A Seattle resident critically injured by a driver during a Black Lives Matter demonstration filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the state, city and suspected driver.
Dawit Kelete is accused of hitting two protesters, killing one of them, after driving around roadway barricades and taking an offramp onto Interstate 5 on July 4, 2020.
The King County Superior Court lawsuit filed by Diaz Love — who sustained a traumatic brain injury, multiple fractures, lacerations, displacements and other physical wounds — alleges Kelete was driving negligently. It also alleges state and city agencies failed to block all access ramps to Interstate 5 and refused to protect vulnerable protesters.
The lawsuit names as defendants the Washington State Patrol, Washington State Department of Transportation, Seattle Mayor’s Office and Seattle Police Department.
It alleges the agencies failed to reinstate a policy banning pedestrians from obstructing freeways during protests and wrongly prohibited and removed protesters’ support vehicles, which are sometimes used as protective barricades.
The lawsuit also claims the police agencies failed to warn drivers of protesters’ presence on the freeway, provide barricades near the demonstrators or communicate effectively with them.
Kelete was able to access I-5 because the agencies failed to block the offramps, the lawsuit alleges.
He was arrested on suspicion of driving the wrong way up Stewart Street, taking a closed exit ramp onto the closed freeway and hitting Love and Summer Taylor.
Both protesters were thrown into the air. Taylor was killed. Love was seriously hurt.
Kelete told jail officials he was struggling with an “untreated addiction,” and WSP investigators found “several implements commonly used to smoke illegal substances” and a substance that appeared to be “similar to crystal methamphetamine” in the car he was driving, according to charging papers.
A WSP drug-recognition expert determined he had not been drinking and did not appear to be under the influence, according to the charges.
Kelete pleaded not guilty to vehicular homicide, vehicular assault and reckless driving charges in late July 2020. He posted $100,000 in bail in January 2021 and is currently on electronic monitoring. He’s also on a waitlist for a competency evaluation requested by his defense attorney.
On July 13, 2020, Taylor’s family filed a claim alongside others against the city of Seattle, King County and Washington state, alleging either excessive force by police or failure to secure the safety of peaceful protesters.
Love filed a claim for damages with the city on Jan. 12, 2022, and with the state on January 19, 2020. Neither claim has been resolved.
Love has endured constant pain and severe emotional injuries, including post-traumatic stress, the lawsuit says.
Love’s lawsuit details email correspondence among WSP officials about the risks of protesters accessing the freeway and how the agency would ensure their safety.
WSP and SPD officials met with demonstration organizers between May 30 and June 4, 2020, to coordinate routes and address safety issues about marching on I-5, according to the lawsuit.
Members of the WSP command staff recommended the state reinstate a policy denying pedestrian access to I-5 due to serious safety concerns, but the agency’s chief assured the agency was carrying out “the safest means possible to avoid injuries or worse” to motorists and protesters, according to the lawsuit.
The chief acknowledged the dangers and issued a public statement advising people to stay off I-5 but still allowed protesters to access the freeway, the lawsuit says.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the plaintiff’s name. The lawsuit was filed by Diaz Love.