Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes announced Wednesday his attorneys will review all the misdemeanor cases referred to his office involving peaceful protesters and could decide to dismiss some cases or refer others to a community-based, restorative-justice program.
“After two weeks of anguished demonstrations over the murder of George Floyd and the killing of other unarmed black men by police, it is plain to me that peaceful protestors should not be prosecuted despite having been arrested during events that have sometimes devolved into violent and destructive confrontations with Seattle police and supporting law enforcement agencies,” Holmes said in an emailed statement Wednesday.
Thirty-seven misdemeanor cases have been referred to the City Attorney’s Office for offenses like obstructing police, failure to disperse, resisting arrest, theft, criminal trespass, reckless endangerment, and minor assaults, spokesman Dan Nolte said. He said most of the defendants were arrested in the week after the first Seattle protest on May 29, four days after Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Half of the cases were referred for obstruction and failure to disperse charges, Nolte said. Defendants range in age from 18 to 48; the majority of them are men and a majority of the defendants are also in their 20s, he said.
Not all cases, though, will qualify for dismissal or a referral to CHOOSE 180, a restorative-justice program that has partnered with the city attorney since 2017 to divert 18 to 24-year-olds out of the criminal-justice system and help them avoid criminal records. The agency also works with juvenile offenders and is in the process of expanding programming countywide.
“Attorneys will go through and look at body-camera footage, look at the evidence and decide whether it’s worth prosecuting at all,” Nolte said. But “there are cases that are a little more problematic,” he said, like the case of a person accused of throwing a traffic cone at a passing police officer’s windshield.
People arrested for assaulting or threatening to kill police officers, looting downtown stores or possessing illegal firearms — which are all felony-level offenses — will be prosecuted by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Sean Goode, the executive director of CHOOSE 180, has agreed to accept anyone referred by the City Attorney’s Office, regardless of age, Holmes wrote in the statement.
“After engaging with Sean’s team to work through their experience, they’ll be connected to an organization that will help them advance the cause that they were passionately protesting for. After they engage, I will toss their criminal case referral in the figurative waste basket. No criminal charge. No criminal record. No jail,” Holmes wrote.
Before the outbreak of the coronavirus, CHOOSE 180 conducted four-hour, monthly group workshops for people 12 to 24 to help them explore their circumstances and future goals, and learn to hold “themselves accountable to who they want to be,” said Goode, who was profiled by The Seattle Times last year.
Because the pandemic has made group meetings impossible, Goode said his organization has provided virtual, one-on-one consultations with young people. CHOOSE 180 has diverted up to 200 youth a year out of the criminal-justice system.
He’s convinced the program will work for older adults, too, and he will allow them to experience an alternative to the traditional criminal-justice system.
For those folks, Goode said participating in CHOOSE 180 programming is an opportunity to experience the type of restorative justice protesters have been demanding in the wake of Floyd’s killing and the killings of other Black people at the hands of police. Those older than 24 also would have the opportunity to volunteer for Black-led organizations as a way to give back to the community, he said.
“It’s still being sorted out,” Goode said of finding “meaningful ways for people to get involved in the community they care about and are advocating for in their protest.”
Goode thinks all crime is contextual, there’s always a way to find a compromise and everybody should have the opportunity to be redeemed.
“If we want a more restorative system and we’re going to protest for a more restorative system, we should begin to live that out now,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that a majority of the misdemeanor defendants whose cases are being reviewed by city attorneys are men in their 20s. A majority of the 37 defendants are men, and a majority of the defendants are in their 20s. But it is incorrect that a majority are men in their 20s.