted the owner's son with a box cutter. The intruder stole money and car keys. Police never responded to 19 emergency 911 calls made by the owner during the break-in and assault.

"The property owners, residents, and residents in the area suffer ever-increasing property damage and economic loss every day that CHOP exists in their neighborhood, all because of the City's active support, encouragement, and endorsement of the occupation," the lawsuit states.

"This lawsuit is about the constitutional and other legal rights of plaintiffs — businesses, employees, and residents in and around CHOP — 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," the lawsuit says.

"In particular, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has provided the CHOP participants with not just tangible resources but also a de facto stamp of approval," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit referred to Durkan's glowing remarks about the CHOP/CHAZ by calling the occupation a "block party" atmosphere and said the protests would usher in a "summer of love." Durkan has since said her comments were made "in jest" and "probably was not the smart thing to do."

"It's time for people to go home, it is time for us to restore Cal Anderson and Capitol Hill so it can be a vibrant part of the community," Durkan said of the autonomous zone this week. "The impacts on the businesses and residents and the community are now too much."

Calfo Eakes LLP, the law firm representing the plaintiffs, also sent a letter to Durkan on Wednesday. The letter demanded to know if the city has a timeline for removing barricades, when will "normal policing" return to the area, and at what point will the Seattle Police Department reclaim the East Precinct police station. The city has until the end of Friday to respond to the questions before the group files for injunctive relief, according to the letter.

"It is time for this City-endorsed occupation to cease," the law firm representing residents and business owners said in a statement. "Our clients need their neighborhoods and lives back, and the City has been indifferent to our clients' other calls for help."

"The result of the City's actions has been lawlessness," the 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."

The statement said the plaintiffs are not attempting to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement and support the right to free speech and assembly.

"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," the statement said.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

A spokesperson for the City Attorney's office told The Seattle Times that they hadn't received the lawsuit yet, but will "review it and respond accordingly" when they receive it.

The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone was established June 8 following George Floyd protests. After turbulent clashes with protesters, the Seattle police abandoned its East Precinct building in Capitol Hill. Occupiers set up barricades to the autonomous zone and would not allow cops into the area, even for a deadly shooting. Demonstrators also took over the Cal Anderson Park.

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