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Charges dropped against 16 occupiers of abandoned Capitol Hill building

A man enters the building early in the December 2nd occupation at 10th and Union (Image: CHS)

A Seattle judge has ruled 16 activists were not trespassing after they occupied a vacant Capitol Hill building in December. Some 200 activists occupied the Union Cultural Center at 10th and Union for about 10 hours before they were forced out in a pre-dawn SWAT raid by Seattle police.

According to court records, Judge Judith Hightower ruled the building was abandoned, incapable of being trespassed. The building had been empty for more than a year and was scheduled for demolition two weeks after the activists moved in.

Hightower dismissed the trial May 24; it was slated to start this week. The 107-year-old building had since been demolished to make way for new mixed-use development.

Kimberly Mills, spokesperson for the City Attorney’s office, tells CHS the judge denied the prosecutor’s request to reconsider the ruling.

Braden Pence, who represented some of the UCC 16, says the ruling calls into question how and why Occupy crackdowns were carried out.

“Politically, there’s pressure to keep things the way they are,” Pence said. “Occupy was theoretically about transformative change and addressing institutional inequality, so there was a bias against it and that was evident in the media coverage and the prosecution.”

Pence said he’s frustrated that media coverage has disappeared now that some protestors are being vindicated in their actions.

The dismissal comes on the heals of the Chase 5 being found not guilty in their occupation of Chase Bank’s Broadway brach. Pence, who left his clerk post with a Seattle judge to represent Occupy activists, also served as co-counsel for the Chase 5.

Revelry — and discussion of what to do next the night of the occupation (Image: CHS)

Pence says that while some Occupy activists engaged in illegal activity, it’s important to note how many cases are being dropped.

“The legal system is a reflection of a community and I think seattle is a liberal community and one that embraces political discourse,” he says. “Our society likes individual freedom and political speech. If this case was in a different part of the country, we could have very different results.”

Babylonia Aivaz was one of the UCC 16. You’ll remember she garnered national media attention after holding a “gay-wedding” with the UCC building last year. She says she was indifferent about the dismissal.

“I just felt in the core of my being that what was happening in there was true justice.”
–Babylonia Aivaz

“Honestly, it didn’t make a difference. Either way I knew we were right and we were going to win … I knew I live with pure intentions in this world, I have no intention for harm, only positive social change.”

Aivaz said what she remembers most about the night in December is the positive energy and good nature of the participants. She says the occupiers immediately got to work, cleaning and removing debris in order to hold a meeting to discuss how to best use the space for the community.

“I just felt in the core of my being that what was happening in there was true justice,” she said. “I would have taken a bullet for what we were doing that night.”

Aivaz tells CHS she’s hard at work planning her next wedding to Yessler Terrace. The 71-year-old public housing development is slated for a massive overhaul.

According to, the movement is still alive and kicking with a slew of summer events planned. Seattle activists are organizing a cross-country Occupy caravan with other west coast cities to end in Philadelphia July 4th. A free music, arts, and politics festival, dubbed Everything for Everyone Festival, is slated for August 11-12.

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29 thoughts on “Charges dropped against 16 occupiers of abandoned Capitol Hill building

  1. “Judge Judith Hightower ruled the building was abandoned, incapable of being trespassed”
    However it wasn’t abandoned enough that property taxes were waved.

  2. It’s inconceiveable to me that occupying/squatting in an abandoned house or building is actually legal. Methinks the judge’s ruling is a misguided sense of what the law actually says.

    Squatters are thrown out of abandoned dwellings all the time….there has to be some legal basis for doing this.

  3. Homeless people are prosecuted every day, I mean EVERY DAY, in Seattle municipal court for trespass sleeping in abandoned buildings. Criminal Trespass is on the docket daily. So why the special treatment for occupiers while we crap on homeless people? Seems reflective more of the judge’s well known personal politics than any reading of the trespass laws.

  4. I don’t understand how it can be abandoned…and scheduled to be demoed in 2 weeks. That doesn’t make sense.

    a·ban·don    [uh-ban-duhn]
    verb (used with object)
    to leave completely and finally; forsake utterly; desert: to abandon one’s farm; to abandon a child; to abandon a sinking ship.
    to give up; discontinue; withdraw from: to abandon a research project; to abandon hopes for a stage career.
    to give up the control of: to abandon a city to an enemy army.

    Clearly if somebody is planning to demo it they have not abandoned it. Are you supposed to live/occupy the building up until demo day? Thanks, Judge.

  5. they have a lot to say on the comment sections of these neighborhood blogs.. but they are nowhere to be seen when these actions actually happen.. awfully strong opinions for such timid people..

  6. That is absolutely ground zero of the culture of capitol hill afaics. It must be demolished– for the same reasons they demolish sodo and build giant soviet style projects, sports stadiums etc. To ethnically cleanse the area and halt the spread of ideas.

