A law is generally only as good as the will and power to enforce it.
In the strange case of “Phoenix Jones and the Big Drunk Guy in the Orange Shirt,” it seems there is a law on the books in Seattle that could apply to a bizarre street fight in the University District early Friday morning, but probably won’t.
Jones is a self-styled defender of the peace and street-level superhero. He and his buddies patrol Seattle and occasionally disrupt crimes in progress and call police. This time, Jones got into a confrontation with three men over the way they were hassling other people on ‘The Ave’ and it ended up in a mano-a-mano street-fight that Phoenix, nattily attired in his black and yellow crime-fighter costume, won rather handily - with Seattle police on the scene watching.
Jones and his backers had called 911 but did not take the officers’ suggestion that they just move along and let the matter go. The Big Drunk Guy in the Orange Shirt and his pals didn’t take that suggestion either. Jones delivered a few savage kicks to the leg, then a short right hand to the face and the deal was done - 37 seconds start to finish.
(Watch the incident on YouTube. Warning: Contains foul language and some violence)
On Friday, the Seattle Police Department defended their officers’ actions.
“This situation actually isn’t much different than a Friday or Saturday night outside nightclubs and you’ll have fights erupt” said spokesperson Sean Whitcomb.
The law on the books is SMC (Seattle Municipal Code) 12A.06.025 which reads: “It is unlawful for any person to intentionally fight with another person in a public place and therefore create a substantial risk of: 1) injury to a person who is not participating in the fight; or 2) Damage to property of a person who is not actively participating in the fight.”
The fuzzy part is whether a fight “creates a substantial risk” of injury and damage. Whitcomb tells KING5 that after consulting with the city attorney’s office, it is clear this law is very rarely enforced. In this case, nobody has come forward to press charges, and while the incident is under review by the North Precinct, it will likely just dry up and blow away.
The officers at the scene did stay around long enough to watch the abrupt end of the fight.
“Officers inquired whether there was any medical attention required for the person who was punched in the face and that person declined,” said Whitcomb. “Officers then left the scene before they themselves were assaulted, by that second party, not the super-hero party.”
A statement forwarded to KING 5 by a lawyer who often speaks for Mr. Jones has spokesman Whitcomb describing the response this way: “I am sure the officers could have physically stopped the fight from happening, but it would have resulted in a ‘force response’ and then you and I would be talking about why SPD was using force to stop the fight.”