Seattle Property Damage Lawsuit

Seattle Property Damage Lawsuit

In 2021, a group of protestors filed a Seattle Property Damage Lawsuit against the city of Seattle after being arrested for violating Seattle city ordinance 12A.08.020 by vandalizing temporary police barricades with writing that was anti-police. The plaintiffs claim that the law surrounding Property Destruction under Seattle’s municipal code is vague and in violation of their First Amendment rights. This lawsuit has had a recent development in June of 2023 as a federal judge in Seattle issued an injunction barring the city’s police department from making graffiti-related arrests under the current Property Destruction code. This case brings to the forefront an important debate: the balance between protecting free speech and preventing property damage. If you are facing any charges related to vandalism, the lawyers at the Law Office of Erin Bradley McAleer are here to represent and defend you. They will work diligently to expertly craft a defense for you, ensuring your rights are protected throughout the process.

Background of the Property Damage Case

Seattle city ordinance SMC 12A.08.020 states that one is guilty of Property Destruction if he or she “writes, paints, or draws any inscription, figure, or mark of any type on any public or private building or structure.” The plaintiff’s contention lies in the fact that the law is written broadly, criminalizing any form of writing on public or private property, regardless of permanence or actual damage caused.

To highlight the issue, in 2020, there were demonstrators who were writing messages on public roads and sidewalks that were supporting the Seattle Police Department, in which police officers participated. No one was arrested during this event, even though the demonstrators were in violation of the city ordinance. This provides a clear conflict of interest, as police seem to be picking and choosing who is “vandalizing” private or public property under the city’s ordinance based on their personal opinion of the message.

The Judge’s Ruling

U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman sided with the plaintiffs, issuing an injunction against the city’s Property Destruction law. She expressed concerns that the law could be used for censorship, allowing the arrest of individuals who simply express dissenting opinions or create art that may irk certain officers. Judge Pechman’s ruling highlights the potential harm caused by criminalizing free speech, emphasizing the need for a careful balance between protecting public interest and individual rights to free speech. The injunction’s immediate effect is the temporary suspension of arrests under the city’s property damage law, only affecting the graffiti portion of the law.

Implications for Seattle’s Property Damage Legislation

The ruling however sets a possible precedent for related laws with similar verbiage regarding vandalism to public and private property. Malicious Mischief in the 3rd Degree is one example,  as RCW 9A.48.090 also states that one is guilty of this crime if they “writes, paints, or draws any inscription, figure, or mark on any public or private building or other structure.” This may lead other cities or counties to adopt an identical position if they hold similar codes or ordinances in order to reflect Seattle’s ruling protecting the First Amendment rights of its citizens.

Considering the Public Interest

With approximately 900 Property Destruction cases referred to Seattle’s prosecution office annually, it is crucial to assess the potential consequences of the injunction to the public’s interest. While the protection of free speech is a fundamental pillar of democracy, it is equally important to address acts of Property Destruction that harm individuals, businesses, and the community at large. Striking the right balance is essential to ensure the equitable functioning of society.

Mayor Harrell’s Approach

Mayor Bruce Harrell has been actively pursuing measures to mitigate permanent graffiti in Seattle. However, it is worth noting that the underlying case occurred before Mayor Harrell took office. In response to the injunction, the mayor’s spokesperson reaffirmed the commitment to finding ways to alleviate graffiti-related issues while respecting the need to protect free speech. The city aims to implement a comprehensive One Seattle Graffiti Plan that focuses on law enforcement, community engagement, artistic expression, and collaboration.

How We Can Help

While the plaintiffs argue that the law infringes upon their constitutional rights, the city and law enforcement officials acknowledge the significance of addressing property damage for the well-being of the community. If you are facing any charges related to Malicious Mischief or vandalism, hiring an attorney can be incredibly beneficial to the outcome of your case. Our attorneys at the Law Office of Erin Bradley McAleer are incredibly skilled, and will defend you to the fullest extent of the law.

Call the Law Office of Erin Bradley McAleer at (360) 334-6277 today in order to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys. Don’t wait to protect your freedom and future.