  7. This is a huge win for OS! So proud of everyone! A hug and kiss to the Occupyiers who had their bullshit charges dropped, Big ups to Pence for doing such a great job representing and upholding the truth (time and time again)! And a giant thank you to Judge Hightower who ruled in favor of social change and didn’t lay down to political pressure or other assfuck’s who wouldn’t have the backbone to do make the same decision.

    As for 1% Media? Change your tune, if you don’t – you’ll leave all the work up to Guerrilla Films!

    Keep Occupying – Love, Christyx

  8. That is not true. In many other East Coast and Midwestern cities, there are strong laws protecting squatters. You know, from the last Depression.

  9. seriously, you think this was unjustified? have any of you been to court? The judge did not throw this out due to her own politics…before she threw this out, these people had to appear in court, wasting time and losing money (both the ones being tried and our city) for many, many hearings before this was thrown out. Also, Occupiers are currently the ones standing up for the homeless in this city the most- google or fb seattle jungle defense. What have you done for the homeless lately besides walk away when asked to give change?

  10. What have the homeless done for me besides shit in alleys and harass me for coins? Oh that’s right, they make excellent sidewalk speed bumps when they pass out drunk in the middle of the day. Let me know if you want pictures, I have several.

  11. @Calhoun: Please look up the legal definition of ‘trespass.’ The judge was correct in her ruling. You can’t ‘trespass’ in an abandoned building because the building itself has no legal status requiring protection under the law.

  12. The judge was correct in her ruling. You can’t ‘trespass’ an abandoned/condemned building because the building itself has no legal status requiring protection under the law. The taxes were for the land itself, most likely.

  13. Exactly!

    All squatters and “occupiers,” whether “homeless” or not, should be forced to leave private property. There are many shelters in Seattle for them to go, but of course they cannot drink/drug there.

  14. There are many shelters for the homeless in Seattle, as well as food programs where a person can get a hot meal 3 times a day, every day of the week. These places are at least in part supported by all taxpayers. There is no need for people to squat on private property.

    So get off your high horse.

  15. Technicality, legal mumbo-jumbo. Please explain why people are being prosecuted for squatting in abandoned buildings all the time…..a good thing.

  16. Yet if the building had been unsafe inside, and an occupier had fallen through a rotten floor for example, the owner would be sued and held responsible for not properly securing the unsafe building, despite occupiers breaking in. At what point is Occupy responsible for their actions? Oh wait, never, as they are mostly white, middle class (yet slumming it by collecting food stamps). The whole thing is sad and pathetic. Occupy Seattle has no idea how much they have alienated what was originally great support for OWS.

  17. occupy is probably the most mult-racial, mult-generational, and multi-class movement I have ever seen in this city. To assume they are all white and middle class demonstrates that you haven’t been around to actually LOOK at people’s faces or HEAR people’s stories.

    the irony is that you are probably middle class and white or at least are a member of a middle class family and you find the easiest way to dismiss a truly PROGRESSIVE movement (no ballot boxes in this shit!) is to diminish its constituency.

    as an observation, it is important to note that occupy represents the first time in recent history that there has been a social protest movement on a semi-large scale dedicated to domestic class relations. Generally movements in the US (at least since the end of the seventies) have focused by and large on a liberal agenda of supporting movements in other parts of the world. This change of focus towards a domestic class war agenda suggests that occupy is indeed composed of people who are working class, sub-working class, and ex-middle class.

  18. the judge was wrong because she made a finding of fact that was for the jury to decide. see the knapstad case, which was the motion the defense attorneys brought. she was wrong, as are the people who continue to vote for judges without looking into whether or not they know and are willing to apply the laws. i bet she knows she was wrong too.

  19. I gotta say, whatever happens or doesn’t happen with the defendants, the best part of all this is watching calhoun blow a gasket. Any event outside the bubble of his meanspirited but credulous Leave-It-To-Beaver worldview is just beyond comprehension. I’m LOLing.

  20. @Gesseg,
    You’re just barely well-informed enough to sound correct – which makes your incorrect opinions appear persuasive. So, of course, you’re wrong. Judge Hightower made no finding of fact. She ruled upon the UNDISPUTED facts (You, of course, know what that means, don’t you? But wait – you also thought you knew what you were talking about when you said that the judge ruled on facts that should have gone to jury, didn’t you? Well, maybe it would be nice to just remind you: undisputed facts are those that both the defense and the State agree upon.) The undisputed facts were 1) that the building had been left empty for over one year and 2) that it would be demolished within one week. She ruled that, as a matter of law, a property owner that is planning to destroy a building, and hasn’t productively used it in over a year, can’t claim to have an interest in maintaining the integrity of the “box” that constitutes the building. The owner does have an interest in the materials the box is made of, and the land that it sits upon. But a box that has laid empty for a year and will be destroyed within a week has been abandoned. She cited Washington cases and persuasive authority from around the country. She ruled on the law not the facts. She researched and did her homework. She knew what she was talking about. You do not.