Judge finds SPD in contempt for violating court order limiting use of crowd control weapons

Dec 7, 2020, 2:51 PM | Updated: Dec 8, 2020, 6:12 am

Seattle protest, crowd control weapons...

Seattle police dispersing pepper spray during a July 2020 protest. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

U.S. District Judge Richard Jones issued a ruling Monday, finding the Seattle Police Department partially in contempt of a preliminary injunction that had sought to limit the use of a handful of crowd control weapons.

Expedited trial date set for ACLU lawsuit over crowd control weapons

Judge Jones’ order covers the use of pepper spray, pepper balls, blast balls, tear gas, and more, excepting life-threatening situations for officers. Over the summer, activists asked that he find SPD in contempt of that order, citing several instances of alleged misuse of pepper spray, pepper balls, and blast balls.

In total, the city was found in violation of this injunction in four separate incidents, while Jones ruled SPD in compliance in another four incidents. A handful of other incidents were categorized as “inconclusive.”

In the case of blast balls, the judge noted that particular weapon was the one that “most concerned him,” labeling it as “the most indiscriminate” of those under review because it poses “a greater collateral danger to peaceful protesters.” Blast balls were used in three of the four violations of the injunction.

On two occasions, SPD officers were found to “have thrown blast balls indiscriminately into crowds” during protests. In one instance on Sept. 7, an officer threw a blast ball into a crowd after a glass shattered, and then “did not account for this in his use of force report.”

During a Sept. 23 protest, an officer “walking several rows back from the front of the police line … grabbed a blast ball and then threw it overhand into a crowd of protesters,” seemingly without provocation, and then also failed to account for that in his report.

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

In a third incident, a bicycle officer threw a blast ball into the middle of a crowd, claiming that strobe lights being used by demonstrators had created an “obvious hazard” for the driver of a patrol car trailing the protest. SPD claimed the blast ball was necessary to “create separation between officers and the crowd,” which doesn’t fall into the “imminent threat of physical harm” exception built into the injunction.

The fourth violation of the crowd control weapons injunction involved the use of pepper spray. In that incident, a bicycle officer rode up behind a retreating group of protesters, who had been instructed by police to move north.

“Yet, for no apparent reason, the officer sprayed them in the face with (pepper) spray,” Jones ruled, pointing out that “at no time was the officer under attack or under threat of attack.”

With the City of Seattle now found in contempt of court, Judge Jones has asked plaintiffs in the lawsuit to submit a brief proposing sanctions for these violations by Dec. 11. The city will also be allowed to file a response by Dec. 18.

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Judge finds SPD in contempt for violating court order limiting use of crowd control weapons