Tag: protests

Seattle Seeks Reversal of Contempt Order in “Less-Lethal” Weapons Case

By Paul Kiefer

On Monday, the office of city attorney Pete Holmes asked Federal District Court Judge Richard Jones to reverse his December 7 ruling that the city acted in contempt of a court order restricting the Seattle Police Department’s use of force at protests. In a motion filed with the Federal District Court of Western Washington, Holmes argued that Jones’ initial ruling held the city to an unreasonable standard for compliance with the court’s orders, and that the court lacked strong evidence to support the contempt ruling.

Judge Jones’ ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed in late September by a group of plaintiffs, chiefly Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County (BLMSKC), who alleged that SPD had failed to rein in its officers’ use of “less-lethal” weapons—particularly blast balls—at protests in the late summer and early fall. Specifically, the plaintiffs accused SPD of violating an injunction Judge Jones issued in July restricting officers’ use of force against peaceful demonstrators, journalists and legal observers.

In his December 7 decision, Jones didn’t accept the plaintiffs’ arguments outright, but he ruled that four clear instances in which SPD officers violated his injunction by using weapons such as blast balls “indiscriminately” against protesters was enough to place the city in contempt. Jones also noted in his ruling that these four documented cases were probably not the extent of SPD’s violations of his orders.

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If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter. Earlier this month, we took a look back at just some of the work we’ve been able to do thanks to generous contributions from our readers, but those pieces represent just a handful of the hundreds of stories we’ve published this year.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely and exclusively by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

After Judge Jones ruled the city in contempt, the court gave BLMSKC and the other plaintiffs four days to propose sanctions for the city. Their proposals were mild: the plaintiffs suggested that the court require the city to distribute copies of Judge Jones’ December 7th opinion to all SPD officers, “accompanied by clear instructions about what conduct is prohibited”; send use-of-force reports to the plaintiffs within five days of any incident in which SPD uses less-lethal weapons against protesters; and pay the plaintiffs’ attorney fees, which totaled $263,708.

Continue reading “Seattle Seeks Reversal of Contempt Order in “Less-Lethal” Weapons Case”

Community Police Commission Questions Proposed SPD Policy Changes

 

A commercially available pepper-ball launcher, one of the “less lethal” weapons SPD wants to use for crowd control. Image via Amazon.

By Paul Kiefer

Members of Seattle’s Community Police Commission (CPC), one of three city-level police accountability bodies, expected to spend an hour of their Wednesday morning meeting asking questions of Seattle Police Department Assistant Chief Lesley Cordner, who appeared at their last meeting to present an array of changes the department has proposed for its crowd management and use-of-force policies. Those proposed changes include the creation of a special team to investigate use of force at protests and allowing officers to use pepper-ball launchers to target individual protesters they believe are breaking the law as an alternative to blast balls, which can hurt protesters standing nearby.

But Cordner’s second appearance before the CPC did not go as planned; in fact, she didn’t appear at all. Instead, a post appeared on SPD’s Blotter blog on Wednesday night inviting questions and suggestions from the public about the proposed revisions.

SPD first announced plans to revamp some of its policies in a blog post in late October, responding to both public criticism of the department’s response to Black Lives Matter protests and recommendations from the city’s police oversight agencies, including the CPC. In that post, SPD said the policy changes are intended to reduce the visible police presence at protests “when safe and feasible”; to ensure that journalists, legal observers and medics can work freely during protests; to prioritize de-escalation; and to create “new strategies to address individuals taking unlawful actions in otherwise lawful crowds.” The post also claimed that the department had already made “significant changes” to their crowd management tactics; the policy revisions would theoretically cement those changes.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter. Earlier this month, we took a look back at just some of the work we’ve been able to do thanks to generous contributions from our readers, but those pieces represent just a handful of the hundreds of stories we’ve published this year.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely and exclusively by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

Any proposed revisions to SPD’s policies have to undergo a review and revision process that involves the CPC and other oversight bodies, namely the Office of Police Accountability, the Office of the Inspector General, and the Department of Justice, which oversees reforms at SPD through an arrangement called a consent decree. SPD didn’t share the draft policy revisions with the CPC until shortly before Cordner’s introductory presentation at their meeting on December 2, so commissioners sent a list of questions about the policy to SPD on Tuesday, December 15, in advance of Cordner’s scheduled appearance the following day.

