Panel: Seattle police should apologize for protest violence

Apr 18, 2023, 7:31 PM | Updated: Apr 19, 2023, 8:21 am

FILE - Police pepper spray Black Lives Matter protesters near Seattle Central Community College on ...

FILE - Police pepper spray Black Lives Matter protesters near Seattle Central Community College on July 25, 2020, in Seattle. The Seattle Police Department should “offer a sincere, public apology” for its violent response to people demonstrating after the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a panel of police, citizens and accountability experts has concluded in a final review and report released Tuesday, April 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

The Seattle Police Department should “offer a sincere, public apology” for its violent response to people demonstrating after the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a panel of officers, citizens and accountability experts concluded in a report released Tuesday.

In its fourth and final review of the Seattle police response to the months of racial justice protests in 2020, the city’s Office of Inspector review panel found officers and commanders repeatedly failed to recognize the difference between the throngs of protesters exercising their First Amendment rights and the few troublemakers, The Seattle Times reported.

Panelists — who included community members, police accountability proponents, and police officers and commanders — also acknowledged the “longstanding trauma and fear” many have of law enforcement as a result of racism and discrimination within the department.

The police actions that caused the protests, as well as the inability of the police department and the city “to immediately craft particularized responses to the needs of peaceful protesters while addressing threats to public order and safety,” have had “deep and lasting” effects, Seattle Inspector General Lisa Judge said.

A public apology from the police department would be a significant step in building trust between police and Seattle communities, the report said.

In response, the department referred to a 2021 public letter from Chief Adrian Diaz, who said he was “deeply sorry” to those who had lost trust in police or were hurting. He also apologized “to members of the community and the department alike who bear the physical and emotional scars” of the 2020 protests.

“Reform means that we accept the responsibility that is ours to bear, we learn from our experience, and we consistently strive to do better,” Diaz wrote.

As for the panel’s fourth round of recommendations on tactics, accountability, communication, leadership and rebuilding community trust, the department said it has already adopted many of them. Officials did not provide any specific examples.

The department also wrote that they’re looking forward to discussions with city partners to be better prepared to facilitate these types of events in the future.

The final review focused on Seattle police response to one protest in July and two in September 2020.

On July 25, “panelists identified what appeared to be a ‘wholesale use of force’ against the crowd, despite the protest being largely peaceful,” the report concluded. The protest, involving more than 5,000 people, was over then-President Donald Trump’s announcement that he intended to send federal agents to Seattle.

At a Sept. 7 march and protest outside the Seattle Police Officers Guild headquarters, officers charged at protesters, using their bicycles, pepper spray and “blast balls” to shove protesters back onto themselves, creating a crush.

During a Sept. 23 march of about 200 people — sparked by a Kentucky grand jury’s decision not to indict officers for the shooting death of Breonna Taylor — one officer was struck with a bat while another officer rolled his bicycle over a protester’s head.

The panel acknowledged that after weeks of protests, officers were exhausted, stressed and on the defensive, all of which added to tension on the streets, the report said.

Police were receiving some inaccurate or overblown intelligence reports from sources ranging from undercover officers to the Department of Homeland Security that emphasized the existence of so-called black bloc protesters intent on violence, according to the panel.

The panel also criticized officers’ apparently intentional targeting of journalists and civil rights observers during some of the protests.

In all, the panel made 139 recommendations to the department and city officials “intended to prevent such events from happening again.”

“SPD must truly protect and serve the community in ways that are just, fair and supportive,” the report concludes.



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Panel: Seattle police should apologize for protest violence