The scene of the alleged crime.
  • Cienna Madrid
  • The scene of the alleged crime in Occidental Park.

When Seattle police officers arrived at McCoy's Firehouse in Pioneer Square on March 15, the suspect they were looking for was a stereotypical bogeyman in American society: a black man in a black hooded sweatshirt and jeans who had seemingly attacked a white off-duty firefighter with no provocation.

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"When I arrived," testified Seattle police officer Philip Monzon on Tuesday, "Mr. [Scott] Howell"—the off-duty firefighter—"was reporting an assault on himself by a black male wearing a black hooded sweatshirt." Officer Monzon, a 29-year veteran of Seattle's West Precinct, had been the second officer to arrive at the scene of a reported altercation between several homeless men and Howell, 47, his 38-year-old companion Mia Jarvinen, and another off-duty firefighter, Scott Bullene, 46.

But as a Seattle Municipal Court jury heard yesterday, the direction of the police officers' investigation quickly took a 180 that night: After several witnesses were interviewed, Howell was arrested for suspected assault while Bullene was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment of a stab wound. All three defendants—Howell, Jarvinen, and Bullene—are now being prosecuted by the City Attorney's Office for assault and malicious harassment, a hate crime that the prosecution argues was provoked by the perceived homelessness of their victims.

The City Attorney's Office contends that the three attacked a pair of homeless men in Occidental Park after becoming angry at one man for leaning against the Fallen Firefighters Memorial. Over the next few days, the prosecution is expected to present at least five civilians who claim to have witnessed the defendants acting as the aggressors in the March 15 incident.

Malicious harassment charges are rare in Seattle. According to the City Attorney's Office, this is only the fifth time the misdemeanor hate crime charge has been filed against individuals since 2009 (and three of those defendants pleaded guilty, while one case is ongoing).

Due to the high number of witnesses to wrangle at the scene of the crime, lead officer Franklin Poblocki told the jury yesterday, the three responding officers that night spent 45-60 minutes interviewing the three defendants, as well as a number of witnesses who'd assembled curbside outside McCoy's Firehouse. Periodically, the three officers would "group up, confer, and decide where we were going from there," Poblocki explained.

Poblocki's main job was interviewing Howell, the firefighter who was claiming to have been assaulted by a black man in a hooded sweatshirt. Howell had a contusion on his head, Poblocki said, as well as scrapes on his hands, and at this point he was still being treated as a victim in the investigation.

"What was Mr. Howell's demeanor during this time?" asked Assistant City Prosecutor Joe Everett.

"He was obnoxious," Poblocki said. "He was not listening to my instructions, he kept yelling out to other [Seattle Fire Department firefighters] even though I asked him not to do that. He was hard to contain."

Meanwhile, Officer Monzon swept the area surrounding Occidental Park in search of the black suspect reported by Howell. He failed to locate such a suspect, but as he finished his sweep he noticed that "on the north sidewalk on Main Street, there were a number of transients including the two victims, who were either sitting or standing on Main Street, and they were yelling across the street."

Video of the incident recorded by a police dashcam shows Simon McDonald, a witness for the prosecution, and a man named Mr. Stephen Cassidy (identified as "Clyde" in McDonald's Friday testimony, and the man Howell appears to have been describing as his attacker). In the video, McDonald is wearing a blanket over a hooded sweatshirt. He's helping Cassidy sit down on the curb. Cassidy is wearing a camouflage jacket over a black sweatshirt and jeans.

"[Mr. Cassidy] seemed to be in some pain," Officer Monzon recalled. "We got him some medical aid as soon as possible... he was holding his arm, he kept holding it, massaging it. Also had a contusion or abrasion on his forehead."

In the video presented to the jury, McDonald then points across the street at Jarvinen. “I want to press charges on her!” McDonald shouts.

After interviewing witnesses for about an hour, the officers once again regrouped. According to Officers Monzon and Poblocki, the witness accounts of the incidents "were not consistent with Mr. Howell's version," Poblocki said. Howell was arrested shortly thereafter.

The defense strategy at this point seems to be rather fractured, which is not surprising given that each defendant has his or her own legal representation. For instance, Howell's attorney spent much of his cross-examination trying to discredit Officer Monzon by pointing out other black men in the area who were visible in the police dashcam video and could've been suspects in Howell's 911 call—people who Officer Monzon failed to interview. (None appeared to be wearing the exact black hooded sweatshirt/jeans combination of the reported suspect.)

Jarvinen's attorney attempted to convince the jury that the responding SPD officers weren't doing their jobs because they allowed witnesses to intermingle, instead of separating them, which could've allowed them to potentially "collude."

Bullene's attorney, David Allen, seems to be interested in shifting the blame for the evening squarely onto Jarvinen and Howell. He replayed dashcam video of McDonald's j'accuse moment with Jarvinen, in which McDonald can be seen and heard shouting, "I want to press charges on her!" McDonald testified that Jarvinen kicked him and his food, which, he says, initially sparked the March 15 incident.

The prosecution is expected to rest its case next week; from there the defense teams will present their witnesses. Because this is essentially three separate trials wrapped into one, it will be interesting to see whether Howell, Bullene, and Jarvinen's stories line up, and how they respond to testimony that, thus far, has painted them each in a far from flattering light.