Activist Chris Leman often violently objects to the way business is conducted at City Hall.
But now the neighborhood activist stands accused of physical violence: Last week, Leman was arrested for allegedly assaulting a 58-year-old Seattle Department of Transportation receptionist.
According to a police report and city sources, Leman showed up at SDOT offices after-hours and demanded a copy of the Pedestrian Master Plan. When the receptionist told him she didn't have it, the police report says Leman "pushed her against her chest." When she took out her cell phone to call security, Leman allegedly twisted her wrist and "grabbed the cell phone out of her hand and threw it toward the elevator." Leman has been charged with misdemeanor assault.
An Eastlake activist who's pushed for greater access to city records, stricter noise regulations, and a law requiring city employees to register as lobbyists, Leman is notorious for refusing to stop talking during public-comment periods and incessantly calling council offices. "There have been a few instances where he's gone right up to the mic in the middle of a council meeting and just started yelling, acting like he's the 10th council member," one City Hall employee says.
But city employees say they've noticed a change in Leman's behavior in recent months. "He seems to have, over time, gotten more and more agitated," says one—a sentiment echoed by half a dozen others.
And at least one city official says she saw it coming. Barb Wilson, head of the Seattle Planning Commission, says Leman physically threatened her during a meeting about a year ago, during a discussion of proposed amendments to the city's comprehensive plan. Wilson says Leman came up to her and asked for a copy of the document the commission was discussing. "I told him, 'I'm just getting ready to pass that out, but—'
"And when I said 'but,' his body language changed and he got in my face and raised his fist and started shaking it in my face. And he said, 'I demand that you give me that letter, and I demand that you give it to me now.' I took a step back and I said, 'Chris, first off, right now you need to get your fists out of my face.' So he put his hands down, and I said, 'If you would have let me finish, I was going to tell you I have it right here, but... you may need to share. And he grabbed it out of my hand and stomped off."
Wilson says a colleague advised her to file a workplace-violence incident report with the city, but she decided to let it go. Now, she says, she wishes she hadn't. "When I heard what happened last week, I felt bad not doing more to bring him to the attention of the powers that be. It seems like there has been an escalating pattern of behavior."
Leman did not return several calls for comment. However, many people who know him characterized last week's incident as "sad."
"Clearly, he didn't do it out of what you'd call ordinary criminal behavior," says a fellow Eastlake activist. "He did it because something snapped."
Several city employees said that as much as he's been a thorn in their side, they admire Leman's persistence. "People say he's the naysayer, [but] he does get things done," one city employee said. Another noted that pressure from Leman had led the council to publish more budget information online, saying, "I certainly found the budget process easier this year" because of Leman's efforts.
Leman has a pretrial hearing scheduled for June 8.