Shooting in Seattle protest zone leaves 1 dead, 1 injured

Richard Read
Caution tape marks an area of the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone in Seattle, where a predawn shooting left one man dead Saturday and another critically injured.  (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

A 19-year-old man was shot dead early Saturday in Seattle's self-styled "no cops" protest area, with officers who responded to the scene saying they were initially blocked by an angry crowd.

A second victim was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries, police said, after he was transported by volunteer paramedics in the chaotic aftermath of the predawn shooting. Accounts provided by the police and fire departments conflicted with video recordings and descriptions by a volunteer paramedic, underscoring competing narratives about the situation inside the controversial area where the city has retreated, giving free rein to activists.

John Moore, who struggled to save the life of the man who died, said fellow volunteers pleaded with 911 dispatchers to send medics from the Seattle Fire Department, which has a policy of waiting for police to secure violent scenes. Fire Department medics reluctant to enter the zone initially set up a staging area next to it and said that once they did enter, they could not find the victim.

Moore said in an interview that while continuing to administer CPR on the mortally wounded man, he and other volunteers took him in a makeshift ambulance to a meeting point two blocks outside the zone predesignated with the Fire Department. Finding that department medics had already been there and left despite entreaties of people at the scene, the volunteers transported the man to Harborview Medical Center, where he died shortly before 3 a.m.

Moore said he wasn't sure that the man, who had three gunshot wounds, would have survived if Fire Department medics had responded directly. "But he would have been able to show up in the emergency department intubated and with IV access, as opposed to in the back of a pickup truck," he said.

Kristin Tinsley, a Seattle Fire Department spokeswoman, asked for details of Moore's account and said Saturday evening that she was looking into the matter.

Police, who said their department instructs them to meet crime victims at barricades marking the zone, contended that a violent crowd blocked safe access. But video that police released from body cameras worn by officers revealed no assaults on them, and scenes recorded by a local journalist showed bystanders briefly standing in their way and then chasing off a departing patrol car.

No organization officially controls the zone, a situation that has complicated attempts by city officials to meet and negotiate a way forward.

The shooting occurred shortly after 2 a.m. in the six-block neighborhood that activists call the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest area, after initially naming it an “autonomous zone.” Police have largely stayed out of the zone since June 8, when they boarded up a precinct headquarters they had guarded during protests that followed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody May 25.

A video recorded early Saturday by Omari Salisbury, a citizen journalist who has been documenting protests, showed a phalanx of a dozen officers, some holding shields, walked into the zone while people yelled and some stood in the officers' way. An officer said on a loudspeaker: “Please move out of the way so we can get to the victim.”

The video shows several bystanders with their hands up and others shouting, telling police that a shooting victim had already been taken away. Some protesters voiced objections to the police presence and briefly surrounded the last of several police cars to leave, chanting: "Whose streets? Our streets!"

A Seattle Police Department statement released later Saturday morning branded the crowd violent. "Officers attempted to locate a shooting victim but were met by a violent crowd that prevented officers safe access to the victims,” the statement said.

“Homicide detectives responded and are conducting a thorough investigation, despite the challenges presented by the circumstances,” the statement continued.

The suspect, or suspects, fled, and no motive was known, police said.

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best opposed the decision by city leaders to vacate the East Precinct after police and National Guard troops had defended it for days in confrontations with unruly activists among larger crowds of peaceful protesters. Police were criticized for aggressive use of tear gas, pepper spray and flash-bang grenades, leading Seattle’s City Council to vote Monday to ban the crowd-control measures as well as chokeholds by officers.

Mayor Jenny Durkan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, both Democrats, have traded barbs on Twitter with President Trump, who threatened to “take back” the city if they didn’t assert control over those he labeled "anarchists" and “domestic terrorists.”

Officers have been told to stay out of the area and meet crime victims at the edge of the zone, according to Mike Solan, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild. City officials have said they continue talks with protest leaders, who have pledged to keep peace in the zone, which often resembles a street festival, with activists holding strategy meetings and onlookers viewing the boarded-up precinct, taking photos and eating free vegan chili served at a street stand.

Emergency dispatchers began receiving calls concerning the second shooting victim half an hour after learning the other man had been shot, according to a Seattle Fire Department statement released Saturday afternoon. As department paramedics waited for police to secure the area around the second victim, he was taken in a private vehicle to the hospital, arriving at 3:06 a.m. "with a major gunshot wound," the statement said.

Moore said members of his volunteer team also transported that patient to Harborview. He said the team has had repeated difficulties coordinating with the Fire Department.

"This is not the first time that they've driven off while we've had acute patients," he said. In another incident, a Fire Department crew didn't wait for volunteers to bring a woman injured by a police flash-bang grenade, he said. She has recovered, he said.

Moore said he heard six to eight shots. Seven shots in rapid succession were audible on the video released by police, which included recordings from other sources including a security camera.

The shooting was the second incident of gun violence in the zone. On June 7, a motorist was arrested and accused of shooting a man who tried to reach into his car to prevent him from driving into a crowd of protesters. The man was shot in the shoulder and not seriously injured.

Tensions have increased at times when counterprotesters have shown up — and right-wing extremist organizations plan more rallies this month.

On June 13, a skirmish broke out when two men marched into the zone holding U.S. flags, one of which was stolen by someone in the crowd. On Monday, a few men wearing the insignia of the Proud Boys, a far-right militia organization listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, showed up asking for the flag's return.

Activists in Seattle's "cop free" zone converge Saturday on an American flag held by a counter-protester.  (Richard Read / Los Angeles Times)

The Proud Boys organization is recruiting members to come to Seattle from around the country July 18, according to Joe Biggs, a Florida-based leader of the group who organized a rally in Portland, Ore., last year, where his followers clashed violently with people in the "antifa" anti-fascist movement.

"We plan to do the same thing we always do," Biggs said in a June 13 call to a Los Angeles Times reporter. "We're going to hold hands and walk across the autonomous zone, and watch the thugs and animals attack and assault us."

Biggs followed up on Monday, passing on a flier circulating on far-right social media websites that says: "Patriots needed in Seattle, July 18, 2020. We take America back."

Three other right-wing organizations plan a July 4 rally in the zone, according to Western States Center, a Portland organization that tracks their activities. Plans are being coordinated by a Boston group called Super Happy Fun America, which is a front organization for Resist Marxism, and two others, Real Black Rebel and Prntly, the analyst said.

On Tuesday, Facebook announced that it had removed 1,100 accounts linked to the Proud Boys and the American Guard, another organization that the company considers a hate group. A Facebook official who asked to remain anonymous said the company moved quickly to complete a weeks-long project to remove offensive Facebook and Instagram accounts after seeing communications that indicated the organizations planned to send armed agitators to protests around the country sparked by Floyd's death.

Messages showed followers' intent to attend multiple protests in different states, and to bring weapons, the official said. Facebook officials saw news reports of the Proud Boys members in Seattle on Monday and would continue to monitor developments and members' accounts, the company official said in an email Thursday.