In a Wednesday morning ruling, newly-installed Edmonds Municipal Court Judge Whitney Rivera agreed to impose the terms of a pretrial diversion agreement negotiated by the prosecution and defense teams in the case of an Edmonds man accused in the July 14 defacement of the ‘I Can’t Breathe’ art installation.
Richard Tuttle, 70, is accused of spraying black paint over the letter “T” in the artwork — located on the Civic Field fence across from the Edmonds Police Station — . changing the “I Can’t Breathe” message to “I Can Breathe.” The defacement was observed by witnesses, and the artwork was restored by community members a few hours later.
Under the third-degree malicious mischief charge, if found guilty Tuttle could face a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Tuttle’s attorney Patrick Feldman stressed to the court that his client regrets his actions. While Tuttle’s intent was not to “demean, but rather to express an opinion,” Feldman said, Tuttle now understands that expressing one’s opinion means the ability to make and carry your own sign, but does not include “touching other people’s stuff” — and his actions in this case crossed that line.
Under the terms of the agreement, Tuttle’s case will be continued for 24 months, during which time he will remain on probation, complete anger management classes within the next 60 days, and perform 16 hours of community service. In addition, he must pay $150 in probation monitoring costs, and $38.52 in restitution to artist Christable Jamison, who created the work. During the probationary period, he may have no new criminal law violations, and must keep the court clerk and probation officials apprised of his current address.
The agreement also requires Tuttle to waive his constitutional rights to a jury trial and to call witnesses.
Jamison, a recent Edmonds-Woodway High School graduate, installed the artwork through the Edmonds Art Commission’s temporary “On the Fence” program. Jamison, who is Black, said she was inspired by the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.
The crime drew significant public attention, with some calling for hate crime charges to be filed. The malicious mischief charge against Tuttle was filed by City of Edmonds Prosecuting Attorney James Zachor after the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office declined to file criminal hate crime charges in the case, stating there wasn’t enough evidence. To obtain a conviction in a hate crime, the prosecutor must prove that a suspect caused physical damage to a victim or a victim’s property, acted maliciously, and committed the act based on the suspect’s perception of the victim’s race, color or ancestry. After studying the case, the county prosecutor determined that there was insufficient evidence that Tuttle knew anything about the artist’s race.
While expressing “reservations” about the terms of agreement, Rivera recognized that it was the result of concerted hard work and negotiations between both legal teams, and that in light of this she was moved to approve it.
Rivera took pains to explicitly inform Tuttle that should he violate any of these terms, the agreement would be immediately revoked, and the court would render a judgment based on its review of the incident report. Should this review determine that there is sufficient evidence to find Tuttle guilty, the court could “sentence you all the way up to the maximum penalty,” Rivera said.
— By Larry Vogel