Two former firefighters and a woman accused of assaulting several homeless people during a confrontation in Occidental Park in March were acquitted by a Seattle Municipal Court jury.
The jury deliberated for only about two hours before reaching the verdict Wednesday afternoon. Testimony in the trial began Nov. 20.
Seattle city prosecutors had accused the three defendants — Robert Howell, 47; Scott Bullene, 46; and Bullene’s girlfriend, Mia Jarvinen, 38 — of a “brutal attack” motivated by their anger toward the homeless. They were each charged with fourth-degree assault and malicious harassment, the state’s version of a hate crime.
The trio displayed little emotion when the verdicts were read and left the courtroom without comment.
Bullene’s attorney, David Allen, said, “The city took their best shot at them and the city was unsuccessful.”
He said jurors who spoke with attorneys after court was adjourned said they didn’t believe the city had proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt, in part because there was conflicting testimony from the numerous witnesses.
During the three-week trial, Allen and the other defense attorneys, Jay Wilkinson and Norm Golden, spoke often about how complex and confusing the case was.
As many as 15 people were involved in the fracas at one point or another and 13 people testified, including two of the three alleged victims.
City attorneys alleged that Howell, Bullene and Jarvinen were walking through the park after a Seattle Sounders game on March 15 when they saw people lounging on the Seattle Fallen Firefighters Memorial, became enraged and confronted the people.
The city claimed that Howell kicked and stomped one man; that Jarvinen kicked a man who was either sleeping or reclining beneath the memorial; and that Bullene took a walking stick from a third man and beat him with it.
The city also claimed that the three did not target their alleged victims because of what they were doing or where, but because they were homeless.
All three, however, denied the city’s claims. Jarvinen and Howell said the confrontation began when Howell saw a man urinating on the memorial and told him to “knock it off.”
Jarvinen said the man, and others around him, refused to leave and said, “You can’t tell us to leave. This is our spot.”
Howell’s attorney, Golden, said the man Howell confronted pushed Howell and then punched him in the face.
Attorneys for the firefighters described the melee as an unfortunate, complex and confusing incident that the three were caught up in.
Allen said Bullene, who suffered knife wounds during the incident, had been the most seriously injured of everyone involved. Being charged added “insult to injury,” he said.
Allen said that Bullene, who lost his job with the Seattle Fire Department in August, along with Howell, will be appealing his termination. It was not immediately clear if Howell will as well.
If convicted as charged, each defendant could have faced a sentence of up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
After the verdicts were read, Seattle Municipal Court Pro Tem Judge Catherine McDowall told Howell, Bullene and Jarvinen that she respected the jury’s verdict but trusted “that this incident has affected you greatly, and that this conduct will not be repeated.”
Allen said that despite his unwavering belief in the innocence of all three, he was relieved by the verdicts.
“I’m always worried in cases like this where there are such high emotions,” Allen said.