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Wednesday, July 31, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Jury finds Garrett guilty in attack on former Seattle mayor

Seattle Times staff reporters

The man charged with shattering former Mayor Paul Schell’s face with a bullhorn last summer was found guilty of the crime this morning by a jury that had taken only a few hours of deliberation to reach a decision.

The panel’s decision this morning means that James Cordell Garrett, who goes by Omari Tahir-Garrett, now faces 15 to 21 months in a state prison for second-degree assault. The jury found that the 5-pound megaphone was a deadly weapon, which makes the sentence stiffer. Sentencing is set for Friday.

Garrett, 56, removed his spectacles and hung his head in court as the verdict was read. But outside the courtroom, as he was mobbed by television cameras, he remained as defiant as ever.

"This was a European, colonial, settler, terrorist jury," he said. "This issue was lock a black man up, lock a black man up. It wasn’t a jury of my peers. I couldn’t care less what they say."

Schell didn’t attend the announcement.

"I guess I would say that I’m happy that it’s over; this is closure," Schell said from his office at a Seattle architectural firm.

"I do want to get on with my life, and this is a step in that direction. While I have no anger toward Omari — none, it’s more sadness — I think people have to be held responsible for their actions. So I think the jury did the right thing."

The jury began deliberating yesterday afternoon whether Garrett smashed the bullhorn into Schell’s face during a community festival in the Central Area July 7, 2001. The blow broke bones in the mayor’s face and left him with ongoing vision problems. The jury returned this morning and announced that it had reached a verdict about 11 a.m.

The decision punctuates a yearlong saga and a weeklong trial that has seen twists, turns and no small amount of sarcasm.

Garrett, a longtime community activist, testified yesterday that he came by himself to the community festival, and used a bullhorn to verbally challenge Schell during a short speech. But Garrett said he handed the bullhorn to someone else and was trying to take a photograph when he was tackled by police.

"When I raised the camera, blue came from everywhere," said Garrett, who later told the court he receives disability payments for "delayed-stress syndrome due to racism."

Although he was protesting police brutality during the festival, Garrett said he has no hatred toward police. "I love, love, love law-enforcement officers," he said.

Garrett said he barely knew Margie McClure, who testified Monday that it was she who struck the mayor in a fit of rage. The woman said she may have hit Schell while Garrett was 15 feet away.

On cross-examination, King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Dan Soukup pounced.

"You’re under oath," he told Garrett. "So, who hit the mayor?"

"I don’t know," replied Garrett. "I didn’t hit the mayor. I didn’t see who hit the mayor." He then said he hadn’t been paying attention to the trial proceedings because they were taking place in a "colonial court."

"It’s not a jury of my peers," he said. "I’m a refugee of the African slave trade."

Soukup later pressed Garrett about his involvement in the 17-year effort to build an African-American heritage museum in the Central Area. The prosecutor suggested Garrett had no constituency and no political power.

In his first trial, which ended in a mistrial when jurors deadlocked 10-2, Garrett suggested that he was being persecuted for his role in trying to convert the former Colman School along Interstate 90 to a cultural center.

"Who are you working with? What are their names?" asked Soukup yesterday.

"When there’s a problem, people come together. We get together and complain," said Garrett.

"Who are the people who are supporting you? Who is ‘we?’ " asked Soukup. "Your involvement in the African-American museum is you."

During Garrett’s first trial, five people, including four Seattle Police officials, testified they saw him strike Schell. The two jurors who favored acquittal said their decision was fueled by a distrust of police and government officials.

Yesterday, Garrett’s public defender, Eric Weston, sought to sow doubt about police testimony.

"The state really wants to convict Omari Tahir-Garrett. Who claims they saw this? A police officer, a police officer, a police officer," Weston told the jury. "You saw how badly he was treated on the stand. That’s how badly they want him."

Soukup responded with sarcasm.

"We forgot to tell you about the super-secret meeting on July 6," he told the court. "Schell, Chief (Gil) Kerlikowske, Assistant Chief (Nicholas) Metz, they were all figuring it out. How do we get Omari?

"That’s what the defendant is asking you to believe," said Soukup. "Conspiracy."

Soukup dismissed McClure’s testimony, and said jurors should put aside any ill feelings they may have about police.

"It’s unfortunate we don’t have four Boy Scouts and a nun testifying. But that’s not who was there. We have four police officers. I don’t know who says that if you are a police officer, you’re not to be believed. What kind of culture is that?"

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