Never Mind Nirvana, my third published novel, was set in the music scene of Seattle. This was an era when local bands became the focus of international attention.
Seattle, which had been sort of a cool secret, was suddenly famous. As Mark Arm of Mudhoney sang, “Everybody loves us. Everybody loves our town.”
There was the Seattle sound, the Seattle books, the Seattle movies, the Seattle-based Starbucks. Our rainy city had its day in the sun.
Eighteen years after Nirvana played “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on “Saturday Night Live,” Seattle is once again in a hot spotlight.
On June 8, Seattle Police deserted their East Precinct building in Capitol Hill. Police Chief Carmen Best publicly denied giving the order. Nobody has owned the decision yet. As John F. Kennedy said, “Success has many friends. Failure is an orphan.”
Once the police vacated the precinct, the city ceded a six-block section of businesses and apartments. The area became known as CHOP, or the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest. There were other acronyms as well, such as CHAZ, Capital Hill Autonomous Zone, but the media mostly went with CHOP.
On June 20, Lorenzo Anderson was hanging out in the CHOP area when he was shot multiple times. He was nineteen. There were witnesses and videos. Everyone is a videographer these days, a boon to accountability.
Seattle Fire Department and police personnel knew Anderson was shot and in need of medical assistance. He was, in fact, bleeding to death. One video circulating on social media shows a man yelling at SFD medics sitting in an ambulance.
“You guys could be saving this man’s life right now…. You could be saving his life…. Sir, please explain, what’s going on? He’s dying. He needs your help.”
Lorenzo never received medical assistance from the SFD medics who were staged about a block and half away. Instead, civilians drove him to Harborview Medical Center in the back of a pickup truck roughly 20 minutes later. He died there.
Lara Herrmann and I filed a claim against the City of Seattle, King County, and Washington State for this wrongful death.
The city made numerous mistakes. Our claim is focused on two. One, Seattle officials created a dangerous environment, and two, city personnel failed to medically assist Anderson. There was no plan to provide essential services into CHOP, or at least not a working plan.
On one day the Mayor framed CHOP as a “summer of love,” and on another day city officials claimed the area was too dangerous for police and fire department personnel to do their jobs. Nobody was on the same page. Everyone had their own political agenda.
Our claim is a legal prelude to a lawsuit. We represent Lorenzo’s mother. Our goal is justice for Lorenzo’s family, accountability for the city, and answers for all of us.
There is still much to learn. Four TV stations covered the story, including Q13 and KOMO. Sara Jean Green at The Seattle Times also covered it, as did Matt Nagle at the Tacoma paper, The TW. I went on air with Dori Monson, Kirby Wilbur, and other radio stations. National media picked up the narrative and ran in a variety of directions, as the media is wont to do.
Ashley Hiruko at KUOW, a local NPR affiliate, ran a story on how the Seattle Police Department and Fire Department miscommunicated with each other the night Lorenzo was shot. Protestors were begging the SFD medics to come in for Lorenzo, but SFD’s confused communication with SPD contributed to the paralysis.
Trouble in CHOP was foreseeable, but city officials lacked the foresight.
After Lorenzo was shot, there were four more shootings and five more victims in CHOP, including a dead 14-year-old boy.
After police finally reclaimed their own precinct, and the abandoned area, the Seattle City Council voted to largely defund the police. The Mayor vetoed the bill. Oh, and Chief Best quit.
Stay tuned as this story continues. More claims and lawsuits have been filed, including one by local business owners and residents of the area formerly known as CHOP.
Meanwhile, as you likely know, I’ve been with Herrmann Law Group, a personal injury firm, since January of 2019. For my first year, I was primarily focused on our lawsuits against Boeing for the two crashes of the Boeing 737 Max 8. There have been numerous stories, and 60 Minutes Australia was one of the best. Many of the cases have since settled.
We still have work to do on our cases against Boeing, but this year I’m also working on a variety of other equally just causes. Please let me know if I can ever be of legal assistance to you, your family, or friends.
I’m continually pleased by the parallels between prosecution and personal injury work — pursuing justice, holding bad actors accountable, and helping people.
Photograph by Alex Mertz