Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has asked a King County judge to reconsider her ruling to allow a recall petition to proceed against the mayor, arguing the use of tear gas to disperse protesters was a decision made by police Chief Carmen Best, not the mayor, and that it was a reasonable one.
King County Superior Court Judge Mary E. Roberts last week dismissed six claims against Durkan as insufficient for a recall, but allowed a seventh to go forward. That claim alleged Durkan failed to implement new policing policies after tear gas and other chemical agents were used on protesters.
The ruling was an initial victory for Durkan’s opponents in what would be a long process to recall the mayor. Roberts’ role is to assume the charges, as filed against Durkan, are true, and to determine whether they’re both specific and serious enough to allow the petition to proceed. Next, opponents would have to collect more than 50,000 signatures from Seattle voters — one-quarter of the votes filed in the last mayoral election — before a special recall election could be held.
A recall election would be a simple up or down vote on Durkan, with no opponent on the ballot. If the recall succeeded, the city council president, currently M. Lorena González, would become mayor.
“The Mayor believes the remaining claim will be dismissed,” Stephanie Formas, Durkan’s chief of staff, said, adding Durkan would pursue “appropriate next steps,” potentially an appeal, if it is not.
Roberts wrote a ballot synopsis for the potential recall election, alleging Durkan “failed to institute new policies and safety measures for the Seattle Police Department after learning of the use of chemical agents on peaceful protesters as a means of crowd control during a public health emergency.”
But, in a motion filed Tuesday afternoon, Durkan says that’s not her job and it never should have gotten this far. She said that it’s not her duty to dictate Seattle police policies and, even if it was, changing police policies without court approval would violate the city’s longstanding consent decree.
“Mayor Durkan has no legal or constitutional duty to prescribe policies and procedures for SPD. Instead, the City Charter places that duty upon the Chief of Police, who exercised her authority in a reasonable manner,” Durkan’s attorney, Rebecca Roe, writes. Durkan’s decision “not to overrule or usurp all or part of the Chief’s authority cannot be a basis for recall, particularly in the midst of a dynamic week of protests, public safety issues, and unrest.”
Seattle City Council Insight first reported Durkan’s request for the judge to reconsider.
In her filing, Durkan says it has been more than two decades since Seattle has seen demonstrations on the scale of those seen over the last six weeks, which “escalated quickly and significantly.”
The protests began in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. Seattle police used tear gas and other similar agents on protesters in late May, and continued using them throughout early June. On June 5, Best said Seattle police would suspend use of tear gas except for “life-safety situations.”
On June 12, a federal judge, responding to a lawsuit, barred Seattle police from using such tear gas, pepper spray and similar weapons, but left an allowance for officers responding to “specific imminent threat of physical harm to themselves or identifiable others.”
“If individual officers’ actions violated those policies, Petitioners fail to set forth any evidence that Mayor Durkan or Chief Best intended this result,” Roe writes.