By Levi Pulkkinen
Seattle jury has acquitted two city firefighters and a woman accused of
attacking a homeless man sleeping under a Pioneer Square memorial to
Seattle Fire Department firefighters Robert
Howell and Scott Bullene, and friend Mia Jarvinen, faced misdemeanor
assault and hate crime charges in the March 15 incident. Returning a
verdict Wednesday, a Seattle Municipal Court jury found the three not
guilty on all counts.
Prosecutors with the Seattle City
Attorney’s Office claimed Jarvinen, 38, sparked the fracas by attacking
a man near Occidental Park’s Fallen Firefighters Memorial. Howell, 47,
was alleged to have joined in the attack while Bullene, 46, beat up
A six-member Seattle Municipal Court jury, which
took up the case on Nov. 20, returned its verdict after deliberating
for less than a day. Facing the possibility of jail time, the three
defendants claimed, to varying degrees, that they were the victims of
circumstances beyond their control that night.
“Although we are
disappointed in the verdicts, we respect the jurors’ decision and thank
them for their service,” City Attorney's Office spokeswoman Kimberly
Mills said in a statement.
and Bullene were fired from the Seattle Fire Department on Aug. 20.
Fire Chief Greg Dean has apologized for their behavior, saying that, if
the allegations proved true, he would be "disappointed in how they
represented the department."
Addressing the jury during opening
statements, Norm Golden, Howell’s defense attorney, said the
consciences of the accused demanded that they confront the man at the
memorial, erected after four firefighters were killed in 1995 fighting
an arson fire at an International District warehouse.
watched a Seattle Sounders game, Howell, Bullene and Jarvinen were
headed to a Pioneer Square bar popular with firefighters to keep their
good time going. On their way, they crossed paths with Simon McDonald
as the 33-year-old lay sleeping at the memorial.
prosecutors claim that, sometime before 5 p.m., Jarvinen started a
fight with McDonald. Speaking with Seattle police officers later,
Jarvinen said she was angry that McDonald was sleeping at the memorial.
said she saw a man lying on the Firefighter Memorial in the park and
was ‘sick of it,’” Assistant City Prosecutor Joseph Everett said in
court papers. “She told Officer (K.B.) Stewart that she ‘pays taxes’
and repeated that she was ‘sick of it.’”
Jarvinen was alleged to
have then kicked away McDonald’s plate of food before booting him in
the head. McDonald told police he was sleeping when Jarvinen accosted
him for no reason.
“Pay your taxes and get outta here,” Jarvinen told McDonald, according to defense statements to the court. “I pay my taxes.”
contend Howell punched and stomped McDonald, who was still wrapped in
his white blanket. Howell claimed he was the one who was attacked; both
escaped serious injury in the incident.
That fight prompted
another, during which Bullene tussled with Stephen Cassidy, a
54-year-old homeless man described by police as having a prosthetic
leg. Police say Cassidy used a walking stick – or a “club,” in the eyes
of the defense – to get around.
Cassidy was among a large group
of people who police claim came to McDonald’s aid as he was attempting
to roll away from his attackers. Addressing the jury, though, Bullene’s
defense attorney cast Cassidy as a wild man attacking his client with
The firefighters and Jarvinen were able to break
away and retreat to McCoy’s Firehouse, a firefighter bar a block east
of Occidental Park. From there, Howell called 911 to report, as
prosecutors put it, “a black man assaulting a white female” at the
park. McDonald, like Howell, is white.
Bullene and Jarvinen left
the bar before police arrived. Their aim in doing so, like many of the
facts in the case, was disputed.
Addressing the jury, defense
attorney David Allen said they were walking back to their car when
Cassidy sprang out of a doorway to attack Bullene, his client. Allen
said Bullene again fought for control of the stick, and was stabbed by
Cassidy during the struggle.
Prosecutors claimed Bullene and
Jarvinen actually left the bar to yell at people congregating there.
They heckled them, chastising them for being “homeless” and a “drain”
on society. Bullene was alleged to have taken Cassidy’s wooden walking
staff and beat him with it.
During the fight, Cassidy stabbed
Bullene in the arm, shoulder and abdomen, causing serious but not
life-threatening wounds. Bullene, who was bleeding profusely, asked
police not to call the fire department.
The Seattle police
officer noticed superficial injuries to Howell’s head and knees, and
that he’d been drinking. The officer said Howell was irate, shouting at
police and refusing to cooperate before pulling out his phone to record
them. According to police statements, he attempted without success to
have a fire chief at the scene intervene on his behalf.
prosecutors charged the trio on July 9 with fourth-degree assault and
malicious harassment, both misdemeanors. The defendants pleaded not
guilty and vigorously fought the charges.
claim prosecutors have erred in charging their clients with malicious
harassment – the city’s misdemeanor hate crime law, which is broader
than the state’s felony standard.
Washington state’s malicious
harassment law was enacted to punish those who threaten violence
against others because of their race, religion, sexual identity or
other similar factors. The city’s law – a less serious offense – also
punishes harassment driven by a victim’s homelessness, marital status,
political ideology or age.
The defense argued that it wasn’t
McDonald’s homelessness that prompted the altercation. They claimed the
hate crime charge isn’t supported by evidence, and previously asked
that it be thrown out.
Howell, Bullene and Jarvinen were not jailed.
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