by Carolyn Bick
A young man is on a ventilator at Harborview Medical Center, following his arrest for alleged property damage outside the East Precinct, during a protest in support of voting rights and against systemic racism in Capitol Hill on Nov. 4, 2020. The Emerald briefly touched on the incident in a story published yesterday, but misidentified the person as woman, based on the immediately available information.
The young man has since been identified as 30-year-old Kel Murphy-Duford, according to a Converge Media interview shared in full with the Emerald. In this same interview, Murphy-Duford’s lawyers said that multiple protestors who don’t know each other told them they saw officers “tackle and throw” Murphy-Duford to the ground, and that at least five officers “jumped” on top of Murphy-Duford, as he was lying unconscious on the ground. Bodyworn video released by the Seattle Police Department appears to show Murphy-Duford unresponsive, after the officers arrest him.
Emergency personnel told Murphy-Duford’s husband that he had a seizure and was suffering from “low oxygen” — but Murphy-Duford does not have a history of seizures, said a source who knows the man. It is also unclear whether or not Murphy-Duford was responsive the entire time officers were arresting him.
SPD later revised their SPD Blotter entry about the arrest to claim that Murphy-Duford’s alleged seizure was “potentially related to a substance the subject had ingested prior to police contact,” but his lawyers told the Emerald in an email that “[n]o one has released ANY medical information to [the Force Investigation Team (FIT)] or SPD. Doctors have not indicated at any point that there is any ‘substance’ responsible for our client’s condition.”
Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers made arrests last night just before 10 p.m. outside the East Precinct, according to what appears to be street camera video shared by a Twitter user. In a different video captured by the same Twitter user, SPD officers cite “property damage” as a justification for Murphy-Duford’s arrest. They appear to be referring to the wall erected around the East Precinct. It is unclear in either video what Murphy-Duford is doing at the time officers decide to arrest him.
This second video shows the moment just before Murphy-Duford falls to the ground and police begin to arrest him. From the vantage point of the video, it is unclear whether Murphy-Duford was unresponsive or possibly unconscious, during his arrest, and whether officers pushed him to the ground or he fell.
The street camera video appears to show Murphy-Duford lying on the street for about 10 minutes, before emergency personnel get to the scene. In another video shared on Twitch, it appears to take another several minutes for emergency personnel to assess his condition and put him into an emergency vehicle for transport. This process can be seen from a little before the halfway point of the Twitch video.
A source who knows Murphy-Duford contacted the Emerald on the morning of Nov. 5 to tell them that the young man’s husband was told his spouse was on a ventilator, as he was suffering from “low oxygen,” following a seizure. This source said Murphy-Duford’s husband told them that the young man does not have a history of seizures.
The SPD Blotter summary of the arrests says that protestors were engaging in “obstruction, pedestrian interference, property damage, resisting arrest, and assaulting an officer.” The Blotter says Murphy-Duford was arrested for “property damage,” but does not detail what kind. Police arrested seven protestors in total, including one person who was wanted in connection with two felony cases, the SPD Blotter says. However, the SPD Blotter does not say what these felony cases were.
In a late afternoon Converge Media interview shared in full with the Emerald, Office of Police Accountability (OPA) Dir. Andrew Myerberg told Converge Media journalist Omari Salisbury that, based on what he saw from both a video referenced in this article, as well as bodyworn camera video, he will not be initiating an investigation.
Myerberg said that none of the videos he reviewed showed “clear, potential misconduct,” and that the demonstrator was wearing a helmet and there was “no indication that the protestor’s head makes contact with the pavement.” He also said that Murphy-Duford was “moving around and resisting against the officers when they were trying to handcuff him” for about 30 seconds, after what Myerberg calls “the takedown.”
However, Myerberg stressed that he has only gotten to review video, at this point, and said that does not mean no misconduct occurred.
“None of that means that it was consistent with policy, necessarily, but what I am looking for is, ‘Is there clear misconduct, at this time?’ And the answer, from my perspective, is, ‘No,’” Myerberg said in his interview with Salisbury. “That being said, there could be witness accounts or other information that comes up that investigation is warranted. … We are waiting for that. We just haven’t received it, yet.”
Myerberg did not rule out the OPA investigating the incident, based on a complaint, and believes that the OPA will get a complaint about it.
In another Converge Media interview shared in full with the Emerald, one of the injured young man’s lawyers, Karen Koehler, of Stritmatter Firm, told Salisbury that they had not filed an OPA complaint, but had filed a tort claim. Koehler said that others have come forward to tell her and Murphy-Duford’s other lawyer, Sarah Lippek, of Cedar Law, what they saw happen to the young man.
“Kel went with their protest buddy to the protest. When they got around to the East Precinct last night, the protest buddy says that both of them were basically jumped. And as he was going down, Kel was going down separately,” Koehler said.
Another witness told Murphy-Duford’s lawyers that they heard “a crack, as his head hit the pavement. At that time, Kel went limp, and facedown, and stopped moving. Never moved again.”
