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Big bust raises tensions at Midtown Center

As neighbors living around 23rd and Union concerned about gun violence met at Seattle University for a community crime meeting to discuss recent shootings, a major law enforcement operation including reports of flash bang explosives went down in a tension-filled Midtown Center Thursday night.

Multiple people were taken into custody during the incident first reported to CHS around 7:30 PM Thursday after the operation was well underway.

A Seattle Police spokesperson said Friday morning he was looking into the situation and could not provide details of the arrests and SPD’s possible involvement. UPDATE 3:40 PM: SPD has posted a report on the arrest of a 27-year-old man wanted in connection with a shooting incident Monday night:

SWAT Officers Arrest Armed Man Following 23rd and Union Shooting
SWAT officers arrested an armed 27-year-old man Thursday evening near 23rd Avenue and East Union Street in the Central District, days after detectives believe he was involved in another incident of gunfire near the same block. On Monday, police received reports around 7 PM of gun shots and one vehicle chasing another near 23rd Avenue and East Union Street. No one was injured in the incident, though two homes were struck by gunfire. SPD Gang Unit detectives were able to identify one of the men involved in the shooting as the 27-year-old suspect. Detectives confirmed he had been in possession of a handgun during the incident, despite the fact that he is a convicted felon and unable to legally possess firearms. Thursday evening, police found the 27-year-old man sitting in a car near the scene of Monday’s shooting and moved into arrest him. When SWAT officers pulled up in front of his car, the man pointed a handgun at officers before quickly dropping it and surrendering. Police arrested the man, seized the gun and also found a small amount of crack cocaine in his possession. He was booked into the King County Jail for investigation for assault, unlawful possession of a firearm and narcotics possession.

Roman Allah, the man arrested and booked, is a convicted felon and was also one of the nine people taken into custody and charged in a 2015 federal bust of a drug ring operating around 23rd and Union. The resulting case can now apparently proceed to trial, scheduled for later this month. Police say Allah sold crack to a confidential witness working with investigators who allegedly purchased cocaine from the defendant in a series of deals in the parking lot of the Broadway/Pike Shell Station.

Original report: SPD personnel can be seen in a video posted by activist and Africatown community group organizer K. Wyking Garrett showing the aftermath of the start of the operation that unfolded in the Midtown Center parking lot and included several unmarked law enforcement vehicles and SWAT-type officers. Witnesses reported the sound of a flash bang explosive often used by police to surprise or stun so arrests can be made or buildings or vehicles accessed. A law enforcement vehicle also reportedly smashed into a suspect vehicle, a tactic often used to pin a vehicle in place.

According to East Precinct radio dispatches, additional officers were called to the scene to help clear one vehicle involved in the bust of additional occupants who were also taken into custody.

One law enforcement officer wearing an SPD jacket can be heard in the video explaining to witnesses and upset acquaintances that one of the people targeted in the operation was involved in a recent shooting incident in the area. “This was the gentleman who was up here just the other day shooting at the other car,” the man said. “We had a drive-by shooting here,” he later says.

The operation comes amid heightened tensions at Midtown Center after the eviction of Omari Garrett and his UMOJA Peace Center from the block and the effort to remove the Black Dot work space and business incubator from the shopping center property. The Bangasser family is attempting to sell the property seen by many as the center of the area’s black community after a series of previous redevelopment and land deals — one involving Africatown as purchaser — have fallen through. The ongoing dispute has clouded efforts for Africatown and conservation investor Forterra to partner on a bid to purchase the Midtown Center block for a mixed-use project based in what the groups said it had planned as inclusive development principles. The meltdown follows the failure of another deal to sell the land to for-profit developers Regency Centers and Lennar Multifamily Communities that would have also given Africatown a small opportunity to purchase and develop about 20% of the 2.4-acre property. Africatown remains part of the partnership in the memorandum of understanding around nonprofit affordable developer Capitol Hill Housing’s project to build the Liberty Bank building at 24th and Union in a model of what CHH says will be inclusive development that encourages Black identity, Black residents, and, possibly, Black ownership.

Meanwhile, gunfire incidents have caused increasing concern along 23rd Ave.

Police received a flood of 911 calls Monday night just before 7:30 PM reporting multiple gunshots and two vehicles seen fleeing the area. Arriving officers found shell casings near Marion and damage to houses in the area but no injuries. Last Friday, March 10th, just before 5 PM, SPD received multiple reports of gunfire around MLK and Jackson but found only a car with a shattered window, KOMO reported. The Sunday night before that, neighbors were worried about a report of gunfire near 23rd and Cherry but, according to police radio dispatches, only one caller reported the sound of a possible shot. Earlier in March, CHS reported on a gunfire incident near Garfield High School. Midtown Center, meanwhile, ended 2016 with a spate of shootings. Two December incidents one involving gunfire and the other a reported shootout were the latest bouts of gun violence on the Midtown property. In October, police investigated two shootings inside Midtown that left two men injured under nearly identical circumstances. The most recent SPD Sea Stat statistical report (PDF) shows the reports of shots fired so far in 2017 to be in line with recent years but a marked increase in shootings across the city.

