Over a dozen businesses within the self-proclaimed autonomous protest zone inside Seattle have filed a class action suit against the City claiming it left businesses defenseless when police were pulled from the department’s East Precinct.

After days of protests and riots, the city made the decision for police to abandon the East Precinct on June 8 “leaving behind numerous barriers” which Capitol Hill Occupied Protest participants then used to barricade several city blocks, states the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court.

Business owners argue the area subsequently suffered “extensive property damage, public safety dangers, and an inability to use and access their properties.”

“In the days and weeks after the City abandoned the East Precinct, CHOP participants have occupied the public streets, sidewalks, and parks in the area at all hours of the day and night,” the lawsuit states.

“Rather than seeking to restore order and protect the residents and property owners within CHOP, the City instead chose to actively endorse, enable, and participate in the occupation of CHOP.”

The 56-page suit, which includes photos of the damage mentioned, goes on to note “hundreds of CHOP participants” have invaded nearby parks, where “violence, vandalism, excessive noise, public drug use, and other crimes” run rampant.

Furthermore, makeshift borders created by CHOP members have prevented public access to businesses, making life hard for business owners.

“These borders have, at times, been guarded by armed CHOP participants who oversee who can or cannot enter CHOP. As a result, the streets are barred to most all vehicular traffic, making it virtually impossible for residents and businesses to access their buildings, receive deliveries, and provide goods and services to the few customers willing to enter CHOP.”

The plaintiffs also complain their businesses, and “nearly every private building within CHOP,” have been destroyed and vandalized.

“Graffiti that is painted over almost immediately returns, and property owners have been told by CHOP participants that if they dare to paint over the graffiti, their buildings will be more severely vandalized or even burned to the ground.”

As noted by Seattle City Council Insight, (SCCI) the plaintiffs case is strengthened by the fact CHOP’s activities were so widely documented, putting them in a position to be awarded millions.

The fact that the activities at the CHOP have been so extensively documented, and Mayor Durkan and Chief Best have talked about their policies and decisions at great length, strengthen the plaintiffs’ case. If the plaintiffs win, the named plaintiffs alone could win hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. If the class is certified, it could easily reach tens of millions.

As SCCI also notes, the suit does not call for Seattle to close down CHOP, and contains language in its overview stating the business owners respect the rights of the protesters to assemble:

The rights of free speech and to peaceably assemble are enshrined in our constitutional tradition. Plaintiffs support free-speech rights and support the efforts of those like Black Lives Matter who, by exercising such rights, are bringing issues such as systemic racism and unfair violence against African Americans by police to the forefront of the national consciousness. Specifically, Plaintiffs support the free speech rights of many of those who have gathered on Capitol Hill to form what has been called “CHAZ,” standing for the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,” or “CHOP” for “Capitol Hill Organized Protest” or “Capitol Hill Occupying Protest.”

This lawsuit does not seek to undermine CHOP participants’ message or present a counter-message. Rather, this lawsuit is about the constitutional and other legal rights of Plaintiffs—businesses, employees, and residents in and around CHOP—which have been overrun by the City of Seattle’s unprecedented decision to abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood, leaving it unchecked by the police, unserved by fire and emergency health services, and inaccessible to the public at large. The City’s decision has subjected businesses, employees, and residents of that neighborhood to extensive property damage, public safety dangers, and an inability to use and access their properties.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and a request for “actual damages in an amount to be proven at trial.”

On Monday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said the city would begin dismantling CHOP as crime increased in the area. Reports as recent as Wednesday say despite the city’s efforts CHOP protesters are staying put.

See the full lawsuit below:

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