A civil-rights lawsuit filed by the mother of a 19-year-old Seattle man fatally shot during last year’s Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) has been dismissed by a federal judge, who concluded the city did not create a dangerous situation for the young man when police abandoned the department’s East Precinct during the unrest.
In formally dismissing the lawsuit Monday, U.S. District Judge John Coughenour ruled that Donnitta Sinclair, the mother of Horace Lorenzo Anderson, could not show that the decision by city officials to vacate the embattled East Precinct during the racial unrest after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police caused the circumstances that led to Anderson’s shooting death.
Coughenour cited law that states, as a general rule, 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,” unless they can prove some action by the city created a danger would not have otherwise existed.
“In other words,” the judge wrote, “the City must have known that something was going to happen but chose to ignore the risk and expose plaintiff to it anyway.”
The city contended that it could not have foreseen that Anderson would run into a rival, 18-year-old Marcel Long, on Capitol Hill early on June 20, 2020. Bad blood between the two young men led Long to allegedly shoot Anderson on the sidewalk across the street from Cal Anderson Park, according to police.
Sinclair’s lawsuit, filed earlier this year, alleged the city’s decision to abandon the department’s East Precinct and surrounding area, invited “lawlessness and … a foreseeable danger” that led to Anderson’s death.
Long was arrested in July of this year and faces first-degree murder charges.
Sinclair’s lawyer, Mark Lindquist, acknowledged the lawsuit was “unconventional” and sprang from a “unique scenario” that does not easily fit into the case law.
“Cities and counties can’t be sued for every homicide and there are good policy reasons for this,” Lindquist wrote in an earlier email after a magistrate judge had recommended Sinclair’s lawsuit be dismissed. “The question here is whether or not the city created the danger and therefore can be sued.”
He said he expects to appeal the judge’s decision, which dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning it can’t be refiled.
“I’m confident a higher court will nonetheless recognize the city did create the danger and therefore can be held be accountable,” Lindquist wrote.
Dan Nolte, a spokesman for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, said the office would not comment because Anderson’s father and estate have filed similar claims against the city that remain pending.
The judge also dismissed a motion by the National Police Association, a nonprofit law-enforcement advocacy group based in Stafford, Texas, to join Sinclair’s lawsuit as a “friend of the court,” claiming that the city’s actions to abandon the precinct endangered the public and law enforcement and “should shock the conscience of this Court, sworn to uphold the rule of law against anarchy.”
Anderson, who went by his middle name, had graduated from an alternative youth-education program on June 19, 2020, and visited the CHOP zone the next day, where he ran into Long, according to police. The pair had a history of animosity, and according to police and witnesses, they exchanged words.
Police said that video surveillance showed that Anderson was walking away when Long, who had been restrained momentarily by others, pulled a handgun and shot him several times.
Sinclair’s lawsuit alleged that Long knew the CHOP was a “no-cop zone.”
The SPD’s civilian-run Office of Police Accountability has concluded the decision to leave the precinct did not violate any laws or department policies.
After he was shot, Anderson was treated by citizens and volunteer medics manning a nearby first-aid station while, according to the lawsuit, a Seattle Fire Department Medic One ambulance staged a block and a half away.
Anderson eventually was driven in a pickup to Harborview Medical Center, where he died.
In the hours after the shooting, the police department said a hostile crowd had prevented officers from reaching Anderson. The fire department said that by policy, when responding to scenes of violence, they had to wait for police to secure the scene.
The Seattle Police Department released video showing several officers enter the protest zone with guns drawn, as protesters shouted at them to put the weapons away. However, demonstrators said, by that point Anderson already had been taken to the hospital.
The lawsuit argued any crowd hostility toward police stemmed from their failure to respond to the shooting scene.
Lorenzo Anderson’s father, Horace Anderson, has filed a $3 billion claim against the city but has not yet sued, according to Nolte.
Lindquist said that while the judge’s ruling dismisses Sinclair’s federal lawsuit, it does not impact a state wrongful death claim — a prelude to a lawsuit — filed against the city, King County and Washington state.
A number of businesses on Capitol Hill impacted by the CHOP zone have filed a class-action lawsuit alleging the city’s tolerance of the zone and its decision to pull law enforcement from the area cost them millions and violated their rights to live and operate safely.