One of the worst decisions the City of Seattle ever made was to allow Pioneer Square to erupt into riots during Mardi Gras 2001. Kristopher Kime was bending over to help a young woman who had been beaten and knocked to the ground, when he was violently attacked. His friends ran to the perimeter of the riot zone and begged police to help. They were told that the officers had been instructed not to render assistance. Kris was lifted off the street and carried to the police by friends and off-duty firefighters. But it was too late. He died of massive brain injuries.
Mediation resulted in a significant sum of money paid to Kris’s parents, but also: creation of a scholarship for the outstanding compassionate young person of the year; erection of a memorial plaque at the pergola in Pioneer Square; a meeting with the police chief; and invitation to attend public safety meetings. Kris’ divorced parents worked closely and in complete agreement to make sure that justice was done. They donated his organs to save the lives of others and they remain involved in many community service efforts.
Interview with Karen K. Koehler, plaintiffs’ counsel in Kime*
Q: How did you come to represent the Kime family?
A: They interviewed a number of lawyers who felt they did not have a good case, but I felt that there was a terrible wrong and that I would do whatever I had to in order to make it right.
Q: How did you reach such interesting settlement terms?
A: We talked extensively with his whole family – grandparents, siblings, step-mom, half-brother, sister. Even though the parents are divorced, they united for the effort. Because this wasn’t the typical accident case, what we talked about was that it wasn’t just about money, even though the civil justice system compensates victims with money. We wanted to make sure that he did not die in vain and that his life and the mistakes made that night would not fade away. The non-monetary aspects were equally the focus, and we spent as much time negotiating these other things as the money.
The reason for the difficulty with the plaque is that [Seattle’s] Pioneer Square is on the historic register and it is governed by a historic board. The city said we couldn’t do it unless the board approved, and that the board wouldn’t likely do it because it was morbid. You know, people coming to Pioneer Square and reading a plaque about someone dying there. They were proposing several other locations for the site of the plaque. It’s almost funny, they had us spinning around over other locations, they wanted it everywhere except where he was killed. Every year since this has happened his family goes there and lights a vigil. His mother just emailed me and told me when they would be going this year. The plaque is there forever, this was the biggest condition and the most concrete one.
Q: Do you think that the City was willing to settle with the Kime family in part because of political pressure due to negative press?
A: Yes. The City was scared of litigating the facts in regards to Kris Kime. They stood by while he was killed. If I were the City, I wouldn’t want to litigate these facts. Cases with these facts beg for justice and can make for law adverse to the interests of the City.
Q: Any advice for law students interested in a civil rights law practice?
A: Yes, you should become a member of Public Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the American Constitution Society.
* Current Issues in Constitutional Litigation (Carolina Academic Press, forthcoming November 2010)
Articles about the tragedy and the Kime case
- Mardi Gras riot victim’s gift of life still giving after 10 years
- Family celebrates Kris Kime’s life 10 years after his death
- Transcripts show extent of police inaction. Officers assigned to Mardi Gras riot ordered repeatedly to stay on periphery.
- Police honor youth slain during Mardi Gras. 10 officers among hundreds at service for beating victim.
- Frustrated police honor man slain on Fat Tuesday
- Karen Koehler Remembers Kristopher Kime on the 10th Anniversary of His Death
- City to pay $1.75 million to Mardi Gras victim’s family