Property damage still illegal in Seattle after judge clarifies decision

Jun 15, 2023, 10:28 AM | Updated: Jul 6, 2023, 8:37 am

seattle property crimes graffiti patrols...

Graffiti marks a building in downtown Seattle. (Photo by Bill Kaczaraba/

(Photo by Bill Kaczaraba/

While the Seattle Police Department (SPD) initially said they were not able to enforce property damage laws after a ruling from a federal judge regarding the city’s anti-graffiti ban, a clarification from the judge said that the law can be enforced.

U.S. District Court Judge Marcha Pechman filed an injunction Tuesday that the City of Seattle cannot enforce its anti-graffiti ban. SPD originally said after the ruling that means “until further order of the Court, SPD cannot take action on damage to property under this law. This is not a matter within SPD or City discretion; we are bound by the court order as it is written.”

Initially, it was unclear what the injunction covered since the city ordinance covers multiple types of property crimes, including smashing windows or destroying personal property. The judge clarified that the injunction is only related to the city’s laws around graffiti.

Seattle police are able to make arrests for other types of property crimes, and the “Criminal Division of the City Attorney’s Office will immediately resume charging cases of property destruction,” the City Attorney’s Office said.

In response to a stipulated agreement of the parties in Tucson et al. v. Seattle, U.S. District Court Judge Marsha J. Pechman issued an order clarifying that the court’s preliminary injunction order from June 13 does not enjoin the City of Seattle from enforcing Seattle Municipal Code 12A.08.020.A.1, making intentionally damaging the property of another a gross misdemeanor. The preliminary injunction still applies to enforcement of the prohibition on property defacement (including graffiti) under A.2 of that ordinance. 

The ruling came in connection with a lawsuit filed by four people who used charcoal and chalk to write messages protesting police violence in early 2021 — on a temporary concrete wall outside the SPD’s East Precinct.

Seattle’s ordinance says that’s a gross misdemeanor — but the judge disagreed — saying the law is too vague, over-broad, and violates constitutional rights.

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