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Black Lives Matter, ACLU say SPD ambushed peaceful demonstrators

Police disperse demonstrators during protests in Seattle on July 25, 2020. Police and demonstrators clash as protests continue in the city following reports that federal agents may have been sent to the city. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

The City of Seattle “willfully and brazenly violated the preliminary injunction.” That’s how the ACLU of Washington and other lawyers for Black Lives Matter demonstrators opened their statement to Federal Judge Richard Jones in their motion calling on the court to find the city in contempt.

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“The lawyers claim Seattle Police ambushed peaceful protesters with a level of violence that surpasses that seen in early June,” the attorneys wrote in the court filing.

When Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County and several protesters first sued the city of Seattle and SPD last month over SPD’s use of crowd control weapons in early June protests, Judge Jones issued a temporary restraining order that’s now a preliminary injunction barring SPD from indiscriminate use of tear gas, pepper spray, or other crowd control weapons against anyone engaging in peaceful protests or demonstrations.

However, the judge made clear the order did not block individual officers from using blast balls, flash-bangs, pepper spray, rubber or foam tipped bullets or other projectiles to take “necessary, reasonable, proportional, and targeted action to protect against a specific imminent threat of physical harm to themselves or identifiable others or to respond to specific acts of violence or destruction of property.”

The new motion claims officers brazenly violated that order, hitting many peaceful protesters with blast balls, pepper spray, and blunt force objects when police indiscriminately used those weapons against the crowd.

“We saw the SPD again just unleash a massive hailstorm of these really violent weapons, and it resulted in some pretty gruesome injuries among protesters and other people who were there,” said Molly Tack-Hooper, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Washington.

Lawyers also point to others who suffered injuries at the hands of police during Saturday’s riot, to journalists who were trampled, medics who were maced while trying to help patients, and legal observers shot at close range with projectiles.

“We’ve got pictures of people with cuts and bruises and chemical burns and welts, who all said that they weren’t doing anything, they weren’t provoking the police in any way,” Tack-Hooper said. “And then with no warning, the police just launched what felt like an assault.”

They note the city will argue SPD’s actions were necessary to defend against explosives, bottles, and other items hurled at officers, but say that shouldn’t hold up since the judge already found “it is unconstitutional to use force against an entire crowd because of the actions of a few specific protesters who individually pose a threat” in his original order.

The filing includes some two dozen declarations from demonstrators who lawyers tell the judge describe “horrific detail” of SPD’s violations, including one woman they say was knocked to the ground and suffered first and second degree burns when cops ten rows back from the line lobbed blast balls indiscriminately into the crowd.

“We have statements from witnesses who said that they were helping somebody up and sprayed in the face with Mace, and continually sprayed until their underwear were soaked and the Mace was dripping down their body and they couldn’t see,” Tack-Hooper said.

On Tuesday, Judge Jones ordered the city of Seattle to respond to the motion by noon Wednesday, July 29. Oral arguments are scheduled for Thursday, July 30.

The legal action over the injunction comes as the city, SPD, and other consent decree parties face a Sunday deadline to deliver impact statements to Judge James Robart about how that ordinance, which he temporarily blocked late Friday, will impact the consent decree and SPD policy.

Robart’s temporary injunction on the city’s new law violates the consent decree according to the Justice Department.

Judge Jones’ injunction on the weapons is in effect through September 30. That one allows SPD to use the crowd control tactics in certain circumstances, while the new city ordinance does not.

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best has said banning their use altogether puts officers and the public at risk.

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