The questions were uniformly critical of SPD’s proposed policy changes. Commissioners saw little overlap between SPD’s proposals and the list of policy recommendations they issued in August. One of the questions pointed out that the revised policies would still allow SPD to use blast balls, which the CPC has pressed the department to abandon since 2016. Another noted that the revisions would actually add a weapon—a pepper-ball launcher, which is akin to a paintball gun—to SPD’s arsenal instead of removing weapons. (SPD told PubliCola on Thursday that some specialty units were already allowed to use pepper-ball launchers; the new policy would only expand the number of officers authorized to use them). A third asked why the revised policies didn’t raise the requirements for SPD to issue a dispersal order at protests, despite both the CPC and OIG raising concerns about unreasonable dispersal orders since last summer. Continue reading “Community Police Commission Questions Proposed SPD Policy Changes”

Police Accountability Agencies to Review SPD’s New Protest Policies

By Paul Kiefer

At the end of October, after months of criticism from the city council, police oversight bodies and protesters, the Seattle Police Department announced in a blog post that they had “undertaken significant changes” to their protest management tactics. The post promised that SPD would reduce its visible presence at demonstrations to help quell tensions; that their officers would respect the roles of journalists, legal observers and protest medics; and that their protest response would focus on de-escalation and, when necessary, target individual law-breakers instead of largely law-abiding crowds.

But for more than a month, that promise of changes to SPD’s use-of-force and crowd management tactics seemed hollow. To have any real significance or consequence, the changes need to be enshrined in SPD’s policy manual. An crucial early step in that process took place last Wednesday, when SPD Assistant Chief Lesley Cordner appeared before the Community Police Commission (CPC), the civilian oversight body tasked with providing input on police reform, to present a slate of proposed changes to SPD’s protest response and use-of-force policies.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter. Earlier this month, we took a look back at just some of the work we’ve been able to do thanks to generous contributions from our readers, but those pieces represent just a handful of the hundreds of stories we’ve published this year.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely and exclusively by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

The proposed changes include an update to the manual emphasizing the importance of the right to protest and  acknowledging that “the unlawful acts of some members of a crowd do not automatically turn an assembly from peaceable to unpeaceable.” They would also create a special team to investigate use of force at protests; specifically forbid officers from placing their knee on the neck of a person they’re arresting (a response to a well-publicized incident at a protest on May 30th); and allow officers to use pepper-ball launchers to target individual protesters they believe are breaking the law as an alternative to blast balls, which can hurt protesters standing nearby.

Other proposed revisions would require SPD command staff who lead protest responses (incident commanders) to provide explanations after the fact for any decision to issue a dispersal order to a crowd, and requires the incident commanders a “reasonable effort to ensure that the order is heard or received.”

According to Cordner, the department brought the tactical changes into the field before consulting with Judge James Robart, the federal district court judge who oversees police reforms mandated by a 10-year-old settlement agreement between Seattle and the Department of Justice known as a consent decree. Any changes to SPD’s use-of-force or protest management policies require Robart’s stamp of approval. Cordner’s presentation to the CPC is a step in that direction: the CPC, as well as the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), will review the proposed changes and suggest edits before a final draft of the policy revisions goes before Robart.

In response to last summer’s protests, the CPC, OPA and OIG issued their own recommendations for changes to SPD policy. During her presentation, Cordner claimed that the proposed changes to SPD policy reflected many of the accountability partners’ recommendations, including those the CPC issued in August.

That is only nominally true:  the current draft revisions do not include many of the OPA and OIG’s most crucial recommendations, including a wholesale end to the use of tear gas for crowd control and greater restrictions on when SPD can declare an unlawful assembly. For its part, the CPC generally avoided suggesting specific policy changes; Cordner called the one clear policy proposal included in the CPC’s recommendations—that SPD document every decision to issue a dispersal order and make the documents public within 24 hours of an incident—an “infeasible” proposition.

