Politics & Government

16 activists not charged

Sixteen protesters arrested at the state Capitol last month won’t face disorderly conduct charges, but they must stay off the Capitol Campus for six months, Thurston County prosecutors said Friday.

County Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim said his office is deferring its decision on charges for all but one of the 17. If they stay off campus until Sept. 7 and don’t violate a no-trespass order from the State Patrol, the cases will be closed.

“Our primary goal is to prevent this kind of conduct for the rest of this (legislative) session,” Tunheim said.

Tunheim said the decision was based in part on the protesters’ lack of previous criminal acts and on the crowd’s quick dispersal outside Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office once arrests were made April 7.

Two felony assault charges are pending against a 56-year-old Walla Walla man, Louis Gonzales III, an employee of the Service Employees International Union 775 Northwest.

SEIU 775NW organized the protest, which included a crowd of unionized home care workers trying to storm Gregoire’s office lobby. Most of those arrested were “grandmothers,” union spokesman Adam Glickman said.

The charges against Gonzales are based on the belief that “he struck one trooper in the leg and then struck another trooper by twisting his torso around and using his elbow,” senior deputy prosecutor Jack Jones said.

Seattle lawyer Dmitri Iglitzin, whose firm does work for SEIU, said there are “an astounding number of videotapes” of the incident that show otherwise.

The protest was aimed at bringing attention to pending state budget cuts for elder care programs as well as some that already reduced funding for the elderly and disabled. Among the cuts was a 10 percent reduction in the hours of state-paid home care services available to disabled and elderly clients after March 1.

The protesters also called for closing tax breaks for banks, out-of-state shoppers, jet plane owners and others to pay for those services. The action was part of a four-day wave of protests at the Capitol, the largest of which drew more than 7,000 people.

Gonzales has pleaded not guilty to two counts of third-degree felony assault. The case is scheduled for trial Aug. 1; a pretrial hearing is set for June 22. If convicted, he could be sentenced to one to three months in jail on a single count and three to eight months on two, Jones said.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 bshannon@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/politicsblog