Seattle teacher to use settlement money for student Black Lives Matter cause

Jun 14, 2016, 9:33 AM

The man who received $100,000 for being pepper sprayed by Seattle police at a Martin Luther King Jr. rally will use that money to further social justice causes.

Related: Victims wait on the side of the road for more than an hour for SPD

The Seattle Times reports that Seattle teacher Jesse Hagopian had just finished giving a speech on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2015. He called his mother who would soon be arriving in downtown Seattle to give him a ride to his son’s second birthday party. Hagopian was on his cellphone crossing the street when Seattle police officer Sandra DeLaFuente hit him in the face with a stream of pepper spray. The incident was caught on video. It led to an investigation into the incident and a $500,000 claim filed by Hagopian.

“I was hit in the face with pepper spray — burning my ear, my mouth, and my eyes,” Hagopian said at a press conference with representatives of the King County NAACP. “The pain was excruciating. I spent the entire birthday party pouring milk on my face — frightening my kids, not sure what to tell them.”

Hagopian, who works at Garfield High School, will not keep his $100,000 settlement.

“While that money isn’t justice, that money is going to help the movement for justice,” Hagopian said.

“I want to announce today that I am using the money to help fund an initiative in our city called ‘Black Education Matters,’ a student activist award,” he said. “And I am going to use the money for community organizations who are in the pursuit of racial justice, to support Black Lives Matter initiatives, and social justice initiatives in our city that can help in the fight for real justice.”

Hagopian further said that while he did receive $100,000, the sum falls short of true consequences.

“I did reach a settlement with the City of Seattle for $100,000,” he said. “But I want it to be clear that $100,000 is not justice. The office of professional accountability did rule in my favor. It did say that this officer violated policy and should face a suspension — a one-day suspension.”

“Here is somebody that assaults me on the street — Officer Sandra DeLaFuente assaults me on the street — with no provocation, sprays me in the face with pepper spray,” Hagopian said. “And the harsh recommendation is one day of suspension … even that was too much justice for the chief of police because she intervened to say that Officer DeLaFuente would receive only a verbal warning that wouldn’t even stay in a file. That is the great Liberal reformer police chief we have in Seattle. It’s really an outrage.”

Hagopian also implied that he was sprayed because of the content of his speech that day.

“I was peacefully raising my voice for justice on Martin Luther King Day last year,” he said. “I gave the final rally speech at the main event that I called out people who pretend to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and then disparage the Black Lives Matter movement — as if he wouldn’t be in the streets supporting it. As if he hadn’t been arrested over 40 times in the struggle for racial, economic and social justice. Apparently, not all the police officers liked that speech.”

KIRO 7’s Henry Rosoff’s reporting contributed to this report. See his video here.

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