The CPC will have a chance to ask Cordner questions about the current draft revisions during their regular twice-monthly meeting on December 16 and will respond and suggest their own changes next year. The OPA and OIG will also have opportunities to weigh in on the proposed changes. Both offices began reviewing SPD’s protest response policies to identify areas for improvement during last summer’s protests; those reviews will play a crucial role in shaping their suggested policy revisions.

After the CPC issues a response, they will work with SPD, the OIG, the OIG and other accountability leadership to piece together a final slate of policy revisions. That final draft will go before Judge Robart in early 2021; if he approves to the changes, SPD’s policies could catch up with what they say are already their current tactics next year.

 

Federal District Court Judge Finds Seattle in Contempt of Crowd Control Injunction

By Paul Kiefer

On Monday, Federal District Court Judge Richard Jones found the city of Seattle in contempt of an injunction he issued in June forbidding the Seattle Police Department  from using force against peaceful protesters. According to Durkan spokesperson Kelsey Nyland, the ruling is the first contempt finding against the city in recent memory; within the next week, the court will begin considering possible penalties.

The contempt finding is the latest development in a protracted legal battle between the city and Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County (BLMSKC). Judge Jones first issued the injunction after BLMSKC and a group of individual plaintiffs, represented by attorneys from the ACLU of Washington, Seattle University School of Law’s Korematsu Center, and Seattle law firm Perkins Coie, sued the city and SPD for using excessive force in its response to the first wave of protests last summer. In June, Jones sided with BLMKSC and issued a temporary injunction prohibiting officers from using a variety of “less-lethal” weapons, including blast balls, pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets, against nonviolent protesters.  He also found that some officers had used force in response to the message of the protests themselves, not any perceived threat to their safety or to property.

A month later, BLMSKC returned to his court to ask Judge Jones to find SPD in contempt of the injunction after the department allegedly targeted journalists, medics and legal observers at a Capitol Hill protest on July 25. That motion never received a hearing; instead, the city’s attorneys and BLMSKC agreed to expand the injunction. The expanded court order explicitly prohibited SPD from targeting journalists, medics and legal observers, and it restricted officers’ use of less-lethal weapons even further; for instance, it forbade officers from using these weapons to move crowds.

Judge Jones’ new finding is the result of a second motion for contempt that BLMSKC filed against the city at the end of September. In the motion, the group’s attorneys alleged that SPD officers violated the new, more restrictive injunction during their responses to protests in August and September, including at a rally for Summer Taylor, a Seattle protester who died after being struck by a car, on August 26 and at a protest outside the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) headquarters on August 7.

David A. Perez, a partner at Perkins Coie, said in a statement after the ruling: “This ruling reaffirms that the basic principle that protesters have a right to exercise their First Amendment freedoms without fear that the City will retaliate with violence, and serves as a reminder that the City cannot violate the Court’s orders without consequences. We will continue to take violations of the Court’s orders seriously.”

“Asking the Court to find the City in contempt was not an easy decision on our part.  But after witnessing repeated and blatant violations of protesters’ constitutional rights, we had to act.  This ruling reaffirms that the basic principle that protesters have a right to exercise their First Amendment freedoms without fear that the City will retaliate with violence, and serves as a reminder that the City cannot violate the Court’s orders without consequences. We will continue to take violations of the Court’s orders seriously.”

According to Robert Christie, an outside attorney representing the city in the case, SPD’s actions were justified. In his arguments at a hearing on November 18, Christie said SPD officers were instructed to use less-lethal weapons in response to threats to their safety. The city’s legal team also argued that it wasn’t SPD’s fault if individual officers disobeyed the injunction. To shore up their claim, the team filed declarations from SPD commanders who described briefing their officers on the injunction before they responded protests.

In his ruling on Monday, Judge Jones categorically dismissed the city’s argument that it wasn’t liable for the actions of individual SPD officers. After calling the city’s arguments “novel and innovative,” he pointed out that “the City has already agreed that violations by individual officers are nonetheless violations of the [injunctions]” when it agreed to both previous court orders, setting the stage for his contempt findings.

