by Elizabeth Turnbull
(Updated 6/12/20 at 2:59pm)
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones today issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing the City of Seattle from using chemical agents and other less-lethal weapons against protests and demonstrations.
Tear gas may only be used against a targeted individual after all other available options are exhausted, and no chemical irritants (pepper spray or tear gas) or projectiles may be deployed indiscriminately into a crowd. In issuing the order, Judge Jones stated that “Plaintiffs have made a clear showing of a likelihood of success on the merits on their First Amendment claim,” and that “both testimonial and video evidence establish that SPD likely violated Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights.” The TRO will last for 14 days, while court proceedings in the lawsuit, Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County v. City of Seattle, continue.
“We are pleased that the court is preventing Seattle from using chemical agents and less lethal weapons against demonstrators. The City must allow for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and it must address police accountability and excessive use of force,” said Michele Storms, Executive Director of the ACLU of Washington, in a statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington State, filed the emergency lawsuit June 9 on behalf of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County in response to the use of chemical agents and projectiles by the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and the City of Seattle to disperse protestors, according to a statement.
In partnership with the Perkins Coie law firm and the Korematsu Center of the Seattle University School of Law, ACLU’s lawsuit, Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County et al. v. City of Seattle, is specifically in response to the tear gas, pepper spray and other “less-lethal weapons” used on protestors at multiple protests in Seattle held in response to the murder of George Floyd, according to the statement.
The lawsuit was filed against the Seattle Police Department and the City of Seattle to demand that they immediately stop the use of chemical agents and projectiles on protestors, according to the ACLU.
“The use of chemical agents and projectiles for crowd control when not necessary to prevent injury is an excessive use of force that violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution,” the statement detailing the lawsuit reads. “[The lawsuit] also alleges that use of these tactics chills free speech in violation of the First Amendment.”
The statement references how SPD used chemical irritants against protestors on June 6 and deployed tear gas or CS gas against protestors on Sunday night, June 7 at the intersection of 11th and Pine St. The statement points out how these actions contradicted Mayor Jenny Durkan’s announcement on June 5, stating that Seattle police would be banned from using tear gas on protesters for 30 days.
One woman is in stable condition but “in a lot of pain,” after she appears to have been directly hit by an apparent flash bang grenade thrown by the Seattle police at around 12 a.m., June 8, during a protest outside of the SPD’s East Precinct near 11th and Pine.
On June 7, and over the course of the protests, Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best have said that their intent has been to meet peace with peace. But both leaders have defended their tactics based on what they say have been the aggressions of individuals among peaceful protestors who were deemed to be trying to “incite violence.”
Several officers were injured at a protest at the intersection of 11th and Pine Saturday night, June 6, according to SPD, after the police department said protestors were throwing rocks and other projectiles, including “improvised explosives.”
The Seattle Police department released a tweet on June 6 detailing how some protestors had begun throwing rocks and “improvised explosives” at roughly 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night. Underneath the information about the projectiles and “improvised explosives,” is a photograph of what appears to be a candle in a glass jar.
“These daily demonstrations are fueled by people from all over the city who demand that police stop using excessive force against Black people, and they demand that Seattle dismantle its racist systems of oppression,” said Livio De La Cruz, board member of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County, in the statement. “It is unacceptable that the Seattle Police Department would then respond to these demonstrations with more excessive force, including using tear gas and flash bang grenades.”
De La Cruz also said in the statement that rather than trying to silence protesters, the City of Seattle should address the protesters’ concerns by examining its policies and its systems regarding police practices, use of force and accountability.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court of Western Washington on behalf of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County and individual plaintiffs, including various protesters who were subject to tear gas and “other chemical agents,” as well as to flash bang grenades. Among them is Nathalie Graham, a journalist with The Stranger.
Elizabeth Turnbull is a Seattle-based journalist
Featured image by Alex Garland