Seattle anti-police protesters awarded $680,000 in First Amendment case

Jun 25, 2024, 2:58 PM | Updated: 3:21 pm

graffiti enforcement appeal...

Graffiti on a barricade inside the so-called "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone" call for the abolition of police is an example of the type of protest at question in the case. (Photo by Toby Scott/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

(Photo by Toby Scott/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A federal jury in Seattle has awarded four anti-police graffiti protesters a total of $680,000, including punitive damages, after finding that Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers violated their civil rights during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The protesters, Derek Tucson, Robin Snyder, Monsieree de Castro, and Erik Moya-Delgado, were arrested for writing statements like “(Expletive) the Police” and “peaceful protests” in chalk and charcoal on walls and portable concrete barriers outside the department’s East Precinct in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

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Despite a city and county ban on booking most misdemeanor offenders due to the pandemic, the officers invoked a “protester exception” to book them into the King County Jail. The incident occurred on New Year’s Day 2021.

According to a story in The Seattle Times, the jury found that the arrest and booking violated the protesters’ First Amendment rights because they were directly related to the content of their speech.

The officers involved were identified as Alexander Patton, Dylan Nelson, Ryan Kannard, and Michele Letizia. Also, body-camera footage revealed controversial actions by the officers, including hanging a flag supporting former President Donald Trump and keeping a mock tombstone of a 19-year-old man killed by police in a precinct breakroom.

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City officials faced criticism for publicly encouraging peaceful protests while privately sanctioning the unlawful jailing of the same protesters by their police force. The plaintiffs, wearing T-shirts with anti-police messages, stood on the steps of the federal courthouse as the verdict was announced.

Braden Pence, the Seattle attorney representing the protesters, called the verdict a “big win for free speech.”

“Based on the evidence presented at trial, the jury found the defendants arrested and booked the plaintiffs because of the content or viewpoint of their speech,” Pence said in a prepared statement, the Times reported.

Each protester will receive $20,000 in compensatory damages from the city of Seattle and $60,000 in punitive damages from the individual officers.

Bill Kaczaraba is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here. Follow Bill on X here and email him here

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Seattle anti-police protesters awarded $680,000 in First Amendment case