Judge Jones’ decision to find the city in contempt rests on four instances in which the court determined that individual SPD officers used less-lethal weapons in violation of the court’s orders. Three of those violations involved officers using pepper spray and blast balls indiscriminately against protesters. In the final case, Judge Jones noted that SPD Lieutenant John Brooks, who frequently coordinates the department’s protest response, ordered an officer to use a blast ball to “create space” between officers and protesters; that, the judge wrote, was not a justified use of force.

While acknowledging that SPD’s tactics had become “more restrained” since June, Judge Jones was quick to emphasize that the four clear, documented violations were more than enough to justify his contempt ruling. “They were not at the boundary, overstepping ever so slightly or ‘technically,'” he wrote. “They violated the substantive terms of the Orders by a clear and convincing margin.” He added that the four clear violations were probably not the full extent of SPD’s breach of the court’s order, pointing out that the city hasn’t yet provided body-worn video footage from several protests that might reveal other misconduct.

Seattle is now the second city found in contempt of a federal court order limiting police officers’ use of force in protest management. On December 1st, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Marco Hernandez found the city of Portland in contempt of a similar injunction he issued on June 26th; that order also stemmed from a lawsuit against the city by a group of protesters at the beginning of last summer.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the city have until December 11th to send a proposal for consequences to the court, and the city can file a response to those suggestions before December 18th. If the court imposes a fine on the city, those dollars will come from the Judgment and Claims Fund, into which multiple departments—including SPD—pay each year.

Mayor Asks for Year-End SPD Budget Boost, Budget Chair Responds: “I Don’t Believe This Is the Time”

Image via Seattle City Council Flickr page.

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Jenny Durkan has asked the city council to lift more than a dozen restrictions on Seattle Police Department spending in 2020 so that SPD can pay for overtime expenses accrued this year, including—as the fiscal note prepared by the executive City Budget Office describes it—”exceptional budget pressures due to the utilization of overtime in response to on-going protests and demonstrations and increased separation pay-outs as officers have left the force late in the year.”

As part of the city’s 2020 rebalancing package, the city council passed a resolution that said the council “will not support any budget amendments to increase the SPD’s budget to offset overtime expenditures above the funds budgeted in 2020 or 2021.”

This year’s fourth-quarter supplemental budget includes additional police expenditures in 2020 that would add more than $5 million in SPD spending to the rebalanced budget the city adopted in August—a budget Durkan unsuccessfully vetoed over the issue of police funding. The legislation indicates that the mayor’s office believes some of that money will be reimbursed by FEMA as part of a COVID relief package.

The legislation would also lift a number of provisos relating to out-of-order layoffs, in recognition of the fact that layoffs will be subject to bargaining and can’t happen this year, so the officers who would be subject to layoffs must keep getting paid through the rest of 2020. The council acknowledged earlier this year that this was a possibility.

The legislation has to go through the budget committee, and ordinarily would be sponsored by the budget committee chair. But there’s a problem: The budget chair, Teresa Mosqueda, tells PubliCola that she does not “believe this is the time to lift the provisos or allow for additional spending authority” for SPD. During Monday morning’s council briefing, Mosqueda elaborated: “As this council has [made] very clear, we… want to make sure that we’re interrupting the process and the practice of SPD specifically coming back to ask for overtime dollars.”

SPD, Mosqueda said, made it clear earlier this year that they would fund overtime, as well as jobs the council has directed SPD to cut through “out of order” layoffs, through its existing budget; the resolution and provisos were a way of making sure that they did so. To come back now and ask for money—more than $3 million—violates both the letter and the spirit of the 2020 budget (which Durkan attempted, unsuccessfully, to veto), Mosqueda says.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter. Earlier this month, we took a look back at just some of the work we’ve been able to do thanks to generous contributions from our readers, but those pieces represent just a handful of the hundreds of stories we’ve published this year.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely and exclusively by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

“It’s no secret to the mayor or to the police department that council passed a resolution during our summer budget process that said the council will not support any budget increase … above the funds budgeted for 2020 or 2021,” Mosqueda told PubliCola on Sunday. “No other department is coming back to council and asking for additional spending authority or to [tell us] that they’ve already spent all their money and need reimbursement.”

