Judge rejects Seattle mom's lawsuit over son's CHOP/CHAZ shooting death as city skirts blame for protest zone

Judge rejects Seattle mom's lawsuit over son's CHOP/CHAZ shooting death as city skirts blame for protest zone

November 2, 2021

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A federal judge rejected a lawsuit by the Seattle mother of a 19-year-old man gunned down in an autonomous “no-cop” protest zone dubbed CHOP/CHAZ in the summer of 2020, arguing the city is not responsible for his killing in the six blocks that included an abandoned police precinct.

In formally rejecting the lawsuit Monday, U.S. District Judge John Coughenour ruled that Donnitta Sinclair, the mother of Horace Lorenzo Anderson, could not prove that the city’s actions, which included abandoning the East Precinct during violent demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, directly resulted in her son’s death 12 days later. What was first referred to as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ, was rebranded to the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP, saw violence persist for weeks before Anderson was fatally shot on the outskirts of Cal Anderson Park.  

“Generally speaking, you can’t sue the government for a homicide. But this is such a unique situation that we decided to get involved,” National Police Association spokeswoman Betsy Brantner Smith, who is a retired police sergeant, told Fox News Digital. “The mayor and city leadership made a deliberate decision to let that precinct go, when they could have done what the government should do in protecting that area. Instead they made a decision to foster a zone of anarchy.”

Coughenour also rejected a request by the National Police Association, a non-profit police advocacy group, to join Sinclair’s wrongful death lawsuit first filed in April which argued that the city sat back and permitted a situation of “lawlessness” despite the “foreseeable danger.” 

The judge ruled Monday that members of the public have no constitutional right to sue city officials “who fail to protect them against harm inflicted by a third party,” according to the Seattle Times, unless they can prove some action by the city created a danger that would not have otherwise existed. 

“In other words,” Coughenour wrote, “the City must have known that something was going to happen but chose to ignore the risk and expose plaintiff to it anyway.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Honorable Richard Creatura previously ruled that even if, as the lawsuit alleges, the city enabled violence inside CHOP/CHAZ by providing lighting, portable toilets and other support, “none of the acts were specific to him [Anderson],” Fox 13 of Seattle reported. 

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    Lorenzo Anderson was killed outside Seattle’s former Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) zone. (Getty Images/Handout)

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    Seattle’s "CHOP" or "CHAZ" zone in July 2020. (Associated Press) (AP)

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“The Magistrate Judge let us in, the City did not seek review of that decision, and the Judge was so anti-police that he overturned the Magistrate’s decision on his own,” NPA’s attorney, James L. Buchal, said in a statement provided to Fox News Digital after Monday’s ruling. 

Smith blamed Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, a Democrat, for pushing a narrative to the media when the CHOP/CHAZ protest zone was first formed that it represented a “summer of love” as protesters peacefully sought racial justice, when in reality the six-block “no-cop” zone allowed criminal activity to fester “and many of the people went there naively thinking it would be something wonderful.” 

“Of course it was the worst case scenario for Mr. Anderson and his family,” Smith said. “I hope that this shocks the consciousness of both citizens and leadership. We can’t just give in to anarchy and the criminals who try to override the government and that’s really what happened in CHOP/CHAZ. It was an enormous failure. If you’re going to just give up and endanger not only your citizens, not only your people, but your law enforcement, we’re watching and we’re going to get involved.”  

This ruling comes as Durkan, who is not seeking a second term as mayor, approved emergency $25,000 hiring bonuses last week amid staffing shortages worsened by the onset of a vaccine mandate deadline, seemingly reversing her once outspoken support for the defund police movement over a year ago. Voters are set decided between two new mayoral candidates Tuesday. 

In reaction to the lawsuit, the city argued that it could not have predicted that Anderson would run into his rival, 18-year-old Marcel Long, in the Capitol district on June 20, 2020. The two exchanged words and Long allegedly shot Anderson on the sidewalk near Cal Anderson Park before fleeing the scene and the state soon after. U.S. Marshals arrested Long on a first-degree murder over a year later this July.  

After the shooting, Seattle Police said officers were met by a violent crowd that prevented access to the victim. An ambulance was staged a block away, but Seattle Fire said according to policy, police must first secure scenes of violence before they can respond. The lawsuit argued the two agencies “failed to assist because of botched communication.” Volunteer medics tried to treat Anderson, who was eventually driven by pick-up truck to Harborview Medical Center, where he died from his injuries. 

Sinclair’s attorney, Mark Lindquist, said he’s confident Anderson’s mother will prevail on appeal “because this decision undermines government accountability and public safety.” 

“Secondly, Donita still has state claims in addition to this federal claim.” he said. “We will continue to pursue justice and accountability. Today’s decision was a small skirmish in a bigger battle.” 

Anderson’s father, Horace Anderson, has also indicted he will seek $3 million in damages from the city over his son’s killing but has not yet formally sued, Dan Nolte, a spokesman for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, said. The city is also facing a class-action lawsuit from several businesses arguing pulling law enforcement from the Capitol Hill area cost them millions in damages. 

“I would encourage people to keep an eye on this decision and watch how these court cases move forward,” Smith said.  “Let’s not forget Mr. Anderson and other homicide victims – all African Americans. We need to remember. The National Police Association advocated for law and order.” 

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