Police clear last protesters from old Seattle school building
Seattle police arrested the last four occupiers of the Horace Mann school early Tuesday afternoon for trespassing, including the man who hit Mayor Paul Schell with a megaphone in 2001 and occupied another school in the 1980s.
Seattle Times education reporter
Seattle police arrested the last four holdouts at the Horace Mann school building Tuesday afternoon for trespassing, ending a protest that began in August when several groups that work with African-American youth refused to leave.
One of the four men gave himself up, walking out of the Central Area building as police walked in.
Two others surrendered peaceably inside the foyer. It took police up to 45 minutes to find the fourth man, who was hiding in the attic, said Detective Reneé Witt, Seattle police spokeswoman.
The men were taken to the East Precinct, where they were released. The city attorney will decide if they will be charged.
The Seattle school district hasn’t been using the building as a school for four years, but now wants to renovate it to house the Nova Alternative High School, starting next fall.
The organizations that had leased and subleased the building left last summer. Other community groups that never had a legal right to be there left about two weeks ago.
But a few holdouts remained — even after the district cut off power to the building more than a week ago.
Construction was supposed to begin in September, and delays were costing the district an estimated $1,000 a day.
Police did not release the names of those arrested Tuesday, but according to a law-enforcement source, Omari Tahir-Garrett was among them. The source did not have the names of the other three.
Tahir-Garrett could not be reached for comment.
Tahir-Garrett was part of a group that occupied the former Colman School in the 1980s to force the city to turn the abandoned school into an African-American museum and cultural center. The property eventually was developed by the Seattle Urban League into apartments and the Northwest African American Museum.
In 2001, Tahir-Garrett was back in the news when he hit then-Seattle Mayor Paul Schell with a 5-pound megaphone at a Central District community celebration, breaking several bones in Schell’s face. Tahir-Garrett was convicted of second-degree assault in 2002.
Police, who had planned for several days to clear the Horace Mann building, used their SWAT team to arrest the men and search the building, Witt said.
Sources that police aren’t naming had warned “that if officers came in and attempted to arrest anyone or contact anyone, that they had a sniper on the roof and also that the place was possibly wired with explosives,” Witt said. “So that was a huge concern for us, not only for our officers but for the community as well.”
That warning turned out to be wrong: The men were unarmed and no weapons or explosives were found when officers of the Arson/Bomb Unit searched the building.
Witt said officers chose the time and date because they believed no children would be inside Horace Mann and that most older students would be in class at nearby Garfield High School.
The district closed Horace Mann school four years ago because enrollment had dwindled.
In 2010, the district signed a three-year lease with a group called People’s Family Life, which used the building to provide job-training skills to young high-school dropouts. That organization subleased space to a private English/Spanish immersion school, Seattle Amistad School.
But even after both organizations moved out this summer, several organizations operating in the building as affiliates of Amistad stayed on, though none ever had a lease with the district.
In August, school Superintendent José Banda convened a task force to work out some sort of arrangement with them, and talks continued for three months.
The educational groups — now known as AfricaTown Center for Education and Innovation — left the building almost two weeks ago.
On the night of Nov. 7, Banda informed those who remained in the building that they were considered to be trespassing. The next day, he met with the mayor’s office about the situation.
That weekend, the district cut off electricity to the building, which is at the corner of East Cherry Street and 24th Avenue. The doors were chained from the inside and the occupiers had posted signs on the fences and erected makeshift barricades — more symbolic than functional — by some of the gates.
The district also had the water shut off.
Those who remained inside had been using a generator for power.
Banda said last week it was unclear who remained at that point and what relationship the holdouts had with the educational groups.
“It’s hard to distinguish at this point who’s part of that group or not,” Banda said. “The hangers-on are not necessarily part of the academic focus of that group.”
District spokeswoman Teresa Wippel said construction work could begin as soon as Wednesday.
On Sept. 18, the School Board approved an $8 million contract with Construction Service to do the renovations. The district estimates that the delay could be costing $1,000 a day since then.
The district worked out an agreement for the AfricaTown Center for Education and Innovation to lease the Columbia Annex, a former school a few miles away in the Columbia City neighborhood.
The lease was on the School Board’s Nov. 6 agenda because the groups wanted to pay a reduced rate, which requires board approval. But Banda asked the board to table the vote when it became clear that at least some people in the building weren’t going to leave.
The district is working on a new lease for the AfricaTown Center at the Columbia Annex. The rent will be for fair-market value and therefore does not require board approval, according to Wippel.
Seattle Times staff reporter Jennifer Sullivan contributed to this report.
John Higgins: 206-464-3145 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @jhigginsST