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Man pepper sprayed by Seattle police seeks $500K in damages

Jesse Hagopian, a Seattle high school teacher and activist, has filed a $500,000 claim against the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department after he was pepper sprayed during a protest on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. (Photo: Courtesy)

A Seattle high school teacher and activist has filed a claim against the Seattle Police Department and the city after he was pepper sprayed during a protest on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Video released by an attorney for Jesse Hagopian shows him walking in front of a line of Seattle police officers while talking on the phone. One of the officers releases a stream of spray, hitting him in the side of the face.

“After I answered the call, I felt the piercing pain shoot through my eye, my eardrum, and my nostril, all over my cheek and face,” Hagopian said at a press conference at Seattle City Hall on Wednesday.

Hagopian, a history teacher at Garfield High School, had just finished delivering a speech at an MLK Day rally on the steps of the federal courthouse when he was sprayed, his attorney said.

“We can’t ignore that just minutes after Jesse (was) speaking about how black lives matter, his black life was put in jeopardy by pepper spray,” said James Bible, a well-known civil rights attorney and former president of the Seattle/King County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Bible said Hagopian was on the phone with his mother at the time, discussing plans for his 2-year-old son’s birthday party.

Video of the incident released on Wednesday is only 15 seconds long. Bible said he did not know whether a longer version existed that could give more context to the situation.

“Those 15 seconds speak volumes,” Bible said. “He was clearly on the phone, clearly in the crosswalk, and then clearly on the sidewalk by at least 5 to 15 feet at the time that the pepper spray started to be shot at him and others that were clearly on the sidewalk.”

A longer video posted by The Stranger appears to show the same scene, where Seattle police officers are lined up to protect one of their colleagues who was on the ground injured. The video was filmed from a higher, wider angle, but it does not provide additional context as to what Hagopian may have been doing before he was sprayed.

Bible said he filed a claim against the city and the police department on Wednesday, seeking $500,000 in damages on behalf of his client. He said Hagopian will not participate in any internal investigation, should one be launched by the Seattle Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability.

A spokesperson for the Seattle Police Department declined to comment on the incident, except to say that there is an ongoing investigation into what happened.

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