Catching up on court cases – May 2, 2021

We’ve got three cases to talk about today, including a new lawsuit against the city and the latest on Ft Lawton.

CHOP Shooting Lawsuit

Earlier this week, the mother of a 19-year-old who was shot and killed at the CHOP last summer, has sued the city. The complaint alleges that the city manufactured a dangerous situation within the CHOP area by establishing and publicizing its policy of not answering calls there other than life-threatening situations, and then through incompetent miscommunication didn’t respond to calls for aid for 26 minutes. Generally speaking, the government doesn’t have a duty to provide aid; however, an exception recognized by the courts is when the government actively created a dangerous situation (known as the “state-created danger” doctrine). The plaintiff is demanding unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from the city.


Fort Lawton

Elizabeth Campbell’s continuing effort to thwart the redevelopment of the former Ft. Lawton Army base into affordable housing has taken another fascinating turn. Campbell sued under the state Land Use Petition Act, challenging the city’s plan to redevelop the property. The city is obtaining the property through the federal act that closed several military bases and made the properties available free of charge to local redevelopment authorities.

In mid-2019, the City of Seattle moved to have the U.S. Army added as a plaintiff to the case, since it still owns the property. State law specifies that the property owner must be a party to any legal challenge under the Land Use Petition Act. The court agreed in the fall of 2019, and ordered Campbell to re-file her complaint adding the Army and serve the complaint and a summons. Through last winter, spring and summer, Campbell and her revolving-door legal representatives managed to foul up this process multiple times, and came about an inch away from having the entire case thrown out for failure to follow court procedures. Last fall Campbell’s attorney withdrew, and since then she has represented herself in court.

At the same time the Army, once officially a party to the case, immediately moved to be dismissed from the case because Campbell’s re-filed complaint did not actually make any claims against the Army that a court could grant relief for. The federal government is immune from lawsuits unless it specifically grants parties the right to sue it; in this case such right is granted under the federal Administrative Procedures Act (APA), but only for a final agency action that is likely to cause injury to the suing party or for an an injury proximately caused by the federal government. After a wait of several months, finally this week the judge ruled that Campbell had not identified any such injury traceable to the Army, and therefore dismissed it from the lawsuit. The judge made the dismissal “without prejudice” and said that Campbell may re-file her complaint but may only add claims against the Army and not against any other defendant.

This leaves Campbell in a legal catch-22: her case can’t go forward with the Army as a party, and it can’t go forward without it. The judge gave her two weeks to amend her complaint, and was clear that “an amendment received beyond this date will not be considered.” Campbell still has no legal representation, so she will need to do it all herself.

Consent decree

Today the City of Seattle submitted its quarterly update to Judge James Robart on the status of the 2012 Consent Decree against the Seattle Police Department. Among the items in the status report:

  • SPD has implemented a new, Crowd Management, Intervention and Control training that is mandatory for all sworn personnel with the rank of Captain or below. It is a full day of training: half in the classroom and half focused on practical skills.
  • It summarizes the police-reform bills passed by the state Legislature in the recently-concluded session, and discusses the impacts they will have on SPD.
  • It provides updated statistics on the work of the Office of Police Accountability in the first quarter of 2021. Between January 1 and March 31, OPA opened 170 new investigations, and as of March 31 it had a total of 269 investigations open. OPA completed 99 investigations in the first quarter, of which 22 sustained allegations against a total of 37 SPD officers. There were six sustained findings related to use-of-force. So far in 2021, SPD Chief Adrian Diaz has not overturned any of OPA’s findings, though his decisions lag OPA’s by days or weeks so some of his 2021 decisions were for cases completed by OPA in 2020, and some of OPA’s 2021 decisions have yet to be reviewed by Diaz. Of the 144 investigations launched by OPA related to protests last year, 90 have been resolved.
  • It notes the recent Court of Appeals ruling upholding the firing of Officer Adley Shepherd and overturning an arbitrator’s decision to reinstate him. The arbitrator’s decision was a contributing factor to Judge Robart’s decision to find the city out of compliance with the Consent Decree with regard to police accountability.

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