Firefighter said he was victim, but assault witnesses disagree
One Seattle firefighter accused in an assault on a homeless man claimed to be the victim of an unprovoked attack, police and prosecutors say.
Seattle Times staff reporter
One of the two off-duty Seattle firefighters accused of the attack on a pair of homeless men in Occidental Park on Saturday originally told police he was the victim of an unprovoked assault and wanted to press charges.
According to police reports and court documents released Monday, veteran firefighter Robert Howell, 46, told police that he was walking through the park with two friends when he was “suddenly attacked by some unknown person for some unknown reason.”
Howell described his attacker as a “black male in his 30s wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and bluejeans,” according to the police report.
A short time later, however, police heard a very different story from several witnesses who described Howell, fellow firefighter Scott Bullene and Bullene’s girlfriend, Mia Jarvinen, as the instigators, according to police and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Jarvinen, 37, allegedly started the fracas when she kicked a homeless man who was sleeping on the Seattle Fallen Firefighters Memorial, and Bullene and Howell then joined in, police say.
On Monday, a judge found probable cause to hold Jarvinen, of Seattle, for investigation of fourth-degree assault. Jarvinen waived her appearance during the brief hearing in the King County Jail courtroom. She was released on bail Monday evening.
King County District Court Judge Arthur Chapman set Jarvinen’s bail at $20,000 despite pleas by her attorney, James Egan, who said she had no criminal record and that she “vigorously denies” the allegations against her.
However, Chapman called the attack egregious and said Jarvinen is a danger to the community.
King County Deputy Prosecutor Jessica Munca described Jarvinen as the primary assailant in the attack.
“This was a vicious, unprovoked attack on a defenseless person,” Munca said. “The allegation is she kicked away a man’s food and then kicked him multiple times while he was lying on the ground.”
According to her LinkedIn profile, Jarvinen is a senior finance manager at Amazon.com.
Also on Monday, Seattle Fire Chief Gregory Dean apologized to the public for the two firefighters’ alleged involvement in the incident. Dean said firefighters are supposed to protect the public, “not put them in harm’s way.”
“On behalf of the men and women of the Seattle Fire Department, I apologize for the violence that occurred in Pioneer Square this weekend,” Dean said during a news conference at Fire Department headquarters. “The action these two firefighters are accused of is not representative of the conduct we expect of Seattle firefighters.”
According to police, Howell, Bullene and Jarvinen were walking through Pioneer Square around 5 p.m. Saturday after attending a Seattle Sounders game at CenturyLink Field when they saw the homeless man sleeping on the memorial.
Witnesses told police that Jarvinen kicked at the man, yelled at him and threw his food on him after she saw him sleeping on the memorial.
Howell then started yelling about how the victim was disrespecting his “brothers” and began punching and “stomping” the man, police wrote in the report.
The fracas drew other transients, according to police and witnesses.
Steve Banfield, a Pioneer Square resident who called police after witnessing parts of the incident while walking his dogs, said the man later identified by police as Bullene then “got in a fight with a different homeless man, took his walking stick and started beating him with it.”
Police said they were called to McCoy’s Firehouse Bar & Grill and found Howell outside. It was there that he told officers he had been the victim of an unprovoked attack, according to the police report.
Police said he had a strong odor of intoxicants on him but seemed offended when he was asked if he’d been drinking.
According to the police report, Bullene, Howell and Jarvinen were all taken into custody after police questioned witnesses and the alleged victims. However, thus far only Jarvinen appears to have been booked into the King County Jail.
Bullene, who was hired by the department in 1999, was transported to Harborview Medical Center, where he was treated for a non-life-threatening wound, police said. He has been on disability leave since the day of the stabbing, according to the Fire Department.
Howell, a Seattle firefighter since 1997, had been on disability since Jan. 9. He told police that he had a shoulder injury, according to police reports.
Dean said the two firefighters will be placed on administrative leave once they return from disability and the department will be conducting its own review of the incident. He said the men’s personnel files will be reviewed as part of the investigation.
According to King County District Court documents, Bullene was issued an infraction for an unsafe lane change on Interstate 5 in Shoreline a year ago. In that incident, a witness told police Bullene had caused a noninjury accident and had then gotten out of his SUV and angrily cursed and blamed the other driver.
The other driver in that incident, who didn’t want to be named, sent an email to Q13 Fox News on Monday responding to Saturday’s attack in Pioneer Square.
“After hearing about what took place at the Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial a year after my own experience with Mr. Bullene, I can honestly state I am not at all surprised that he demonstrated rage against an innocent victim again, and unfortunately this time the damage went beyond vehicular,” the man wrote.
After his experience on Saturday, Banfield, who witnessed the attack, wrote in a blog post directed at Seattle Mayor Ed Murray that the incident was to some degree foreseeable and potentially preventable.
He said that police presence should remain high in Pioneer Square, not just during sporting events but for several hours after while sports fans remain in the area.
“We have violence in every part of the city, but nowhere else do we send 40,000 to 70,000 people into a small area of town and fuel them with alcohol,” Banfield said in a telephone interview.
Mayor Murray responded to Banfield’s letter by saying that he will be calling for a review of the Police Department’s staffing in Pioneer Square during professional sports games to “make sure we have the police presence required to prevent violent behaviors from breaking out, and to be responsive and timely when they do.”
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.
Christine Clarridge: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8983