Why Seattle police are still allowed to use pepper spray, tear gas despite ban

Jul 2, 2020, 6:40 AM | Updated: 10:20 am

Seattle police, pepper spray, tear gas...

Seattle police block a street with their bikes in the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone early Wednesday. (AP Photo/Aron Ranen)

(AP Photo/Aron Ranen)

Since Seattle police reentered the East Precinct area on Wednesday, officers have reported using pepper spray, despite a temporary restraining order against the use of crowd control weapons issued by a federal judge, and a full ban passed by city council. That being so, SPD is technically still allowed to use crowd control weapons in certain scenarios, at least for the next few weeks.

ACLU files lawsuit against City of Seattle over police violence at protests

The temporary restraining order was issued in mid-June, and restricts officers from using crowd control weapons against anyone “peacefully engaging in protests or demonstrations.” That encompasses the use of tear gas, pepper spray, flash bangs, blast balls, rubber bullets, and more.

But exceptions were also built into the order, allowing the use of these weapons provided it’s part of a “reasonable, proportional, and targeted action to protect against a specific imminent threat of physical harm … or to respond to specific acts of violence or destruction of property.”

Tear gas is mentioned specifically in those exceptions, and may only be used in extremely specific scenarios where “efforts to subdue a threat by using alternative crowd measures, including pepper spray … have been exhausted and are ineffective,” or if SPD Chief Carmen Best determines it’s the only “reasonable alternative available.”

For the latter exception, Chief Best can only approve “limited and targeted use.” The order also mandates that tear gas “not be deployed indiscriminately into a crowd,” and is instead required to be “targeted at the specific imminent threat of physical harm.”

Opinion: Believe what you see — Seattle police are choosing violence

These restrictions will soon operate concurrently with a full citywide ban on the use, storage, and purchasing of crowd control weapons, unanimously approved by Seattle City Council in mid-June. That legislation was returned unsigned by Mayor Jenny Durkan last Friday, but also without a veto.

City regulations mandate that unsigned bills go into effect 30 days after they’re returned by the Mayor’s Office. Under those rules, Seattle police will no longer be able to use pepper spray, tear gas, and other crowd control weapons beginning on July 26.

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