SHELTON, Mason County — The Washington State Patrol won’t be using tear gas on demonstrators during the coronavirus pandemic, the agency’s leader said Friday.
After Seattle and Olympia recently announced their bans on tear gas for dispersing protesters, Washington State Patrol (WSP) Chief John Batiste said he ordered the State Patrol to comply with those two cities’ directives.
But because of concerns by public health officials that tear gas could increase chances of COVID-19 spreading, Batiste said he decided to expand his directive.
“In fact I’ve taken it a step further, to say that we will no longer use gas until further notice, particularly while we’re in this pandemic,” said Batiste. “We don’t want to be a part of spreading the COVID virus, and dealing with people’s immune systems.”
Batiste made the remarks during a news conference Friday at WSP training academy, where troopers also demonstrated crowd-control tactics and took questions about the agency’s tactics and response to the protests.
His announcement came after WSP deployed tear gas and other crowd-control devices early on during Seattle’s demonstrations after the death George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police officers.
Between May 30 and June 4, an average of about 71 WSP troopers assisted Seattle police during daily George Floyd demonstrations in the city, with a high of 120 troopers deployed each day on May 31 and June 1, and a low of 25 troopers deployed June 4.
During the Seattle demonstrations, troopers tossed about 25 tear gas (CS) canisters and launched about 35 tear gas projectiles, according to statistics provided by WSP. State troopers also deployed about 850 rounds of pepper-spray balls, four smoke grenades, 86 blast-ball grenades, 10 pepper-spray canisters and 26 direct impact “bluenose” projectiles, according to the agency.
Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, had raised concerns the State Patrol could still deploy tear gas inside the city even if Seattle police refrained.
“If that’s true, then it’s really important for the state Legislature to exercise oversight of the State Patrol’s participation of protests and demonstrations,” said Pollet.
The lawmaker this month wrote a letter to Batiste and Gov. Jay Inslee urging, among other things, a review of the patrol’s policies and training for demonstrations.
Pollet said he was in the crowd in Seattle in early June shortly before a State Patrol officer was recorded telling officers, “Don’t kill them, but hit them hard,” while preparing to clear demonstrators from the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
After the video surfaced, WSP apologized for the officer’s choice of words, saying they were meant to reassure and prepare troopers for a difficult job.
Pollet said Friday he had not gotten a response from Batiste or Inslee. Batiste said Friday the incident was under review, and he considered his public apology to be a response.
Batiste also said that he supports calls by Inslee to reform policing in the wake of the protests.
“We stand with him, and we’re ready to evolve and meet the changes that are brought forth by him and any of the legislative members that choose to do so,” Batiste said.