SeaTac settles lawsuit over $37,000 bill for demonstration
SEATAC, Wash. (AP) — The city of SeaTac will no longer issue exorbitant bills for free-speech demonstrations, under a legal settlement with an immigrant rights organization that was billed $37,000 for a protest it organized.
The group, called Families Belong Together-Washington Coalition, sued SeaTac in 2018 after the city sent it a bill for public safety costs related to a protest of President Donald Trump’s separation of migrant families along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The official who issued the bill said the city code required him to charge Families Belong Together for the actual costs of the event, which drew about 10,000 people on June 30, 2018. Dozens of mothers who had been separated from their children were detained at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac at the time.
Organizers said such a policy unlawfully chilled free speech rights under the U.S. and Washington Constitutions.
A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit Tuesday after being notified that the parties had settled the case. The city agreed to erase the $37,000 bill and last week it adopted a new policy governing fees for free-speech events.
The new policy says the city will not charge more than $500 for public safety costs and that it will waive the fees entirely if organizers demonstrate that they are not able to pay. Permit processing fees will also be waived for free-speech events.
“We’re making a statement as a community – as an immigrant community – that those fees the city was trying to charge us were immoral,” said Palmira Figueroa, one of the organizers of the protest.
She noted that the protest was peaceful and said the settlement would ensure the city can’t charge demonstration organizers for police protection that’s not needed.
SeaTac spokesman Kyle Moore said Wednesday that the lawsuit prompted the city to review its code, and that officials agreed it needed to be updated.
“The City has always believed in the protection of the Constitution and free speech activities,” Moore said in an emailed statement. “The changes to the code reflect the values of our City.”