Black Lives Matter of Seattle and King County is asking a federal judge to expand reporting requirements of Seattle police officers who use force against protesters, a sanction intended to “coerce” the department to stop using illegal force against demonstrators.
The group is also asking U.S. District Judge Richard Jones to require the city to pay as-yet-to-be-determined attorneys’ fees and costs of seeking the motion for contempt, accrued by lawyers who volunteered to represent BLM in its lawsuit against the department.
The 11-page motion was filed Friday in response to an order by Jones issued Monday. Jones found the Police Department in contempt of court in four instances in which police clearly violated the court’s injunction banning the use of force or crowd-control weapons against peaceful protesters. Demonstrations were held in Seattle and nationwide after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
The city has until Dec. 18 to respond.
Jones has already found that SPD used tear gas, pepper spray, blast balls and other weapons indiscriminately during the early days of the protests, likely violating the civil rights of thousands who had gathered, mostly peacefully, to protest downtown and on Capitol Hill. In his contempt finding, Jones said he was particularly concerned about the use of so-called “blast balls,” which are grenadelike devices that explode on impact and spew a cloud of pepper gas.
He cited instances in which blast balls were used against individuals and gatherings that posed no threat to officers. Three of the four violations cited by Jones involved blast balls. The fourth involved use of pepper spray.
While Jones said there were instances when officers were justified in using force — an incident on Sept. 7 in which a protester threw a Molotov cocktail is an example — there were many others that were too close to call from a constitutional standpoint, and Jones noted that was not a good thing in the context of his injunction.
Jones rejected SPD’s argument that it was in “substantial compliance” with the injunction.
The protests Jones reviewed were: Capitol Hill on Aug. 26, during a memorial for Summer Taylor, a BLM protester struck and killed by a car during a freeway protest on July 4; a protest at the headquarters of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) in Sodo Sept. 7; and protests held Sept. 22 and 23 on Capitol Hill, one in response to a decision by a Kentucky grand jury not to indict the officers who killed Breonna Taylor in her home in March.
Black Lives Matter is asking that reporting requirements for officers who use force be expanded once again, this time to include the turning over of use-of-force reports and body-camera video from every instance when force was used against protesters within five days of the occurrence. BLM had complained to the court that the city failed to turn over some of the video from previous complaints, even when Seattle had them.
Court pleadings indicate the city has turned over hundreds of hours of body-cam video already in an attempt to justify the officers’ actions. Jones had asked BLM for recommendations on sanctions, and the Friday motion lays out a series of “nonmonetary coercive” sanctions intended to force SPD into compliance with the court’s order.
“The potential harm to plaintiffs and other peaceful protesters from the city’s continued noncompliance with the courts orders is high, especially in light of the city’s consistent position … blaming protesters when force was used against them rather than acknowledging (much less correcting) any violation of the court’s orders,” the motion says.
It was the second time BLM had sought to have the city held in contempt of court for violating the judge’s order. In July, the city avoided possible sanctions by agreeing to place additional restrictions on officers and prohibited them from targeting citizen medics and journalists during protests.
The motion also asks the judge to require that every officer be educated and discuss the specifics of the four instances the court found contemptuous. The motion asks officers to again review the injunction and warn them of the consequences for violations going forward.