WSP recommends charges for protesters who shut down I-5 in Seattle

Feb 9, 2024, 7:25 PM | Updated: 8:14 pm

Image: Protesters block a portion of Interstate 5 in Seattle on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024....

Protesters block a portion of Interstate 5 in Seattle on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024. (Photo: Jason Rantz, AM 770 KTTH)

(Photo: Jason Rantz, AM 770 KTTH)

Washington State Patrol (WSP) on Friday afternoon officially recommended charges against five people accused of being involved in the pro-Palestinian protest that shut down Interstate 5 (I-5) north in Seattle for hours last month.

WSP spokesperson Chris Loftis says investigators forwarded the charges to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (KCPAO). They include 2nd degree criminal trespass, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct, and obstruction. Two other individuals are under continued investigation and charges may be referred in their cases soon.

“This is not about the rights of free speech or assembly. There can be no doubt that the Washington State Patrol respects and protects those rights,” WSP Chief Jon R. Batiste said in a statement following the announcement. “This is about holding people accountable for unlawful and dangerous acts that put the traveling public, our first responders, and yes, the protesters themselves, in danger.”

WSP as an organization can only recommend charges; it’s up to the KCPAO to make the final decision. Spokesperson Casey McNerthney told KIRO Newsradio Friday senior deputy prosecuting attorneys from the office’s Criminal Division will review the report before determining how to proceed.

The state law enforcement agency is putting out an additional call to the public, asking for help identifying other possible persons of interest in the protest. Anyone with information on their identities or whereabouts or who have additional video or photographs that might assist in the investigation are asked to contact WSP at or Sergeant Chase Van Cleave at (425) 240-4161.

What happened Jan. 6 on I-5

On Saturday, Jan. 6, shortly after 1 p.m., all lanes of I-5 north closed in downtown Seattle for approximately five hours, causing traffic to back up for miles. An estimated 500 people used 12 vehicles to illegally block traffic, according to troopers.

Demonstrators chanted “free, free Palestine” and “Hey hey, ho ho, the occupation has got to go.” They called for an immediate ceasefire in Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas.

More on the protest: Protesters blocked I-5 in downtown Seattle at Pine Street

Troopers say a large group cut through a WSDOT safety fence and began to occupy the freeway surface as part of a coordinated effort. They refused to leave the area and eight individuals bound themselves together using the “Sleeping Dragon” technique. That’s where people tie their arms together inside pipes, which makes it incredibly difficult to remove them.

The protesters dispersed around 6 p.m., following a sudden onset of threatening weather. Troopers didn’t arrest anyone during the protest and those who participated were allowed to leave peacefully.

After the protesters departed, troopers searched the the abandoned vehicles using bomb-sniffing dogs, before towing them away.

WSP faced criticism for its response and the length of time it took to clear the freeway. Loftis defended the department’s actions, saying troopers focused on ensuring no one got hurt. “We’re always going to do it, and we’re always going to do it safely,” he told KIRO Newsradio in the days after the shutdown.

From Chris Sullivan: WSP defends actions during protesters’ 5-hour takeover of I-5

More on the Israel-Hamas war

Large pro-Palestinian protests have been ongoing in Seattle. They began shortly after the terrorist group Hamas launched an attack last Oct. 7 from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel. That day, militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250. Hamas is still holding more than 130 hostages, but around 30 of them are believed to be dead.

As The Associated Press also noted in its coverage Friday more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population has been driven by Israel’s military offensive toward the border with Egypt. Unable to leave the tiny Palestinian territory, many are living in makeshift tent camps or overflowing U.N.-run shelters.

Conflict coverage: The families of a few Israeli hostages don’t want a deal to bring them home. They want Hamas crushed

The Palestinian death toll from the war has surpassed 27,840 people, the Health Ministry in Gaza said. A quarter of Gaza’s residents are starving.

Contributing: The Associated Press

You can read more of Kate Stone’s stories here. Follow Kate on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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