A SeaTac city judge dismissed disorderly conduct charges against Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and two other defendants Friday, saying it was the police and not the protesters who blocked traffic.
A SeaTac city judge abruptly ended the disorderly-conduct trial of Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and two others Friday, dismissing all charges against the three defendants, who were arrested during a minimum-wage demonstration.
The defense didn’t need to call witnesses and the jury didn’t deliberate because Judge Ann Danieli terminated the trial moments after prosecutors rested their case.
Danieli agreed with a defense lawyer, who argued the prosecutors had failed to present sufficient evidence that Sawant, the Rev. John Helmiere and airport worker Socrates Bravo engaged in disorderly conduct by intentionally blocking traffic.
Testimony from police officers showed that it was police who blocked traffic on International Boulevard in the minutes before Sawant, Helmiere and Bravo were arrested, the judge said.
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The prosecutors objected, arguing that the officers were forced to block traffic in order to protect the defendants and other demonstrators from being hit by vehicles.
Earlier in the Nov. 19 demonstration, some people had jaywalked across the road, through traffic, to reach the headquarters of Alaska Airlines, where the bulk of the rally was held.
The police made no arrests at that time because they wanted to allow the rally to play out, an officer testified.
They moved to block the traffic in preparation for the crowd moving back across the road. Sawant, Helmiere and Bravo then stopped in the middle of the road and remained there despite being told to leave.
Sawant, who represented herself in court, acknowledged in her opening remarks Thursday that she stayed in the road against police warnings.
But the socialist council member wasn’t technically blocking traffic when she was arrested because the traffic had already been blocked, the judge said.
“This is an uncommon thing in a criminal trial,” said defense lawyer Dmitri Iglitzin, who represented Helmiere and Bravo. “It’s a little shocking whenever a prosecuting authority like this city goes to all the trouble and all the expenditure … and it turns out that the case is so bad it doesn’t even go to the jury.”
Iglitzin said the police could have issued jaywalking tickets instead.
“You don’t get a jury trial for a jaywalking ticket,” he said. “In this case, the city decided to treat it like the crime of the century.”
SeaTac City Attorney Mary Mirante Bartolo disagreed with Danieli’s ruling. Mirante Bartolo said prosecutors can appeal but haven’t yet decided whether they will.
“There was enough evidence to go to the jury,” she said. “We did our job.”
The demonstration targeted Alaska Airlines because the company was, and still is, in a legal battle over the $15 minimum wage that SeaTac voters approved in 2013.
“This ruling has not only vindicated myself and my co-defendants,” Sawant said, “but has really vindicated the voters of the city of SeaTac who voted in the $15 minimum-wage law and all the low-wage workers around the nation who are currently in a battle for $15 an hour.”