Seattle, WA – A federal judge issued a ruling on Tuesday blocking Seattle police from enforcing property damage laws for any vandalism resulting in less than $750 in damages.
U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman issued an injunction on June 13, claiming the City of Seattle’s property damage ordinance “poses a real threat [of] censorship” as it pertains to graffiti, KIRO reported.
Under Seattle Municipal Code 12A.08.020, an individual who damages someone else’s property or “writes, paints, or draws any inscription, figure, or mark of any type on any public or private building or other structure” not belonging to them and without permission is guilty of property destruction.
Pechman deemed the language of the ordinance as “overly vague and overboard,” and could potentially violate people’s rights under the First and 14th Amendments, KIRO reported.
“The criminalization of free speech significantly harms the public interest in far greater measure than the public might benefit from criminalizing property damage,” the judge added, according to The Seattle Times.
The offense is listed as a gross misdemeanor, which involves damages under $750, according to KTTH.
For the time being, Seattle police will only be able to enforce property damage laws for second-degree felony malicious mischief, which involves damages exceeding $750, or first-degree felony malicious mischief, which involves damages exceeding $5,000.
The SPD released a statement on Wednesday notifying the public about the injunction.
“This means that until further order of the Court, SPD cannot take action on damage to property under this law,” the police department explained. “This is not a matter within SPD or City discretion; we are bound by the court order as it is written.”
The department said it is working with the city prosecutor and the mayor regarding the “next steps with the Court.”
“We understand and share the concerns that are being relayed to us by our community, businesses and residents alike,” the SPD said. “We know, as evidenced by the thousands of calls for service we receive each year reporting acts of vandalism and other forms of property damage that property damage is, in fact, a crime that is of significance to community members.”
The Seattle City Attorney’s Office has filed a motion urging Pechman to reconsider the order, KIRO reported.
Pechman’s ruling came in connection with Tucson et al v. Seattle, which is currently under appeal.
That case involves the arrest of four suspects who wrote anti-police expletives and “BLM” on temporary concrete walls outside the SPD’s East Precinct in early 2021, KTTH reported.