The King County Sheriff’s Office will investigate a Seattle police officer who was captured on video walking his bike over the head of a person lying on the ground during a protest on Capitol Hill Wednesday night.
The civilian-led Office of Police Accountability (OPA) requested a criminal investigation of the incident by an outside agency after the Seattle Police Department’s Force Investigation Team identified “potential violations of SPD policy, as well as potential criminal conduct,” OPA director Andrew Myerberg said in an email early Thursday. SPD said Thursday it referred the incident to the King County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff’s Office spokesman Ryan Abbott said a detective has been assigned to investigate the officer but it’s not clear how long the review will take.
The officer has been placed on paid leave, according to SPD. The department declined to identify or offer other details about the officer.
The OPA has received more than 30 complaints about the incident, according to a statement from the office.
The incident, captured on video by several people, attracted national attention Thursday after protests here and across the country in response to a grand jury’s decision to not indict police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, for the killing of Breonna Taylor. One widely shared video was posted to the CJTV Livestream Gallery’s Facebook page. Another video from the night, of a person hitting a police officer in the head with a baseball bat, also drew national attention.
Protests have continued in Seattle, many in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, for more than 100 days with demonstrators calling for cuts to police budgets and investment in Black-led community organizations. SPD’s response to the protests, including its use of crowd-control weapons like blast balls, has drawn a federal lawsuit and citizen complaints.
Demonstrators organized two events in Seattle Wednesday night. When one of the groups ended up near SPD’s East Precinct, police pushed into the area twice that night. After someone in the crowd threw a firework at the precinct, police rode in on bikes, used pepper spray to send people running and left after a brief standoff with protesters. Later, after protesters set a fire in the street, officers descended again. They used blast balls, pepper spray and impact munitions, and ordered people to move back.
Police pushed back protesters along East Pine Street near Broadway shortly before midnight. Video from the scene showed the officer, who was walking his bike, roll the bike’s tires over the head of the person lying in the road.
The officer then used the bike to push away another person who was approaching, the video shows.
The man on the ground seemed to be lying down as a form of protest, said Chris Rojas, a journalist for Seattle Gay News and Converge Media who captured the incident.. The protester, well-known for playing the trumpet at demonstrations, had lain in the road earlier in the night, too, and bike officers went around him, Rojas said. The Seattle Times’ efforts to reach the protester Thursday were unsuccessful.
Seattle police did not say whether the protester was injured by the officer. The man was not treated by the Seattle Fire Department or Harborview Medical Center, according to spokespeople for SFD and the hospital.
Joey Wieser, who regularly livestreams Seattle protests and also caught the moment on video, said “the police officer had enough time to divert his path away from the protester’s neck … and chose to run him over anyway.”
The protester seen in the video was arrested on investigation of failure to disperse and obstruction, Seattle police said.
In a separate incident, police said they were looking for a person who hit an officer in the head with a baseball bat.
During officers’ first push into the area, video from the scene showed an officer who had fallen off a bike near 11th Avenue and Pine Street as other officers rode away. Someone in the crowd threw a traffic cone at the officer, who then pepper-sprayed protesters. A person then approached the officer from behind and hit the officer in the back of the head with a baseball bat, according to the video. The officer deployed more pepper spray and ran away.
Police said Wednesday the officer’s helmet was cracked. The officer was checked at the scene by SFD and had minor injuries to his head and neck, SPD spokesperson Sgt. Randy Huserik said.
Seattle police said they arrested 13 people Wednesday night and early Thursday. Nine misdemeanor cases were referred to the City Attorney’s Office, which the office will review, a spokesperson said. No felony cases have been referred to the county prosecutor’s office, a spokesperson for that office said Thursday afternoon.
Seattle Times staff reporter Lewis Kamb contributed to this report.