Seattle police release video of response to 'autonomous zone' shooting that left one dead

A department statement said officers attempted to respond inside the protest zone, but were met by a violent crowd that prevented officers safe access to the victims

By Mike Carter
The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Seattle police homicide and assault detectives are investigating an early morning shooting in the Capitol Hill protest zone known as CHOP that left one person dead and another in critical condition.

Seattle police said a 19-year-old man was pronounced dead at Harborview Medical Center. A second man suffered life-threatening injuries. Police have not identified the victims.

Sgt. Lauren Truscott, the department’s public information officer, said no suspects were in custody and the department urged anyone with information to call its tip line, 206-233-5000. Truscott said the department is reviewing public-source video and body-camera video for clues.

Late Saturday, the department released security video from cameras overlooking Cal Anderson Park that recorded a rapid volley of gunfire, and then people running.

The roughly six-block area has been a gathering point for demonstrators protesting police violence against Black people and has received widespread attention since its early days when it was known as CHAZ, for Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. The area has since been renamed CHOP, an acronym for Capitol Hill Occupied Protest.

The Seattle Police Department abandoned its East Precinct, about two blocks from where the shootings occurred, on June 8 after days of violent confrontations with thousands of protesters that began downtown following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota on May 25. The killing of Floyd, a Black man who suffocated with the knee of a white police officer on his neck, has sparked nationwide protests against police racism and violence against people of color.

The empty precinct building, now boarded up and covered with graffiti, has been the hub of the ongoing occupation of the area, which includes Cal Anderson Park, one block west and across the street from the precinct.

Seattle police in a post Saturday on its blotter said officers attempted to respond to a report of shots fired inside the protest zone, but the officers “were met by a violent crowd that prevented officers safe access to the victims.”

Late Saturday, the department posted body camera video from an unidentified officers who was among the incursion team sent into CHOP to try to secure an area around the victim so Seattle Fire Department medics could enter. SFD said it’s policy is to not send firefighters into potentially violent situations without police protection.

The body camera video shows a phalanx of armed officers, weapons drawn, being yelled at by protesters, many using profanities and several coming right up to the marching officers, as an officer using a bullhorn says, “Please move out of the way so we can get to the victim! All we want to do is get to the victim!”

Protesters can be heard yelling at the officers to “put your guns down!”

The protesters also shout to the officers that the victims have already been taken away. It would later turn out that one victim had been transported out by volunteer medics but another would be found later.

As the crowd grows larger and louder, pushing up against the double line of officers, the police abandon the effort. “Get out of here!” an officer can be heard yelling. “Get in your cars and go!”

The Seattle City Fire Department said it had medics and an engine company staged outside its station at 1500 E. Pine St. but per department policy would not enter the area — considered a scene of violence — without police protection.

Meantime, volunteer medics at CHOP attempted to treat at least one of the critically injured gunshot victims just blocks away.

A timeline prepared by the fire department from dispatch information indicates the initial call came in at 2:19 a.m. and that the 19-year-old victim was at the hospital in a private vehicle by 2:42.

The second gunshot victim was not located until 2:51 a.m.

“Officers were later informed that the victims, both males, had been transported to Harborview Medical Center by CHOP medics,” the post said.

Mayor Jenny Durkan did not comment on the shooting or the protest area Saturday.

Kelsey Nyland, a Durkan spokeswoman said the mayor was in close contact with the leaders of the police and fire departments. “The primary duty of the SFD and SPD is to ensure public safety in all parts of the city,” Nyland added.

Nearly two hours of video posted on Facebook by Omari Salisbury, a citizen journalist with Converge Media who has been documenting the protests, shows a tumultuous scene as he describes how one of the victims was receiving CPR by CHOP volunteer medics.

Susan Gregg, a spokeswoman at Harborview, said two gunshot victims were treated there. One died, she said, and the other was in critical condition in the intensive care unit.

Salisbury’s video also shows a police extraction team — handguns drawn and in a phalanx led by officers holding shields — attempt to enter CHOP to retrieve the victims.

