Judge Rules City Must Pay Close to $82,000 to BLM Seattle-King County Lawyers for Case Against SPD

by Elizabeth Turnbull

In addition to resolving other motions, a judge ruled last Thursday, Jan. 28, that the City of Seattle must pay roughly $81,997 to attorneys for Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County (BLMSKC) for some of the costs of pursuing contempt-of-court violations against the Seattle Police Department (SPD) for inappropriate use of certain crowd-control weapons on peaceful protesters.

The sum was substantially less than the $264,000 in costs that the lawyers for BLMSKC were requesting to be awarded from the City. Recently, U.S. District Judge Richard Jones found SPD in contempt of court for violating an earlier injunction preventing police from using force against peaceful protesters as costs have racked up for BLMSKC attorneys’ overtime. 

While Jones ordered the City to pay BLMSKC lawyers a smaller sum this week, he denied a sanction request from BLMSKC which would have required SPD to submit use of force reports and body camera footage to BLMSKC within five days of any deployment of a crowd-control weapon. 

Lisa Nowlin, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which filed the lawsuit along with attorneys from the Seattle law firm of Perkins Coie and the Fred T. Korematsu Center at Seattle University, said that the denial of the sanction request was disappointing. Nowlin argued it would have contributed to further transparency and greater compliance with a preliminary injunction (PI), which banned the use of various crowd-control weapons within certain conditions.

“We are disappointed that Judge Jones declined our request that SPD submit use of force reports and body worn video any time it uses less-lethal weapons,” Nowlin told the Emerald in an email. “We are still committed to doing everything we can to protect the First Amendment rights of protesters and holding the City accountable for its compliance, or lack thereof, with the PI.”

Early in December, Jones found SPD in contempt of court for its use of crowd-control weapons. Jones issued a 27-page order in response to a motion by BLMSKC, finding a total of four “clear violations” of the injunction and four instances where officers’ use of force complied with his order.

All other instances of the 122 submitted by BLMSKC were too close to call, which Jones said did not reflect well on SPD. 

While Jones denied the sanction request this week, he also denied a motion from the City to reconsider the contempt finding, writing in his order, “[I]f the Court had more evidence, many of these ‘remaining uses’ may be in fact be ‘clear violation,’ making the City’s contempt even more grave than previously thought,” Jones was quoted in a Seattle Times article

Ultimately, the motions resolutions on Thursday do not end the lawsuit, and the ACLU said in a press release about Thursday’s developments, “[I]f there are future violations of the Court’s Preliminary Injunctions, the plaintiffs may take further action.”

Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the U.S. and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing so consistently.

Featured Image: The Seattle Police Department let off flash grenades and sprayed pepper spray in an effort to disperse protestors on May 30 during a protest over the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police on May 25. (Photo: Susan Fried)

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