“As Kel was not moving, Kel was jumped on by five more officers, who are believed to be bicycle officers … who were engaging in other behavior to arrest this unconscious young person,” Koehler said. “At that point, the protestors around started yelling, and … the police got up, they kept the protestors at bay. They would not allow the protestors to assist, including medic protestors. They shined their lights, in order to keep the protestors from getting good footage. This took 15 minutes, while Kel continued to be unconscious, facedown, flat on the pavement, with not one officer rendering assistance.”
Lippek also noted that “it is not impossible that all the bodyworn video has not been reviewed by OPA yet, just because of the way individual officers tag and catalogue their bodyworn.” She also said it is unclear whether all the bodyworn video cameras were on “for the important moments.”
“We have spoken with five people, at this point, who were present and saw what happened. We have gotten messages from many more people who were present and saw what happened,” Lippek said. “What the witnesses, the eyewitnesses, who were present have said — even people who don’t know each other — their accounts match, in that all the witnesses we have spoken to, so far, say that Kel was tackled and thrown to the ground.”
Lippek said that people who watched said that it looked as though Murphy-Duford’s head hit the ground hard, and that he stopped moving, after that. Lippek said witnesses also told her and Koehler that a significant amount of time passed, before medical personnel arrived.
Lippek said Harborview told them that Murphy-Duford is currently in “serious” condition. Earlier, Murphy-Duford’s condition was “critical,” which is a step above “serious” in Harborview’s terminology, according to Lippek.
Lippek said that she and Koehler would continue to talk with witnesses and will be filing an official OPA complaint.
SPD released bodyworn video footage in the early evening on Nov. 5. After appearing to struggle for a few seconds, Murphy-Duford falls still, as officers yell, “Stop fighting us.”
Officers continue to move and try to give commands to the apparently unconscious Murphy-Duford, before asking, “Do you have any injuries?”
“Are you okay? Wake up, wake up,” one officer says, before the group realizes Murphy-Duford is having some sort of medical emergency. One officer identifies the emergency as a seizure, but another officer later says they can’t be sure about.
He “was definitely fighting the whole time?” one officer asks another, who corroborates that Murphy-Duford “was definitely fighting the whole time, yes.”
The officers check to make sure that Murphy-Duford is breathing, and tell him that medics are on their way. The video shows the officers looking through Murphy-Duford’s backpack for any medical identification or bracelets. It appears they are looking for information that might indicate a seizure condition. In the background, a dispatcher’s says that emergency personnel will want to know if Murphy-Duford is “actively seizing.”
Murphy-Duford currently remains intubated at Harborview Medical Center.
Lippek later forwarded the Emerald Koehler’s response to SPD’s claim that Murphy-Duford had “ingested” something that caused his current medical state. In the statement, Koehler calls the claim “libelous,” and says the SPD is trying to shift the blame for Murphy-Duford’s “life threatening injuries” away from the officers who arrested him, and onto Murphy-Duford himself, while he is lying unconscious in the hospital.
“Not that it is anyone’s business. But Kel has diabetes and takes insulin. The outrageousness of the SPD’s blog entry is magnified by the absolute fact that – SPD has not received any information from Harborview physicians regarding Kel’s current condition due to HIPAA,” Koehler says in the statement, referring to the United States’ medical privacy laws. “Since Kel is currently intubated and unconscious he has certainly not given his doctors permission to speak to SPD. Nor has his husband.”
Lippek also forwarded letter she and Koehler co-authored to the City of Seattle, regarding Murphy-Duford’s arrest. The letter asks whether the Force Investigation Team (FIT) and OPA are in process, and serves as a spoliation notice to the department not to destroy or alter any evidence of yesterday’s events.”
Lippek and Koehler ask that anyone with information about the incident come forward to speak with them.
There has been a GoFundMe page set up for Murphy-Duford, who remains intubated at Harborview, as of Nov. 6.
The Emerald has asked SPD for clarification about the conditions of Murphy-Duford’s arrest, specifically regarding his responsiveness, during his arrest and what he was doing that constituted property damage. The Emerald has also asked SPD for clarification regarding the arrest of the person allegedly connected to two felony cases, and will update this story if more information becomes available.
As of Nov. 6, SPD still has not responded to request for comment.
Author’s Note: A transmasculine person is not necessarily the same as a transgender man. Please see this op-ed for more information, regarding transmasculinity. It was originally necessary for the Emerald to identify the injured young man in this story as a transmasculine man, because all other reports — including the Emerald, as indicated at the beginning of this story — had misgendered him, saying he was a woman.
Featured image is a screenshot from what appears to be the street camera video referenced in this article.
Before you move on to the next story . . . please consider that the article you just read was made possible by the generous financial support of donors and sponsors. The Emerald is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet with the mission of offering a wider lens of our region’s most diverse, least affluent, and woefully under-reported communities. Please consider making a one-time gift or, better yet, joining our Rainmaker Family by becoming a monthly donor. Your support will help provide fair pay for our journalists and enable them to continue writing the important stories that offer relevant news, information, and analysis. Support The Emerald!