The group of officers were met with angry and yelling protesters, who initially appeared to give them space as they moved in but moved in closer as the officers backed away to their vehicles. The team left, but not before other protesters lined up to apparently protect the officers from angry members of the crowd as they retreated.

City Councilmember Lisa Herbold said it was not yet clear whether the shootings had anything to do with the protests or not.

Herbold said CHOP’s existing operational plan, with Seattle Fire asking anybody who needs medical help to be taken to the edge of the area, is not sustainable.

“Fire department medics have to be able to respond, regardless of where the need is located,” Herbold said. “The bottom line is, first responders have to be able to respond.”

“I’m asking that the CHOP work with SFD and SPD to develop a plan for how to facilitate that response when it is needed,” the council member said.

Salisbury described a scene of “pandemonium” at the medic tent when one of the victims was being treated there, as the medics and others argued over whether they should call Medic One or transport the victims themselves. “There was a lot of confusion,” he says on the video.

Salisbury said the CHOP area “emptied out pretty quickly” after the shooting. “The population got real small, real quick,” he said.

The incident occurred near 10th Avenue and East Pine Street, according to Truscott.

A timeline prepared by the Seattle Fire Department indicates there was confusion about the number of victims initially, and that police apparently were told the second victim had already been transported to the hospital when in fact he was still at the scene.

Former nurse Alex Bennett said she was walking her dog with a friend when a passerby told her about a shooting. She was leaving, she said, when she turned the corner at 11th Avenue and Pike Street and came across the second victim on the hood of a car, bleeding from a wound in his arm.

Bennett said she used her sweatshirt as a tourniquet to try to stanch the bleeding and asked someone to call 911. When a volunteer CHOP medic came by with a first aid kit, Bennett said they examined the man and found another wound in his chest.

The man’s skin was turning clammy and his breathing was shallow, she said, and when it became clear an ambulance wasn’t coming — or wouldn’t be there fast enough — she and others loaded him into a van and raced to the hospital, where a medical team was waiting outside. They found at least one wound on the man’s chest.

Afterward, she said, she was questioned by a police officer, who she said “told me that when they responded to the first victim they were chased out of there, which is why they didn’t come for the second one.”

It is the second incident of gun violence in the six-block protest zone. On June 7, a man was arrested after he drove his car into a crowd outside the embattled East Precinct and is accused of shooting a man who reached into his vehicle and tried to stop him. That victim was shot in the shoulder.

Molly Moon Neitzel, whose namesake ice cream shop on Capitol Hill has been an attraction for protesters and sightseers alike, said the workers staffing that store have expressed concerns about safety in the past few days.

“All of us are all super supportive of the [Black Lives Matter] movement, and we’ve wanted to say open, but the last few days things have felt different,” she said. She said shifting leadership within the movement has made it difficult for businesses to communicate with the protesters.

“I no longer feel it’s safe, and I’m worried for my team and other small businesses,” Neitzel said.

One of the individuals was shot in front of her store early Saturday, she said. She has closed for the day, and says she isn’t sure when she will open again.

In an interview on “Fox & Friends Weekend,” Seattle Police Officers Guild President Michael Solan was sharply critical of Mayor Jenny Durkan and her decision to allow protesters free rein.

“Police are still not allowed into that area and were prevented to providing that police service to the area to locate victims and/or render aid. [It’s] very troubling what’s going on,” Solan said.

“This is a direct result of city leadership, elected officials failing the reasonable community of Seattle to enforce the rule of law,” Solan said.   He said the issues now extend beyond the six-block area on Capitol Hill occupied by the protesters. “This is now impacting our entire city.”

Asked about the situation in Seattle during a news conference about the coronavirus Saturday, Gov. Jay Inslee said the future of the protest zone and the East Precinct was up to the city. He said he hadn’t yet had a chance to talk to Durkan.

“Clearly we need to have a way to provide adequate police and fire protection everywhere in the state of Washington, including in that area,” Inslee said. “There may have been an adequate response, we don’t know that.”

“I am governor and my role is supportive, if you will, to the entire city of Seattle and its democratically elected government,” he said.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated as information becomes available.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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