Seattle Times / by Jim Brunner, Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle City Attorney Mark Sidran said yesterday his office would move to dismiss charges in 77 of 100 remaining cases from arrests made during last November's World Trade Organization anniversary protests.
Sidran said his office had reviewed the cases, including videotapes of the Nov. 30 demonstrations, and found insufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt if they came to trial.
A total of 142 people were arrested that day after peaceful daytime celebrations turned to tense nighttime confrontations with police. Some people were briefly detained and released, but most were loaded on buses and taken to jail, where they were charged with failure to disperse or pedestrian interference.
Sidran's announcement came a day after it was reported that three local labor leaders had received preferential treatment - because of the intervention of Seattle Mayor Paul Schell - when they were swept up in the arrests.
Steve Williamson, executive secretary of the King County Labor Council; Jonathan Rosenblum, director of Seattle Union Now; and Robby Stern, executive assistant to the president of the Washington State Labor Council, were among those arrested and taken to jail. But the three were quickly released and never charged.
Bob Hood, chief of the criminal division for the City Attorney's Office, said the timing of the decision to dismiss 77 cases was coincidental and had nothing to do with the accusations of preferential treatment.
Attorneys for some protesters arrested say charges against their clients ought to be dropped because they did not behave substantially differently than the labor officials during the protests.
"The only reason they (Williamson, Stern and Rosenblum) were released was because of who they were, and that's totally offensive," said attorney William Broberg.
Broberg filed a motion this week alleging selective prosecution and enforcement of the law in the case of Vanessa Lee, a tenant organizer charged with failure to disperse. Lee's case was not among those to be dismissed.
Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said decisions about whom to arrest were made by police commanders without interference from the mayor's office. While Schell's office did notify police that the labor officials had been asked to try to act as peacekeepers, Kerlikowske said he was never instructed to offer them special treatment.
"I never would have taken this job if I thought the mayor would interfere with police decisions," Kerlikowske said.
Schell has not been available for comment.
King County Jail officials referred questions to Elaine Kraft, a spokeswoman for County Executive Ron Sims. Kraft said jail guards released the labor leaders and some others, including reporters, quickly because they were told by police that "these individuals were not to be booked."
Once they were at the jail, Williamson, Stern and Rosenblum were quickly processed and released, while some of those arrested were detained for more than 24 hours, said Lisa Daugaard, an attorney who represents some of the protesters.
Daugaard called Lee's case a perfect example of selective prosecution, noting that Lee sat next to Rosenblum as they were arrested. While she sat quietly, he shouted on a bullhorn, Daugaard said.
However, John Straight, a professor of legal ethics and criminal law at Seattle University, said allegations of selective prosecution are notoriously difficult to prove. Prosecutors have wide discretion on whom to charge, Straight said. To prove selective prosecution, a lawyer must show a prosecutor intended to discriminate because of political beliefs, race or other factors.
"Absent an extremely candid and stupid prosecutor admitting it in open court, it's nearly impossible to show," Straight said. He said that police have less leeway, however, so lawyers may be able to prove their related claim of "selective enforcement."
Williamson said he and other labor leaders had been asked by Schell's office to help maintain order during the WTO anniversary. They were trying to negotiate with police to allow protesters to walk to the Labor Temple on First Avenue and Broad Street when they were arrested, he said.
After the protests, Sidran's office received 117 misdemeanor cases for prosecution. Of those, 17 have been resolved through guilty pleas, diversion or no charges being filed. Of the remaining 100, only 23 now remain.
Sidran said that police were justified in arresting the protesters, based on probable cause.