"Jury acquits Seattle firefighters, friend accused of attacking homeless men"

DAVID ALLEN, attorney
Scott Bullene, defendant

Seattle PI

By Levi Pulkkinen

A Seattle jury has acquitted two city firefighters and a woman accused of attacking a homeless man sleeping under a Pioneer Square memorial to fallen firefighters.

Seattle Fire Department firefighters Robert Howell and Scott Bullene, and friend Mia Jarvinen, faced misdemeanor assault and hate crime charges in the March 15 incident. Returning a verdict Wednesday, a Seattle Municipal Court jury found the three not guilty on all counts.

Prosecutors with the Seattle City Attorney’s Office claimed Jarvinen, 38, sparked the fracas by attacking a man near Occidental Park’s Fallen Firefighters Memorial. Howell, 47, was alleged to have joined in the attack while Bullene, 46, beat up another man.

A six-member Seattle Municipal Court jury, which took up the case on Nov. 20, returned its verdict after deliberating for less than a day. Facing the possibility of jail time, the three defendants claimed, to varying degrees, that they were the victims of circumstances beyond their control that night.

“Although we are disappointed in the verdicts, we respect the jurors’ decision and thank them for their service,” City Attorney's Office spokeswoman Kimberly Mills said in a statement.

firefighter memorial


Howell and Bullene were fired from the Seattle Fire Department on Aug. 20. Fire Chief Greg Dean has apologized for their behavior, saying that, if the allegations proved true, he would be "disappointed in how they represented the department."

Addressing the jury during opening statements, Norm Golden, Howell’s defense attorney, said the consciences of the accused demanded that they confront the man at the memorial, erected after four firefighters were killed in 1995 fighting an arson fire at an International District warehouse. 

Having watched a Seattle Sounders game, Howell, Bullene and Jarvinen were headed to a Pioneer Square bar popular with firefighters to keep their good time going. On their way, they crossed paths with Simon McDonald as the 33-year-old lay sleeping at the memorial.

City prosecutors claim that, sometime before 5 p.m., Jarvinen started a fight with McDonald. Speaking with Seattle police officers later, Jarvinen said she was angry that McDonald was sleeping at the memorial.

“She said she saw a man lying on the Firefighter Memorial in the park and was ‘sick of it,’” Assistant City Prosecutor Joseph Everett said in court papers. “She told Officer (K.B.) Stewart that she ‘pays taxes’ and repeated that she was ‘sick of it.’”

Jarvinen was alleged to have then kicked away McDonald’s plate of food before booting him in the head. McDonald told police he was sleeping when Jarvinen accosted him for no reason.

“Pay your taxes and get outta here,” Jarvinen told McDonald, according to defense statements to the court. “I pay my taxes.”

Police contend Howell punched and stomped McDonald, who was still wrapped in his white blanket. Howell claimed he was the one who was attacked; both escaped serious injury in the incident.

That fight prompted another, during which Bullene tussled with Stephen Cassidy, a 54-year-old homeless man described by police as having a prosthetic leg. Police say Cassidy used a walking stick – or a “club,” in the eyes of the defense – to get around.

Cassidy was among a large group of people who police claim came to McDonald’s aid as he was attempting to roll away from his attackers. Addressing the jury, though, Bullene’s defense attorney cast Cassidy as a wild man attacking his client with the “club.”

The firefighters and Jarvinen were able to break away and retreat to McCoy’s Firehouse, a firefighter bar a block east of Occidental Park. From there, Howell called 911 to report, as prosecutors put it, “a black man assaulting a white female” at the park. McDonald, like Howell, is white.

Bullene and Jarvinen left the bar before police arrived. Their aim in doing so, like many of the facts in the case, was disputed.

Addressing the jury, defense attorney David Allen said they were walking back to their car when Cassidy sprang out of a doorway to attack Bullene, his client. Allen said Bullene again fought for control of the stick, and was stabbed by Cassidy during the struggle.

Prosecutors claimed Bullene and Jarvinen actually left the bar to yell at people congregating there. They heckled them, chastising them for being “homeless” and a “drain” on society. Bullene was alleged to have taken Cassidy’s wooden walking staff and beat him with it.

During the fight, Cassidy stabbed Bullene in the arm, shoulder and abdomen, causing serious but not life-threatening wounds. Bullene, who was bleeding profusely, asked police not to call the fire department.

The Seattle police officer noticed superficial injuries to Howell’s head and knees, and that he’d been drinking. The officer said Howell was irate, shouting at police and refusing to cooperate before pulling out his phone to record them. According to police statements, he attempted without success to have a fire chief at the scene intervene on his behalf.

City prosecutors charged the trio on July 9 with fourth-degree assault and malicious harassment, both misdemeanors. The defendants pleaded not guilty and vigorously fought the charges.

Defense attorneys claim prosecutors have erred in charging their clients with malicious harassment – the city’s misdemeanor hate crime law, which is broader than the state’s felony standard.

Washington state’s malicious harassment law was enacted to punish those who threaten violence against others because of their race, religion, sexual identity or other similar factors. The city’s law – a less serious offense – also punishes harassment driven by a victim’s homelessness, marital status, political ideology or age.

The defense argued that it wasn’t McDonald’s homelessness that prompted the altercation. They claimed the hate crime charge isn’t supported by evidence, and previously asked that it be thrown out.

Howell, Bullene and Jarvinen were not jailed.


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