The mayor’s office countered on Monday that the city council should have expected the additional spending request, given the magnitude of the cuts included in the mid-year budget revision. “In 2020, the Mayor and Council cut roughly $23 million from the SPD’s budget mid-year,” mayoral spokeswoman Kelsey Nyland said. “I don’t think it’s a huge leap to imagine the SPD – or any department – would have trouble making its budget under those circumstances.”

Nyland noted that in addition to excess overtime (which, she said, Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz has partially addressed by transferring detectives from specialty units to patrol), the department had to pay unanticipated extra separation pay and vacation payouts as more officers than anticipated have left the department. “One thing that’s important to remember is that attrition actually costs a lot more than people realize,” Nyland said. “When an officer leaves, it doesn’t translate exclusively to salary savings for the SPD.”

Continue reading “Mayor Asks for Year-End SPD Budget Boost, Budget Chair Responds: “I Don’t Believe This Is the Time””

Morning Fizz: Will Durkan Veto the Council’s Budget?

1. Will Mayor Jenny Durkan veto the city council’s budget?

It may seem early to start asking whether the mayor will reject the council’s revisions of her 2021 budget proposal, since the council is only at the midway point of the budget process. But as the potential amendments and substantive policy changes add up, it’s clear that the council is intent on restoring funds to  housing, grassroots community safety projects, and COVID relief—which means cutting into the mayor’s flagship priority, a $100 million “equitable investment” fund for “investments in BIPOC communities,” in the last budget before the next mayoral election.

Durkan first floated the concept of funding “$100 million in community-driven programs for Black youths and adults” at the height of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, when every day produced new allegations of police brutality and overreach. A more detailed proposal came in September in the form of a plan to spend “$100 million on BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] communities. Specifically, Durkan proposed setting $100 million aside in next year’s budget until a task force appointed by the mayor comes up with recommendations for spending it.

To pay for such a large line item in a year of budget cuts, Durkan’s budget plan relies on revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax, which the council allocated to COVID-19 relief and homelessness and housing projects.

Separately, Durkan’s plan also eliminates $10 million the council allocated this year to scale up community-led alternatives to policing. And it “abandons” $30 million that was allocated to equitable investment projects during the sale of the Mercer Megablock property and spends these “flexible funds” on “critical City services in the 2020 Revised Budget and 2021 Proposed Budget.”

The clawback of the Megablock proceeds is perhaps the clearest case of a promise broken. Just last year, Durkan stood in a vacant lot in South Lake Union—at the time, one of the largest and most valuable publicly owned properties in the city— and announced that proceeds from the $143 million sale would help fund affordable housing and other projects that combat displacement in gentrifying areas. “I believe that years from now, people will look back at this chance and say we seized an incredible opportunity to make our City better by reinvesting the proceeds directly in housing across Seattle,” Durkan said at the time.

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PubliCola is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going—and expanding!

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. We’re truly grateful for your support.

This funding promise was one reason progressive groups like Puget Sound Sage did not vocally oppose the project, council member Lisa Herbold noted Thursday. She joined council members Tammy Morales, Andrew Lewis, and council president Lorena González in supporting a proposal by Kshama Sawant to restore funding for the projects promised as part of the Megablock sale last year.

2. Herbold’s proposal to create a new “duress” defense for some people facing misdemeanor charges won’t be heard until after the council adopts the 2021 budget. On Wednesday, González said council staffers were already overloaded with more than 120 budget amendment requests from members.

She also questioned whether Herbold’s proposal—which Herbold says would save the city money by reducing the number of jail beds it has to pay for—is truly budget-related. And she suggested it might not actually save much money, because former mayor Mike McGinn signed a long-term jail contract that commits the city for 30 years to paying for jail beds that they aren’t using now. Continue reading “Morning Fizz: Will Durkan Veto the Council’s Budget?”

