A Seattle Municipal Court jury has acquitted two former firefighters and a woman of assaulting several homeless men during a confrontation in March in Occidental Park.
The jury had been deliberating for only about two hours before reaching the verdict Wednesday afternoon. Testimony in the trial began Nov. 20.
Seattle city prosecutors had accused the three defendants — Robert Howell, 47, Scott Bullene, 46, and Bullene’s girlfriend Mia Jarvinen, 38 — of a “brutal attack” motivated by their anger toward the homeless. They were each charged with fourth-degree assault and malicious harassment, the state’s version of a hate crime.
Howell and Bullene were terminated from the Seattle Fire Department in August.
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The three were walking through the park March 15 when “they saw something they could not walk past,” Assistant City Attorney Joe Everett said during closing arguments. People they perceived to be homeless were lying or lounging on the Seattle Fallen Firefighters Memorial, which they saw as disrespectful, Everett said.
But, he said, the defendants’ anger wasn’t simply focused on where the victims were, but who they were. Everett said the three would have reacted differently had it been a “man in a tailored suit” or a couple on a date sitting on the memorial.
He said both Howell and Jarvinen were heard to have said something about “paying taxes” and the homeless being “thankless.”
According to Everett, Howell confronted one of the men and then punched, kicked and stomped him. Jarvinen kicked a reclining man in the head and then either kicked or dumped his food.
Everett described Bullene as the enforcer who kept other people from coming to the aid of those being assaulted, including wrestling a walking stick away from a 54-year-old man and then “beating him into submission.”
But in her testimony, Jarvenin said the confrontation began when Howell approached a man he said he saw urinating on the memorial to tell him his actions were “disrespectful to his brothers.” Jarvinen said the man, and others around him, refused to leave and said, “You can’t tell us to leave. This is our spot.”
She said that another person attempted to provoke Howell by simulating sex with the statue of the kneeling firefighter and that others in the park began to move toward Howell aggressively.
Attorneys for the firefighters said the men had spent their careers caring for others, including the homeless. They said the defendants had gotten caught up in an unfortunate, complex and confusing fracas that left one of them injured.
Attorney David Allen, who represented Bullene, who suffered knife wounds, said his client was a victim.
Police and prosecutors allege Bullene was cut after he took a walking stick from a 54-year-old homeless man with a prosthetic leg and began beating him with it.
If convicted as charged, each defendant would have faced a sentence of up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.