SEATTLE — A fight over a political sign became violent in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. It started with a couple of teens trying to steal a sign but ended with one of those teens getting body slammed and U.S. Congressional Candidate Craig Keller getting involved.
Keller is the Republican candidate in Washington’s 7th U.S. House District race. He’s facing off against Democratic incumbent, Pramila Jayapal.
The trouble started around 5:45 p.m. Wednesday. Mortikye “Mo” Aylward, 14, said he and his friends passed the Trump/Culp rally at 15th Ave and Market Street. He said their friend group was trying to share their views with those at the rally when words got heated.
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In a video recorded on a cellphone, a teen girl is seen trying to take a sign that Keller is holding.
The video shows candidate Craig Keller kick the teen girl and push her onto 15th Ave. That’s when Aylward and another teen, 14-year-old Dean Aocina, decided to take the sign Keller is holding.
“I acted on impulse,” Aylward said. “Just kind of clicked in my mind, hey, stand up for what you believe in.”
He and Aocina take off running, and Keller goes after them in the video recording.
“As soon as I started running, he grabbed my ankle. He pulled me to the ground, he pulled down my pants, like a good way down, and I just kept grabbing, so I kicked him, I tried kicking him off,” Aylward said.
The video shows another kid in a blue coat stomp on the sign, which is now on the sidewalk. Keller then pushes that kid.
“It’s not your property,” Keller said in the video to another teen.
Over the phone, Keller said he felt the teens were violating his First Amendment rights by taking the sign. “Those children were ripping away our signs and trying to steal them,” Keller said. “We just tried to pursue them and get our sign back.”
He later said in a text, “… simply it was me and whomever tripping to the ground while I pursued regaining possession of my sign.”
He also called the kids “children of the corn” multiple times and called those who criticized him “very intolerant Seattle leftists” and said, “These kids are being really corrupted in schools.”
In the video of the altercation, the camera then swirls around to show a man in a blue shirt and MAGA hat suddenly pick up Aocina before throwing him on the ground.
“I didn’t even see him until he had wrapped his arms around me,” Aocina said.
“Dude, what the hell!” people shout in the video. “Beat up a f***ing kid?” someone else is heard shouting.
The unidentified man in the blue shirt says, “He was attacking. He was attacking.”
Aocina said that never happened. “He blindsided me.”
Later, another video shows the same man taking out what appears to be a gun and holding it in front of him.
“The guy that body-slammed Dean, he has a MAGA hat and had a gun in his hand. And he kind of pulled it out in the middle of everything,” said Trinity Miller, 15. Miller was the first to try and grab the sign and was kicked by Keller.
The teens said they were upset when trying to take the sign.
“I’m not excusing what I did,” Aylward said. “I think that I shouldn’t have done it. I think it’s morally kind of stupid,” he said.
But to experience that reaction from adults – particularly someone running for office – was a shock, the teens added.
“There are some bad people in office, but that just really disgusted me... acting so violently,” Aylward said.
“It’s completely inappropriate,” Aocina said. “I couldn’t trust somebody like that to be in a position like that, you know?”
Keller didn’t seem to know the identity of the man in the blue shirt but said, “I believe that other fellow was trying to keep the other kids from surrounding me.”
Seattle police responded to the scene and said they talked with all involved and documented the incident, but no one on either side was interested in being considered a victim of a crime.
Parents of the teens reached out to KIRO7 on Friday and said they were never contacted by police, sparking frustration. Now some are looking into pressing charges.
“I would like to look into options on that, yes,” said Elisabeth Fretz, Miller’s mom.
The parents of another kid who was pushed (not on camera but corroborated by three witnesses) said they’re hoping the adults involved will be held accountable.
“There was no physical threat that was being posed to any of these individuals who chose to assault these kids. It was completely a disproportionate response, and I think something should be done about it,” said Jerry Rapisarda, a parent.
Washington State law says drawing your firearm in a way that “manifests an intent to intimidate another or that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons” is illegal. However, any allegations of that would of need to be proven.
So far, no one has identified the man in the blue shirt who apparently drew his weapon.