A federal judge has postponed scheduled arguments over whether Seattle police violated an injunction against using force on peaceful protesters, and has asked lawyers for Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County and the city to plan for a full hearing on the issue.
U.S. District Judge Richard Jones initially set Friday morning for arguments over a motion by BLM, which asked Jones to find the Police Department in violation of his earlier injunction prohibiting officers from using force against peaceful protesters.
However, in an order Thursday, the judge said he will use that time to set the parameters for a more formal evidentiary hearing on the matter, with testimony and exhibits including video from social media and police body cameras. The date for that hearing has not been set.
In pleadings filed Wednesday, the city had asked for an additional 60 days to sort through the evidence and prepare its defense.
Jones issued the injunction after finding police had violated the First Amendment rights of thousands of peaceful protesters. The judge cited the indiscriminate use of tear gas, pepper spray, foam-tipped projectiles and other less-than-lethal force against crowds during mass protests in late May and June downtown and on Capitol Hill, where violence forced the SPD to abandon its East Precinct for a time.
Earlier this week, BLM Seattle-King County, with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a motion accusing police of violating that injunction. They asked the court to hold the department in contempt and require sanctions and additional safeguards against abuses. The organization filed two dozen sworn declarations from journalists, medics, legal observers and others detailing a string of injuries and purported assaults by police.
Police have said they were responding to violence and property damage, including arson and threats to officers. Police commanders declared a riot last weekend after vandals in the crowd set fire to buildings and equipment at the construction site for the youth jail.
The city says police complied with the injunction and used force only against individuals who were disobeying officers or damaging property. It conceded, however, that innocent bystanders may have been inadvertently injured or impacted during the melee.
BLM, in new filings Thursday, said the city has a “deeply flawed” understanding of the injunction that led to officers using blast balls, pepper spray and other less-than-lethal tools to move crowds along, including those who were not involved in vandalism or assaulting officers.