Lawyers representing a group of Seattle protesters said Thursday they believe the city violated a judge’s crowd control order last week when police used blast balls infused with pepper spray on peaceful demonstrators, according to a letter they sent to the City Attorney’s office.
“The City’s descriptions, as well as the evidence we have gathered from citizens who witnessed (the Seattle Police Department’s) tactics during the relevant timeframe, indicate that SPD has violated the preliminary injunction in this case,” wrote David A. Perez, Robert S. Chang and Molly Tack-Hooper in the letter.
The three-person legal team works with Perkins Coie LLP, Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality, and the ACLU of Washington, respectively, and represents Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County and six individual protesters.
The letter refers to a temporary restraining order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones on June 10, which prohibits Seattle police from using crowd control weapons against peaceful protesters. The order was part of a lawsuit filed by the plaintiffs, and was extended to last through Sept. 30.
When officers used the crowd control weapons on July 1 through 4, they caused “discomfort, alarm, and respiratory distress,” the letter says, adding that the chemical irritants cause widespread coughing, which threatens to further spread COVID-19.
“This is precisely the type of chilling effect on protesters’ constitutional rights that the Order is designed to prevent,” it continues.
While the order restricts police from using “chemical irritants or projectiles” against “persons peacefully engaging in protests or demonstrations,” it also “does not preclude individual officers from taking necessary, reasonable, proportional and targeted action to protect against a specific imminent threat of physical harm to themselves or identifiable others, or to respond to specific acts of violence or destruction of property.”
The City Attorney’s office said Thursday evening it had just received the letter and could not immediately comment. When previously asked about last week’s police actions, a spokesperson for Mayor Jenny Durkan said the mayor supports the order.
“The mayor has concerns with the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) initial use of force in response to the Black Lives Matter protests, which is why she quickly asked the city’s accountability partners — the Office of Police Accountability, the Office of the Inspector General and the Community Police Commission — to evaluate SPD’s crowd management tactics and provide a recommendation,” spokesperson Kelsey Nyland said in an email last week.
The Thursday letter also pointed to a city ordinance — passed unanimously by the City Council and scheduled to take effect on July 26 — that bans similar weapons and “represents a resounding repudiation of the tactics deployed by SPD against protesters over the past six weeks.”
“Although the ordinance has yet to come into effect, it is startling, and highly concerning, that SPD has continued to deploy these weapons at protests despite the City’s clear intention to ban their use,” the letter says.
Seattle Times staff reporter Daniel Beekman contributed to this story.