The city of Seattle has agreed that a court order should bar police from targeting journalists, legal observers and medics with crowd weapons.
The city also has agreed that the order should bar police from using the declaration of a riot as justification for indiscriminate force at protests.
Seattle made those concessions in an agreement filed jointly Monday with lawyers for protesters who are suing the city for allegedly allowing the police to use unnecessary violence in controlling and suppressing crowds.
For now, the lawyers will drop a request that the judge in the case hold the city in contempt of court. Monday’s changes could make the restrictions for crowd control by Seattle police the most rigid in the country.
“The City is pleased to reach an agreement with plaintiffs,” Dan Nolte, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, wrote in an emailed statement. “This agreement acknowledges the City’s commitment to Judge Jones’ crowd management Order and the Consent Decree. We’re thankful that Judge Jones approved our joint proposal.”
The changes will be in effect until a different federal judge decides whether the Seattle City Council’s ban on crowd weapons can take effect.
Black Lives Matter-Seattle King County and a number of individual plaintiffs sued in June, claiming the city had deprived protesters of their constitutional rights by using chemical agents such as tear gas and projectiles such as blast balls to crack down on demonstrations sparked by the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and of other Black people.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones, also in June, issued a preliminary injunction barring Seattle from using force against peaceful protesters. But his ruling said the police could take targeted actions against specific imminent threats and against specifics acts of violence and property destruction.
Police subsequently used crowd-control weapons as they cleared the area known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) in early July and as they dealt with protests on July 25.
In response, lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Jones case asked the judge to hold the city in contempt. The lawyers submitted sworn statements by protesters, legal observers, medics and journalists describing how the police had attacked them the previous weekend on Capitol Hill.
Lawyers for the police initially urged Jones to reject the contempt allegations, arguing officers only used force because thousands of people in a crowd were “armed and armored individuals with a plan and agenda to do harm to the public, injure police and damage property along the way.”
Jones scheduled a late August hearing on the matter.
Monday’s agreement, which Jones immediately approved, adds to his injunction, making it “the most comprehensive in the country, protecting journalists, legal observers, and medics from police abuses during protests,” said David Perez, a lawyer for plaintiffs in the case.
“Seattle police attacked professionals doing their jobs during the protests on July 25th, and this order would protect those charged with protecting health, democracy and our constitutional rights from similar abuses in the future.”
Monday’s agreement also cancels the late August hearing in the case.
“Today, the U.S. District Court has once again affirmed the right of the people to protest, free from state violence,” Black Lives Matter-Seattle King County said in a statement. “This court order gives us the power to take swift legal action against (the city) if — or when — police deploy these violent tactics in the future.”
Separately, the City Council passed a resolution Monday condemning the targeting of journalists, legal observers and medics at protests and asking Mayor Jenny Durkan and police Chief Carmen Best to curb such actions.
The resolution also asks the Seattle City Attorney’s Office to stop pursuing a subpoena of unpublished video and photos recorded by several news outlets at a protest where police vehicles had guns taken from them and were set on fire.