MYNORTHWEST NEWS

‘They brutalized them’: Seattle to pay $10 million to BLM protesters

Jan 25, 2024, 8:42 AM | Updated: 3:31 pm

BLM Protests...

(Photo: Bruce Clayton Tom)

(Photo: Bruce Clayton Tom)

The city of Seattle has agreed to settle for $10 million with more than 50 “Black Lives Matter” protesters — related to the actions Seattle police took during the demonstrations in the summer of 2020.

Bruce Clayton Tom said he went to one of the protests that broke out in early June after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

“I go to these things all the time. I went there to witness it and take pictures. And yeah, it got really violent all of a sudden,” Tom said. “It’s the first time that I ever felt my life was actually threatened. I didn’t expect to go home with my flesh rendered and bleeding.”

BLM Protest

People participating in a protest after George Floyd’s death in Seattle during the summer of 2020. (Photo and videos courtesy of Abie Ekenezar, who attended one of the George Floyd protests)

The police department — led by then-Chief Carmen Best — used aggressive techniques to disperse the crowds, including flash-bang grenades, foam-tipped projectiles and blast balls that explode and emit pepper gas.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Aubreanna Inda, was standing in the middle of a street when a Seattle police blast ball hit her in the chest and exploded, causing her to go into cardiac arrest. Volunteer medics and other protesters performed CPR and brought her to a hospital.

Another man was hospitalized in a coma after being arrested, and a veteran who uses a cane who was “gassed and tackled because he didn’t run away fast enough,” Karen Koehler of the Seattle law firm Stritmatter Kessler Koehler Moore, which represents the protesters, said. Koehler claimed dozens of others suffered hearing loss, broken bones, concussions, severe bruises, PTSD or other injuries.

“A teenager had part of her hand blown off — because they’re less lethal — they won’t kill you. They’ll just maim you,” Koehler told reporters in a hastily arranged media conference Wednesday afternoon. She said, although a settlement was reached Tuesday, the city imposed a “media embargo” for approximately 24 hours.

“I’ve never had a city or a governmental entity of which I’ve seen many impose a media embargo on a condition of a settlement,” said Koehler. “That was a punk, bully move, in my opinion.”

As part of the settlement, Seattle admits no wrongdoing. City Attorney Ann Davison’s office said in a statement that the suit, which was filed more than three years ago in King County Superior Court, “has been a significant drain on the time and resources of the city and would have continued to be so through an estimated three-month trial that was scheduled to begin in May.”

Stritmatter Kessler Koehler Moore claimed in addition to the settlement money, the city spent millions of dollars in defense and expert witness fees, including hundreds of thousands of dollars on forensic doctors to examine the plaintiffs and perform involuntary psychiatric and medical examinations.

Koehler said the city spent $200,000 to hire University of Liverpool Professor Clifford Stott, considered among the world’s foremost crowd policing experts, to analyze the first days of the protests that began in Seattle on May 29, 2020 — four days after Floyd’s death.

“(Stott) had not seen that level of aggressive violent police response against protesters in any democratic state,” Koehler said.

While she acknowledged that “one or two people acted out” she dismissed Seattle police reports of thousands of people rioting. Koehler said SPD “didn’t follow their own protocols — they brutalized these protesters.”

The Seattle Police Department (SPD) has faced intense criticism, on both the local and federal level, for its violent response to the protests. Less than two weeks after the demonstrations began, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order against SPD for the use of tear gas and blast balls against the demonstrators. U.S. District Judge Richard Jones ruled the department had used excessive force and violated protesters’ free speech rights.

“Police cannot interfere with orderly, nonviolent protests because they disagree with the content of the speech,” Jones wrote in his June 2020 ruling.

Just a few months later, Judge Jones found Seattle Police in violation of his court order limiting the use of some crowd control weapons. Jones wrote in a September ruling officers “indiscriminately deployed tear gas, blast balls and pepper spray into crowds of mostly peaceful protesters.” Officers also came under scrutiny over claims they targeted the entire crowd, rather than vandals who were using the protests to damage or destroy property, including burning police cars.

The city argued in pre-trial hearings for this lawsuit that protesters “assumed the risk” of being injured by police when they chose to exercise their First Amendment rights to peacefully protest. But Judge Sandra Widlan rejected that argument, according to court records.

City Attorney Davison called the settlement a “big step toward allowing the city to focus on the important work of today, while moving forward from events four years ago.”

But Abie Ekenezar, a military veteran who was one of the protesters, said she hoped the multi-million-dollar payout sends a message to Seattle’s leaders.

Furhad Sultani, one of the attorneys representing the protesters, told KIRO Newsradio he was also out in the streets nearly four years ago. He hopes the multimillion dollar payout sends a message to Seattle’s leaders.

“If their own expert can tell them that what they did was wrong, they should be able to listen and take accountability right now,” Sultani said.

“I wish the Seattle Police would treat us as a community and not enemy combatants,” Tom said. “We would really like the police to be part of our community and vice versa.”

Asked if he ever plans to attend a protest in Seattle again, Tom got emotional.

“With body armor,” he replied, holding back tears. “But yes, I’m going to go out there again.”

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