Learning more about any arrests Thursday night might be a challenge given the possible involvement of multiple agencies and reluctance to expose ongoing investigations. Federal involvement in gun crime and drug investigations in the area is not unusual. In 2015, nine were arrested in a federal drug and firearm investigation busting a drug ring the FBI said operated on the streets around 23rd and Union.

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19 thoughts on “Big bust raises tensions at Midtown Center

  1. These people are as dangerous and violent as Aryan Nation types. They could be creating something positive but they’d rather use intimidation to get property they have no entitlement to. It’s also ironic that Africatown named one of it’s occupied propertied a Peace Center. I have a friend who lives across the street. They have never been peaceful. Omari is violence and hateful. Please don’t give me that retort that he’s only reacting to racism. 99.5% of blacks don’t act this way and I’m sure they’ve suffered from racism too.

  2. Be careful implying that those arrested now had anything to do with Omari or Wyking. I believe that they are separate from Omari and the protestors.

    • He’s not selling blow, bro. Crack is the drug being sold at midtown over which people shoot each other. You ain’t from round here huh. Thanks to spd for cracking down on this guy.

  3. The city needs to step in and tell the Bangasser’s to either clean up this place (meaning make improvements, hire security, make the parking lot a pay lot, and start renting to legitimate businesses), move on this sale, or face fines and possible condemnation for creating a blight and a hazard. At this point, there’s not much difference between it and an abandoned house.

  4. I agree the Bangassers have let their property once again become a magnet for thug activity. The city needs to step in and work with them to get the property sold or fence it until a developer can be found.

  5. The Bangassers will likely be out from this albatross soon, if they sell the space for appropriate development. Over the years have watched as the area on Madison between 24th and 19th has transformed and we no longer have violent activities and drug dealing there. This shall be the case in this area as well. Those people whose only accomplishment in life appears to be the color they were born with, will soon lose their racist claim to a particular corner.

    • If they move south and keep spewing the same tired BS in the southern CD and into Raineir Valley, I seriously doubt that song will play very well to a new audience.

    • How hard is it to sell a large parcel of land in literally one of the hottest real estate markets in the country? Just. Sell. It.

    • Maybe you’re right, but the violence/drug dealing is just going to move to a new location. The gangbangers aren’t going to give up their “lifestyle” just because the Midtown Center is redeveloped.

  6. It is dishonest to say that black residents were displaced when they sold their homes willingly. The Liberty Bank building was sold by the black owner in the 70’s now his grandson wants it back. The Langston Hughes Art Center was a synagogue at one point. Do these people support giving it back to the Jewish person who sold it? These people are shakedown artists. I have so many friends who openly support Africantown and Garrett despite his open homophobia, and racism towards Asians, Jews and whites. The most PC people I know are willing to overlook this. Do liberals not understand when they denounce bigotry in the strongest terms in some cases while giving open hatred a free pass in others, that this puts people off? That it hurts the credibility of the left? That it helps people like Trump get in power and then makes it a little hard to take them seriously when they denounce his racism?

    • But aren’t there situations where community members have almost no choice but to sell and relocate, frequently at the expense of community ties and bonds? I’m not replying specifically to the examples you mentioned, and I am not labeling sellers as victims or buyers as predators, but I think the idea of displacement can be present even in situations involving a voluntary sale.

    • I’ve sat in meetings with African American community members from the neighborhood and listened to them openly say they have no support for Africatown and the “characters” who run it. Yet the local and vocal left comes out to support the most outer space fringe characters in town.

    • Scott, the word “displacement” implies that they are having to sell/move involuntarily, so it’s not the right word to use when someone is choosing to sell, for whatever reason. My guess is that most black people who have sold have done so because their property had appreciated significantly in value and they wanted to take advantage of that.

  7. Good that officials are taking action regarding the recent violence. From what I have studied, it is generally a VERY small group of people responsible for most gunfire incidents in the area. That property has a very long history as a criminal hangout. Although I am not a fan of “gentrification” some places reach a constructive outcome once developed. The fact that any of the relevant organizations has partnered with fringe nutjobs claiming to be community activists was a mistake. That is going to make doing anything a longer process.

  8. The Blog should clarify that the meeting at Seattle University appears to have been the regular, monthly EastPAC meeting where the topic of the recent gunfire was added to the agenda. The link appears to take you to the 701 Coffee meeting that will take place this afternoon specific to the recent shooting incidents.