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Thursday, July 12, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Garrett charged in attack on mayor

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Omari Tahir-Garrett, accused of striking Seattle Mayor Paul Schell in the face last week with a megaphone during a Central Area celebration, has been charged with second-degree assault.

King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng filed the charges in Superior Court yesterday, saying “our right to speak under the First Amendment cannot co-exist with violence. Violence intimidates dialogue; it inhibits progress toward justice. It is wrong.''

He added that “what is more disturbing than the irrational violent impulse of one man, is the tendency of some people to soften or justify the conduct. I encourage all of us to reject that way of thinking.''

The attack occurred Saturday afternoon at the Unity Festival. Schell was invited to speak to the crowd of 200. When he began to talk, Garrett, who was among 20-some demonstrators, began to shout through his bullhorn over the mayor's comments.

As Schell finished speaking, according to court documents, Garrett walked up to him and with a backhand swing, struck the mayor in the face with the five-pound megaphone and then tried to strike him again but was wrestled to the ground by police.

The blow knocked Schell, 63, to the ground and shattered bones in his right eye socket and nose. He was taken to Harborview Medical Center and kept overnight for observation. Doctors examined Schell yesterday and determined he would not immediately need surgery to repair the broken bones. However, the mayor will be re-examined in four to six weeks to determine whether surgery might be required at that time, said Dick Lilly, Schell's press secretary.

At a news conference yesterday, Schell's face had healed noticeably.

“I think it looks better, but I don't have to look at it,” he joked.

Garrett, who insists he is innocent and in one court appearance said someone in the crowd threw something that struck the mayor, will be arraigned July 23. Maleng said he will seek an exceptional sentence if Garrett, 55, is convicted. The standard range for second-degree assault is three to nine months.

In the meantime, Garrett, who used to go by the name of Cordell Garrett and whose legal name is James Cordell Garrett, is being held in lieu of $250,000 bail. He protested the bail, saying the city legal system is racist and telling the King County District Court judge that he wants to be sent to Africa with a reparation for wrongs African Americans have suffered over the centuries.

Garrett's supporters, who have been vocal and disruptive at two hearings at District Court, call him their hero. His brother Thomas said Monday that he supports him entirely.

“I'm always for Omari,” Thomas Garrett said. “He wants to prove that (the attack on Schell) is far less violent than the murders of two black men by police.”

On May 31, police shot and killed black motorist Aaron Roberts at the spot where Schell was attacked. Witnesses said Roberts was dragging a police officer with his car when he was shot.

Last year, David John Walker, an African American with a history of mental illness, was killed by a police officer after he shoplifted from a Queen Anne supermarket, fired two shots at a security guard and skipped down the sidewalk waving a knife.

Seattle Times staff reporter Jim Brunner contributed to this report.

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