Judge Denies temporary restraining order to halt Cal Anderson sweep

by J Seattle

(This article was originally published on the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog and has been reprinted under an agreement.) 

Update 12/17/20: A federal court Thursday denied a motion to request a temporary restraining order to halt the planned sweep of Capitol Hill’s Cal Anderson park.

Judge Richard Jones has denied the motion meaning the city will not be legally barred from moving on with the clearance.

“Based on the evidence presented, the Court determines that Ms. Yeager has not shown a likelihood of success on the merits that previous police sweeps or the intended police sweep has resulted or will result in an unreasonable seizures in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights,” Judge Jones writes in his decision.

Jones also asked both parties to submit a joint statement to the court regarding the larger case beyond the denied restraining order with a deadline of December 28th. By then, any legal process will likely be more about the consequences of any sweep than preventing one.

Original Report:

Activists and community defense volunteers filled Capitol Hill’s Cal Anderson Wednesday morning as a planned City and police sweep of the park appeared to be paused — if only temporarily.

Police did not immediately enter the park but made a few shows of cruisers and lights while a mix of law enforcement and media helicopters buzzed the area around the 7:30 a.m. deadline for the previously announced clearance of “personal property” from the homeless encampments and mutual-aid activities inside the 7.4 acre park in the heart of the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

CHS reported here on the City’s order, posted Monday morning, to clear the park after months of closure, protests, and camping in the wake of the CHOP (Capitol Hill Occupied Protest) and Black Lives Matter rallies and marches. The City says outreach workers have been in contact with campers, including 40 in the past week with 10 being referred to shelter facilities.

Seattle Parks says “a multi-day intensive maintenance and cleaning project” will follow.

The action comes as the City says property owners, community groups, and businesses have called for Seattle Parks to reopen Cal Anderson and bring an end to its months as a center of unrest.

Activists and organizers, meanwhile, point to CDC guidelines against sweeps during the COVID-19 crisis and the City’s lack of adequate shelter space. Others say sweeping in the middle of winter only days before Christmas is especially cruel.

Activists and a few hundred community defense volunteers spread out across the area of the grassy meadow near the park’s southern edge next to the Bobby Morris Playfield, surrounding as best they could the central core of the park’s tents and encampment set-up. Some campers in the hours before the 7:30 a.m. deadline were packing up their belongings and leaving the camps.

Protesters also blocked off portions of 11th Avenue and a few street corners around the park with caution tape, garbage cans, and dumpsters.

At one point after 7:30 a.m. came and went without a raid, protesters set fire to an empty tent as the occasional firework also popped off in the park. More fires were reported as having been set on debris near the circle of fences and barriers organizers have tried to string together in the center of the park.

Construction crews at nearby work sites watched from the top of the multistory, multimillion-dollar developments quickly taking shape near the Capitol Hill light rail station, north of the park. Meanwhile, dog owners and athletic trainers spread out across the sports field turf south of the park.

A Washington district federal court judge will decide the immediate future of Cal Anderson Park Thursday morning.

Is it soon to be cleared and swept of campers or will “community defense” volunteers mark a victory — however brief — in holding back City Hall?

The decision from Judge Richard Jones expected Thursday morning could open the way for Seattle Parks to move forward with its announced plan to clear Cal Anderson of tents and belongings.

Activists and black bloc protesters did their best to fill the park Wednesday, the city’s deadline for clearing the area after what it says has been an intensive outreach effort to offer homeless campers shelter across the city. The Seattle Police Department circled and patrolled the area of the occupied protest but did not enter the park to engage with protesters Wednesday and overnight into Thursday when Judge Jones was expected to announce his decision on a requested temporary restraining order to halt any sweep.

The federal civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of “an unhoused resident of Seattle” put a daylong pause to any clearance plans Wednesday but lawyers for the Seattle City Attorney said further action to clear the park would be “imminent” if the request for the restraining order were denied.

The lawsuit been filed in U.S. District Court seek a stop to the sweep on behalf of Ada Yeager whose lawyer say has been living in Cal Anderson since early June and has been subjected to “repeated harassment from the City of Seattle by way of ‘sweeps.’”

The civil rights lawsuit is seeking for the clearance of Cal Anderson to be called off and “general and special damages” including “pain and suffering and compensation for wrongful incarceration.”

In a telephone conference late Wednesday afternoon, Judge Jones refused to rush an order in case and said he would issue a written ruling by Thursday.

In the session, lawyers for the city argued that outreach efforts have been successful but that “a number of individuals are refusing to leave” for “extremely complicated political issues.”

Ghazal Sharifi of the Seattle City Attorney’s office said workers have been threatened in the park and cited a roster of public safety concerns. Sharifi also said outreach has been successful for “17 people” with shelter or hotel referrals as of Wednesday morning. An additional eight people declined assistance but left the park, the city says. Sharifi estimated approximately 10% of people currently in park are “unhoused.”

Braden Pence of Mazzone Law argued for the restraining order saying the situation in Cal Anderson is not unique and there are “encampments across the city” and not enough resources to help. The sweep threat, Pence said, was about the political ambitions of “Jennifer Durkan” in Washington D.C.

