by Mark Van Streefkerk
On September 25, two law firms representing protesters who participated in local Black Lives Matter marches and family members of Summer Taylor filed a major lawsuit against the City of Seattle and state of Washington for wrongful death, personal injuries, and civil rights violations. Cedar Law PLLC and Stritmatter Kessler Koehler Moore (SKKM) represent Taylor’s family and 10 protesters, as well as an additional 30–40 protesters once the 60–day waiting period for their claims is up. The suit, more than 100 pages long, alleges the City and State used unconstitutional excessive force, wrongful imprisonment, negligence, and discriminated against citizens based on race and political ideology among other violations.
“It should go without saying, you can’t shoot members of the media in the back,” said SKKM attorney Andrew Ackley. “You cannot choke peaceful protesters. You cannot use blast balls and explosives on people trying to disperse … People who came to protest excessive force were met with excessive force.”
Protesters suffered psychological and physical injuries from chemical agents, blast balls, flash bangs, batons, and rubber and plastic bullets, according to the lawsuit. These weapons caused deep bruising and scarring, permanent hearing loss, bleeding, brain injuries and burns from chemical agents. Militarized tactics were used against protesters who sustained further injuries through wrongful arrest and detainment. SKKM attorney Fred Rabb said plaintiffs suffered multiple injuries, including “neck injuries, wrist injuries, knee injuries, bone contusions, muscle injuries, damaged fingers, damaged hearing, bleeding in the ears, amputation of a thumb, [and] cardiac arrest requiring multiple resuscitations.”
Matt and Luke Taylor, father and brother respectively of Summer Taylor, who was hit and killed by a man driving a car on to a highway during a demonstration on I-5, are part of the suit. Dalia, Taylor’s mother, is currently at an inpatient mental health treatment facility. Koehler read a statement on Dalia’s behalf at a media presentation of the lawsuit Friday. “Summer Taylor lost their life for Black Lives Matter. We stand here today because that should not have happened and it was the government’s fault. We file this lawsuit on behalf of Summer Taylor,” Koehler declared.
Ten protesters represented by the law firms followed with statements about their own experiences while protesting for Black lives.
Two of the speakers were Daniel Gregory, who was shot while stopping a gunman from driving into protesters on July 7, and filmmaker Abie Ekenezar, a Navy veteran who recalled being tear gassed in boot camp. “They did that to show you how to feel when the enemy put you in that type of situation,” she said. When she joined the George Floyd protests, “Flash bangs fell over my head and I felt like I was in Afghanistan again. Then I realized that I wasn’t. I was home with my friends … all the things that we experienced while we were deployed are literally happening here.”
Protester Aisling Cooney remembered being assaulted by SPD officers during a protest, including being thrown against a wall and arrested without cause. Cooney and others who were detained said they were denied medical care, food, and water. “It was very clear that SPD and officers at King County jail intended to do as much damage as possible. They laughed about it, mocked, and verbally antagonized us during this abuse,” she said.
Koehler concluded the event by saying the lawsuit was important for the protection of free speech and the right to protest. “We look forward to this battle. Bring it on Seattle, and the state of Washington, because we are going to hold you accountable.”
When asked to comment on the lawsuit, spokesperson for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office Dan Nolte said, “We intend to investigate these alleged claims and will defend the City in this matter.”
In an email, Mike Faulk, Deputy Director of Communications for Washington State Governor’s Office said, “We have not yet had a chance to review this filing from Friday.”
Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Featured image: Luke and Matt Taylor, brother and father respectively of Summer Taylor, stand on either side of attorney Karen Koehler at Friday’s media event. (Photo: Mark Van Streefkerk)