Charges Related to Interstate 5 Incident

The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has filed charges related to the Interstate 5 incident on January 6. Details are below, including a timeline near the end of the Q-and-A and how we got to this point.

What is the update from today?

After individual case reviews and months of communication with the Washington State Patrol, who did additional follow-up investigation, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office filed charges against six people involved in the January 6 Interstate 5 incident in Seattle.

There were 12 people referred from the State Patrol:

  • 6 defendants are charged.
  • 5 are charged with Criminal Trespass in the Second Degree and Disorderly Conduct.
  • 1 is charged with Disorderly Conduct
  • These are the charges that, after a review of the admissible evidence, we believe can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • 5 additional individuals are still being investigated. There is an active request to the State Patrol for additional information on those five individuals in Criminal Trespass and Disorderly Conduct investigations. Those cases are not declined — the investigations are ongoing.
  • 1 case was declined because photo and additional evidence was insufficient to prove charges against the specific defendant. The evidence submitted did not indicate the person in this case was actively on Interstate 5.

Why are these being charged as misdemeanor crimes and not felony crimes?

These cases were referred by police investigators as misdemeanors, not felonies. There was no applicable felony charge after the police investigation that was legally justified. Prosecutors are limited to the designations under state law.

What are some of the differences between the Interstate 5 cases on January 6 and the April 15 cases at Sea-Tac?

At the Sea-Tac (SEA) Airport protest, 46 people were arrested and booked that day (April 15), and there was a single police report. When someone is arrested and booked, they are identified and fingerprinted. That’s makes a clear identification immediately after the incident. (Those cases were not referred to and not declined by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, police referred them as misdemeanor crimes to the Sea-Tac City Attorney’s Office.)

At the January 6 protest on Interstate 5, none of the protesters were arrested by police. Police had to identify people later on based on admissible evidence, which creates a different legal scenario compared to when someone is booked and identified and fingerprinted the same day.

There were also differences in the specific police announcements, admissible evidence, and the circumstances of the police investigations. That is not a criticism of troopers or police — it’s an acknowledgement of the differences in the cases. Even when cases seem the same by investigation type, each case is unique and reviewed individually for what is needed in court.

The requests for additional information from investigators was to make the cases as strong as possible.

Many times, the public and news reports only recognize the initial filing of charges, but there is much more that follows. We understand that people may not understand the need for follow-up work between January 6 and today, but we wanted to ensure we were in a position to prove these cases beyond a reasonable doubt. Our legal and ethical obligation is not the mere filing of charges, but in filing charges we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court.

So, SeaTac Municipal Court had the case referrals the day after the SEA Airport protest, which had arrests that day, and the Interstate 5 had case referrals several weeks later with no arrests, right?

That’s right — the Interstate 5 case referrals were sent to prosecutors more than a month after the incident, and additional follow-up information was needed before the cases could be filed. Again, that’s not a criticism of police investigators — their work takes time. That follow-up information was needed because there must be an understanding in state law that a case must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before it is filed. We also don’t want to be in a position where cases are ultimately dismissed by the courts. A specific timeline is below.

Who makes arrests? Who files charges?

Police agencies make arrests decisions and handle investigations. Prosecutors handle charging decisions on referred cases based on the law and admissible evidence.

If police gather evidence for a felony crime from the Interstate 5 incident can they refer it to King County prosecutors?

Absolutely. When cases are referred to King County prosecutors, each case is reviewed individually.

Couldn’t these cases be federal offenses?

That’s not decided by King County prosecutors. Federal authorities can request case referrals, or law enforcement can refer cases to federal authorities based on information gathered in their investigations.

What can you say about the sources of the State Patrol’s information?

Questions about the case material referred to prosecutors should go to the investigating agency, which in these cases is the State Patrol.

King County prosecutors make objective filing decisions based on state law, the admissible evidence referred by investigating police agencies, and filing and disposition standards.

What about other cases of blocking streets like the Seattle’s University Bridge in December or Bellevue streets in January?

Those have not been referred to King County prosecutors — misdemeanor crimes on city streets go to city attorney’s offices.

State law says that prosecution of gross misdemeanors and misdemeanors are the responsibility of the cities where those crimes happen. (The RCW is 39.34.180 and the two opinions that back up the State Attorney General’s interpretation of that law are here and here.)

The exception is state roads such as Interstate 5. Misdemeanor crimes on state roads (and in unincorporated King County) go to King County prosecutors.

What is the timeline of these investigations/cases leading to today?

Jan 6, 2024: Protesters blocked northbound Interstate 5 in Seattle. Police made no arrests.

Feb. 9: Five referrals for possible misdemeanor charges were sent by the State Patrol to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Feb. 16: Seven additional referrals were sent from the State Patrol to the KCPAO for possible misdemeanor charges.

Feb. 20: After reviewing each of the initial case referrals individually, the KCPAO sent a detailed list to the State Patrol of what additional information was needed for each case. The primary concern was that there was evidence referenced in each referral that was not initially provided as part of the submission. That included videos, photos, and other social media and news sources. The KCPAO specified the request does not mean that the KCPAO declined to file the cases. None of the interstate 5 protest cases have been dismissed. The Feb. 20 request for additional information is to make the cases as strong as possible. We do not want to be in a situation where cases are filed and ultimately dismissed by the court.

Various dates: There were multiple days in February and March where prosecutors from the KCPAO were in communication with State Patrol investigators about the information needed. This included a phone call that went over how the additional seven Feb. 16 misdemeanor referrals needed similar information as the Feb. 9 referrals.

March 21: Additional information requested by the KCPAO on the 12 referrals was delivered to the KCPAO’s District Court Unit. Over the following three weeks, the cases were reviewed by multiple prosecutors and the Chair of the District Court Unit.

April 11: The District Court prosecutors met to discuss the cases, including case law and what may be admissible. A plan was made to staff the cases with senior criminal division leadership on Wednesday, April 17.

April 17: The cases were discussed with Criminal Division leadership and the District Court prosecutors handling the cases. That led to the decisions outlined above: 6 defendants charged; more information requested from police investigators on 5; 1 case declined because of insufficient evidence to prove the case. The requests for more information on the five were sent to the State Patrol on April 16 and 17.

April 18: The cases were submitted by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to King County District Court.

April 19: The cases were accepted by the court.

This post is not expected to be updated.