Charges filed against protesters who shut down I-5 in Seattle

Apr 19, 2024, 4:25 PM | Updated: 4:37 pm

wsp charges protest I-5...

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)

The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (KCPAO) has filed charges against six of the protesters who were among the dozens involved in the pro-Palestinian protest that shut down Interstate 5 (I-5) in Seattle on Jan. 6.

Five have been charged with second degree criminal trespass and disorderly conduct and one was charged with disorderly conduct. These are all misdemeanor charges.

The Washington State Patrol (WSP) is still investigating five other people.  There is an active request to the WSP for additional information on those five individuals in criminal trespass and disorderly conduct investigations, KCPAO spokesman Casey McNerthney stated in email sent to KIRO Newsradio Friday. He reiterated those cases have not been declined and the investigations are ongoing.

More on what happened in January: Protesters blocked I-5 in downtown Seattle at Pine Street

One case was declined because photo and additional evidence was insufficient to prove charges against the specific defendant, McNerthney’s statement reads. The evidence submitted did not indicate the person in the case was on I-5.

The law enforcement agency forwarded recommendations for charges against 12 people in February, all of whom are believed to have played an integral role in the demonstration that closed a stretch of I-5 north for several hours, beginning around 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 6. At one point, the backup stretched for several miles in the area near Pine Street. Troopers say an estimated 500 people used a dozen vehicles to completely block traffic.

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.

Troopers say eight people tied their arms together inside pipes in what is called a “Sleeping Dragon” technique, in an effort to make it more difficult for law enforcement to remove them from the area. Some protesters also cut through a WSDOT security fence in order to get access to the freeway, according to court documents.

The protesters dispersed around 6 p.m., following a sudden onset of threatening weather. Troopers didn’t arrest anyone at that time, and allowed participants to leave peacefully. Afterwards, troopers searched the abandoned vehicles using bomb-sniffing dogs, before towing them away.

Why weren’t the protesters charged sooner, like those at the airport?

The KCPAO said that because the protesters were not arrested at the scene, the state patrol needed time to gather evidence that would prove they were part of the protest, notably evidence that will hold up in court.

By contrast, Port of Seattle police arrested 46 pro-Palestinian protesters who shut down the highway leading to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Monday.

The expressway to the airport Monday was blocked by protesters for several hours. Of those arrested, 30 were booked into the South Correction Entity (SCORE) and 16 were booked into the King County Jail, according to spokesperson for the Port of Seattle Perry Cooper.

Airport protest coverage: 46 arrested after pro-Palestinian protest shut down key road for hours

Within 24 hours, the SeaTac’s city attorney had filed misdemeanor charges against them.

“The people in the SeaTac cases were arrested immediately. And they were fingerprinted and they were booked and they were photographed. So, there were no question with identity,” KCPAO spokesman Casey McNerthney said to KIRO Newsradio Friday.

In his statement emailed to KIRO Newsradio, McNerthney also noted there were differences in the specific police announcements, admissible evidence, and the circumstances of the police investigations in the two incidents.

“Even when cases seem the same by investigation type, each case is unique and reviewed individually for what is needed in court,” McNerthney said in his statement.

WSP investigation continues

The WSP has faced criticism for its response and the length of time it took to clear the freeway. Chief John R. Batiste defended the department’s actions. He emphasized that troopers focused on ensuring no one got hurt.

Previous coverage: WSP to recommend charges for recent pro-Palestinian protest on I-5

“The sophistication and scale of the event presented unique challenges for law enforcement and safety risks to everyone on the freeway,” he said in a statement days after the shutdown. “State and local law enforcement prevented escalation of a situation that could have ended very badly.”

Contributing: Steve Coogan, MyNorthwest

Heather Bosch is an award-winning anchor and reporter on KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of her stories here. Follow Heather on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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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Charges filed against protesters who shut down I-5 in Seattle