At one point, the judge stopped the proceedings and asked the sides to take a 20 minute call to discuss a “temporary cessation” that would delay any sweep. During the call, the plaintiffs asked for two weeks when state restrictions limiting possible services for homeless people could be lifted along with other COVID-19 lockdown elements, the lawyers said. The City Attorney’s office said it could not agree.

After reconvening, Judge Jones drilled Sharifi on how the city treats seized property collected during sweeps. There is a “full plan in place” around storing property, Sharifi attempted to assure the court.

The city, meanwhile, is telling residents, businesses, and property owners to hang in there as it continues to make the public case for sweeping the park despite CDC guidelines.

“Today, there were a series of additional concerning incidents on site including intentional fires, additional barriers brought to the park, and rocks and bricks thrown at Human Service Department employees who had opened a resource tent to offer services,” a message sent by a representative for the mayor’s office reads. “The City will continue to closely monitor the situation to deploy the appropriate resources to keep the streets open for access and protect the safety of neighborhood residents and businesses.”

The mayor’s office is also ramping up its efforts to make the case that its outreach efforts around the park’s homeless population have been more than adequate.

“It is the priority of the City to connect those individuals to shelter or short term assistance. For almost a week, outreach providers have made contact with virtually every individual experiencing homelessness at the park,” the latest email update reads.

Mayor Durkan’s office now says city-contracted outreach workers have been conducting “needs assessments, identifying potential service connections, making referrals for those interested in shelter, and offering support to help individuals voluntarily relocate from the park” and that there were “more than 60 shelters beds available, which included youth shelter (basic and enhanced), tiny homes, and adult shelter (basic and enhanced)” on Wednesday.

The city also says organizations including LEAD, LIHI, and the Urban League have been at the park “offering resources including hotel rooms and tiny homes.”

CHS reported here on the city’s order posted Monday morning to clear the park after months of closure, protests, and camping in the wake of the CHOP occupied protest and Black Lives Matter rallies and marches. Police say one person was arrested after pushing an officer during Monday’s attempts to post notice of the order.

We do not have any reports of arrests at the park related to Wednesday’s “community defense” actions.

Meanwhile, another park camp on Capitol Hill has been reduced to a few tents after outreach, and trash and discarded belongings were cleared at Williams Place Park at 15th and John.

Seattle Parks says “a multi-day intensive maintenance and cleaning project” at Cal Anderson will follow the clearance.

The action comes as the city says property owners, community groups, and businesses have called for Seattle Parks to reopen Cal Anderson and bring an end to its months as a center of unrest.

Activists and organizers, meanwhile, point to CDC guidelines against sweeps during the COVID-19 crisis and the city’s lack of adequate shelter space. Others say sweeping in the middle of winter only days before Christmas is especially cruel.

City Council citywide representative Teresa Mosqueda, who faces reelection next year and many hope could challenge for the upcoming vacancy in the mayor’s office, has spoken out on the planned sweep saying she remains “concerned with the planned removal and urge first placement in non-congregate shelter options in order to be in compliance with current public health CDC guidance.”

But Mosqueda stopped short of calling for a stop to the efforts to sweep the park.

“We must have a shared goal going forward – to provide safe alternative places to live that is not in the streets or our community parks, and this requires ensuring appropriate housing and non-congregate shelter first. For months, Council and the Executive Branch have worked to realize a shared understanding of how to address unauthorized homeless encampments during the COVID pandemic, focusing first and foremost on the public safety and health of all Seattle residents, and I’m hopeful we can return to that strategy,” Mosqueda writes. “There may be appropriate reasons for removals such as blocking sidewalks or when people’s safety is at risk, however, adequate housing and non-congregate shelter options must be secured first through extensive outreach, especially during the time of a pandemic.”

Capitol Hill and Central District representative Kshama Sawant has not made a public statement on the situation. Thursday, Sawant called on Mayor Durkan to enact a “one-year eviction moratorium extension for renters and struggling small businesses.”

Overnight as the judge’s ruling was awaited was mostly quiet at the park. CHS received reports of new tents being set up outside the park near apartment buildings in the area and activists claimed a successful “occupation” of a foreclosed single family-style home on E Denny Way slated for demolition to make way for new apartment development. Seattle Fire was also called to the park for a major medical emergency in the early hours of Thursday morning for a patient in their 20s found unconscious and unresponsive on pavement at the park. According to Seattle Fire radio updates, crews were performing CPR on the patient and administered Narcan for a possible overdose. The patient was transported in critical condition to Harborview, SFD says.

Looking forward, it’s not clear how Seattle Parks and SPD will keep Cal Anderson clear of tents and mutual aid efforts after any sweep. In recent clearances, activists and campers quickly returned — sometimes within hours. Parks says it plans a three-day clean-up in Cal Anderson once the park is cleared and is beginning plans for neighborhood and community-led work sessions after New Year’s to try to reactivate the park once it is officially reopened.

Justin Carder (aka J Seattle) was live on The Morning Update Show with Omari Salisbury and Trae Holiday this morning, Tuesday, December 16. The three discussed the Cal Anderson park sweep and more. When the livestream is over, you can watch it in full. 

J Seattle is the founder and editor of the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog.

Featured image by Alex Garland.