Seattle waiting on judge's decision on a lawsuit before clearing Cal Anderson Park (Update: Judge denies request for restraining order)

Yesterday, the city of Seattle was supposed to clear out Cal Anderson Part at 7:30 am. In anticipation of the sweep, several dozen protesters dressed in black had gathered and set up barricades around the area. Police did show up yesterday morning but they only circled the park and never went inside. The question was why?

Today we learn that the city’s decision to back off was prompted by a lawsuit filed on behalf of a person named Ada Yeager who has allegedly been living in the part since June. Yeager’s lawyer asked a judge for a temporary restraining order to block the sweep. The judge refused to issue one but after a hearing said he would issue a final written decision sometime today.

The federal civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of “an unhoused resident of Seattle” put a daylong pause to any clearance plans Wednesday but lawyers for the Seattle City Attorney said further action to clear the park would be “imminent” if the request for the restraining order were denied.

The lawsuit been filed in U.S. District Court seek a stop to the sweep on behalf of Ada Yeager whose lawyer say has been living in Cal Anderson since early June and has been subjected to “repeated harassment from the City of Seattle by way of ‘sweeps.’”

The civil rights lawsuit is seeking for the clearance of Cal Anderson to be called off and “general and special damages” including “pain and suffering and compensation for wrongful incarceration.”

Screenshots of the lawsuit indicate the attorneys are claiming the attempt to sweep Cal Anderson Park is a case of illegal political discrimination by the city: “Defendant City has singled out the Cal Anderson protest encampment for forced eviction due to the content and viewpoint of political messages and organizing expressed there.” The lawsuit goes on to suggest that Mayor Durkan is eager to clear the park so she can take a job in Washington DC with the Biden administration.

The Seattle Times reports that as of yesterday most of the people living in tents in the park had left, contradicting some of the claims made by Yeager:

Inside the park Wednesday, more than 20 tents remained, though most of the people living there had left. As recently as Tuesday, about double that number were in the park, and people living there took up most of the area…

In the petition for a restraining order, Yeager says that roughly 50 residents were at the site, along with about 200 other individuals who are “prepared to defend the encampment from the threatened eviction.”

Just last night there was an apparent overdose in the park and emergency workers had to come out and administer Narcan to someone. There have been at least 5 fires at the site and multiple threats against city workers. Is the judge going to let this chaos continue? It’s difficult to imagine a justification for restraining the city from clearing out a public park and offering shelter to the homeless after nearly six months of this, but this is Seattle so anything is possible. The judge has promised his decision would be made today so we won’t have to wait much longer to find out.

Finally, two videos to close this out. First, a King 5 report on the situation at the park and the lawsuit. Below that is a walkthrough of the park and the streets nearby by a local resident. The clip is about 30 minutes long but if you really want a first hand sense of what it’s like, this is the best way to get it short of going to the park yourself.

Update: Even if the city clears the park, how long will it stay cleared? A member of a security team hired to monitor the park the last time it was cleared said people returned almost immediately.

McGhee, the owner of Jaguar Security Inc., was hired to patrol the park Sept. 1 after city crews cleared out by a large group of campers. But that night, McGhee said about 50 black-clad protesters confronted his team with sticks, poles and strobe lights, which they shined in the eyes of the security officers to blind them.

“They were verbally threatening us,” McGhee said. “They didn’t get too close but they got close enough to a point where we thought we were going to have to start firing our weapons.”…

McGhee thinks it will take a show of force to reclaim the park and will require arrests and jail time for those who refuse to leave. In his opinion, it could be an easy fix but questions if city leaders may once again fail to follow through.

“The city of Seattle has lost control,” he said.

There’s a video version of the story here.

Update: The judge denied the request for a restraining order.

A federal judge has denied a call for an emergency restraining order to stop Seattle police and park workers from clearing the hold-out remnants of a large homeless encampment at Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill.

U.S. District Judge Richard Jones had taken the matter under advisement following a nearly two-hour emergency hearing Wednesday evening in which the judge referred to Seattle’s miserable December weather and said it was a “horrible time” for the court to be deciding whether the clearing of the park should go forward.

This should mean the clearing of the park can go forward, though I’m not clear if the police are required to post new signs and give another 72 hours before acting or if they can simply move forward without further notice. Either way the anarchists have set up barricades and are likely to fight the effort. Stay tuned.