Seattle police Chief Carmen Best said Monday there is no “cop-free” zone in the city after a local business owner said he called 911 more than a dozen times when protesters vandalized his business but police never showed up.
“There is no cop-free zone in the city of Seattle,” Best said. “I think that the picture has been painted in many areas that shows the city is under siege. That is not the case.”
Best was referring to the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP), previously called the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), a six-block area near downtown Seattle that includes a police precinct that was abandoned amid escalating tensions with George Floyd protesters.
John McDermott, who owns an auto shop just outside of the CHOP, told KIRO-TV a protester broke into his store, stole money from his cash register and tried to set fire to the building. The owner's son said he detained the suspect.
“I chased him down and as soon as I came face to face, he came at me so I put him on the ground,” McDermott’s son, Mason, told the station. He said the suspect also tried to cut him with a box cutter.
John McDermott said he called the police a total of 19 times to no avail.
“They alluded they were sending someone…finally said they weren’t going to send somebody,” McDermott said. “I don’t know what to expect next. If you can’t call the police department, you can’t call the fire department to respond, what do you have?” He said he's "heartbroken. I mean, they are the cavalry."
He said he finally had to give into other protesters’ demands – who knocked down his fence – to let the suspect go to avoid “mayhem beyond mayhem," adding that both his son and some of the protesters were armed but no shots were fired.
Best said officers responded to the report and “observed the location from a distance.”
“They did not see any signs of smoke or fire or anything else and they did not see a disturbance,” she added. She said officers have written multiple reports about crimes in the area in the last two days and officers will enter if the situation is urgent. She said otherwise officers are meeting alleged crime victims outside of the CHOP.
The Seattle Fire Department said it’s investigating why no one from its department responded to McDermott’s call.
Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said the department needs clearance from the police department to enter the area but should have been able to respond the McDermott's business because it's outside the CHOP.
"I am very shaken up. I’m very disappointed in the city’s leadership. I’m very disappointed in the lack of police protection. I’m very disappointed that the fire department didn’t show up,” John McDermott told Fox News on Monday.
City workers have been setting up barricades to improve emergency vehicle access to the area and city officials have been attempting to negotiate with protest organizers to get officers back in the abandoned East Precinct.
“There’s still a lot of concerns about what this is and how this operates,” Transportation Director Sam Zimbabwe said. “There’s a lot of complicated demands.”
Although President Trump claimed last week that “domestic terrorists” have taken over Seattle, the CHOP has been mostly peaceful and has been described as “festive” at times.
Anti-police brutality protests have sparked across the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died while in police custody in Minneapolis of May 25 after a white officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.