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Sept. 24, 2023

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Family of teen killed during CHOP files lawsuit blaming Seattle for creating danger


SEATTLE — The father of a 16-year-old boy killed outside the Capitol Hill Organized Protest by an unknown assailant has sued the city, former Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Councilmember Kshama Sawant, blaming them for actions and inaction that led to his son’s death during the city’s racial injustice protests.

The death of Antonio Mays Jr. early June 29, 2020, marked the third fatal shooting during the three-week protest and led to the city’s decision to dismantle the CHOP, an eight-block police-free zone set up after the Seattle Police Department abandoned its East Precinct during demonstrations sparked by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Mays was driving a white Jeep near the border of the protest zone when several shots were fired into the vehicle, wounding him and a 14-year-old passenger. The lawsuit alleges those shots were fired by self-appointed security guards, some carrying semi-automatic rifles, who had been patrolling the zone and had been trained by Seattle police.

In addition to the lawsuit, the senior Mays has filed a complaint with the SPD’s Office of Police Accountability alleging the department failed to investigate the shooting and that department officials — including Police Chief Adrian Diaz — have ignored attempts by the family to discuss the status of the investigation.

Jessica Schreindl, an OPA spokesperson, declined to comment on a specific case but acknowledged the office had accepted and assigned for investigation a complaint regarding the unsolved homicide.

Sgt. John O’Neil, a Seattle police spokesperson, also declined to comment.

The lawsuit is similar to litigation filed against the city by the father of Lorenzo Anderson, another young man shot and killed during a CHOP altercation. Anderson bled to death when police and firefighters refused to enter the protest zone due to safety concerns, forcing civilian medics to load him into the back of a truck and take him to Harborview Medical Center, where he died. The city settled the Anderson lawsuit for $500,000.

First responders were likewise absent after the shooting of Mays, with police acknowledging it took them nearly five hours to reach the hectic crime scene, which they said had been compromised by protesters who picked up shell casings and disturbed other evidence. They have never explained the delay.

Civilian medics took Mays to a parking lot, where Seattle paramedics determined he was dead.

“Paramedics failed at their duty to provide the much-needed assistance,” the lawsuit alleges.

Seattle attorney Evan Oshan, who represented Anderson’s father, is also representing Antonio Mays Sr., whose lawsuit filings are nearly 800 pages long.

“The murder crime scene was BOTCHED and regular police procedures and protocols were not followed,” Oshan said in a new release.

The new lawsuit, filed Wednesday, also relies heavily on allegations that the city created the danger to the younger Mays by helping establish the protest zone: allowing protesters to take over the area, using city barriers to block streets, creating a community garden at city-run Cal Anderson Park and providing sanitary services such as drinking water and portable toilets.

That argument was the basis of another lawsuit, filed by several Capitol Hill businesses against the former mayor and city, that city officials settled in February for $3.65 million. The settlement included an award of $600,000 in penalties for the deletion of thousands of text messages by Durkan, former Police Chief Carmen Best and other high-ranking city officials.

Mays Sr.’s lawsuit alleges Durkan, Sawant and up to 100 “John Doe” defendants overlooked the dangers posed by the lawlessness on Capitol Hill. The mayor and city leaders “knew the CHOP activity was dangerous to the health and safety of the community and needed to be controlled,” but failed to take action, the lawsuit claims.

Durkan and Sawant didn’t return emails seeking comment Thursday afternoon. In the past, Durkan has defended her decisions during the protests and said the thousands of missing texts resulted from a damaged phone and unintentional, improper deletion settings on a replacement device.

However, in a ruling that undermined the city’s legal position and led to the settlement, a federal judge said the former mayor’s explanations “strained credulity” and pointed out that Best, the police chief, deleted 27,000 of the text messages from her phone by hand.