Despite Months of Arrests and Impoundments, the Car Brigade Is Still Protecting Seattle Protesters

Seattle Police officers impound a Car Brigade vehicle on Capitol Hill on October 3

By Paul Kiefer

Late at night on September 11, during the worst of the past summer’s wildfire smoke, a driver pulled over in a Bothell parking lot. Less than an hour earlier, the driver – who asked to remain anonymous because of pending felony charges – had been a part of the Car Brigade, a group of drivers who use their cars to protect Black Lives Matter protesters from attacks.

That night, the group had formed a protective perimeter around a relatively small and subdued protest march in Seattle. Driving at a walking speed, the motley crew of luxury cars, nondescript sedans and massive SUVs maneuvered to keep other drivers from entering alleyways, parking lot exits and intersections.

After months of practice, angry honking from inconvenienced drivers doesn’t phase the Car Brigade. The protest ended with no police in sight, so the drivers went their separate ways, expecting to make it home without issue. But when he reached Bothell, the driver saw police lights in his rear-view mirror. “There was never a siren,” he said. “It seemed like they had just silently followed me all the way to Bothell.”

“SPD thinks drivers are somehow involved in organizing the marches or have a hand in what marchers do,” one driver told PubliCola. “Really, when I’m driving, I don’t even know where we’re turning next.”

To his surprise, the officer who approached his window was from the Seattle Police Department. According to the driver, the officer “told me I had three seconds to open my window or he would smash it. I didn’t really have time to react or think. I was still trying to remember where the door handle was when another officer walked up and smashed the window. The funny thing was that my doors were unlocked anyway.”

That night, the driver was booked into the King County Jail for allegedly obstructing a public officer at a protest several days earlier. He was released only a few hours later, but SPD had impounded his car and was waiting for a warrant to search it. Without his cell phone—which SPD had also seized—the driver spent the early hours of Saturday morning searching for some way to make his way to his home in a suburb east of Seattle. “I’ve never been so happy to see a yellow cab,” he said.

The arrest in Bothell was not an isolated incident: between August and mid-October, arrests of Car Brigade members were an almost weekly phenomenon. In total, SPD detained drivers on more than a dozen occasions and impounded 13 drivers’ cars; some, like the driver arrested in Bothell in September, were arrested more than once.

Incident reports and search warrants obtained by PubliCola offer a glimpse at what might lay behind the arrests: A larger SPD investigation into the Car Brigade’s connections to property damage and arson at last summer’s protests, driven by the department’s belief that the volunteer drivers are not good Samaritans, but accomplices who provide cover and support for property damage, arson and other crimes.

Five Car Brigade drivers who spoke to PubliCola believe that SPD has an ulterior motive for the arrests, impoundments and investigation. They describe SPD’s treatment of the Car Brigade as a “scare tactic” intended to punish drivers for protecting marchers, undermine marchers’ safety, and finally bring an end to the nightly marches. And the tactic may be working: drivers say that a dwindling number of drivers are willing to risk losing their vehicles, and potentially face felony charges, in order to protect protesters.

SPD did not respond to questions about specific arrests or the broader investigation, so the details of arrests included in this story reflect the drivers’ own accounts, as well as SPD incident reports.

Support PubliCola

PubliCola is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going—and expanding!

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. We’re truly grateful for your support.

The Car Brigade formed earlier this year in the wake of the the July 4 attack on I-5 that killed Summer Taylor and injured Diaz Love. In the weeks that followed, one organizer told PubliCola, marches were flooded with volunteer drivers. “There were 40 or 50 drivers a night,” she recalled, “but it was chaos. The only coordination came from one person running from car to car to relay directions.” The playbook the Car Brigade now uses was the brainchild of a group of former marchers and new volunteers, she said. The team developed nicknames, a weekly driving schedule and an emergency fund to cover gas and window replacements; by August, the Car Brigade was a well-oiled machine.

Over those months, the Car Brigade drivers maintain, their presence at marches has served one purpose. “What we do is protect protesters – that’s the entire reason we’re there,” the driver arrested in Bothell said. Continue reading “Despite Months of Arrests and Impoundments, the Car Brigade Is Still Protecting Seattle Protesters”

OPA Releases First Findings from SPD Protest Response Complaints

SPD officer seen placing his knee on a demonstrator’s neck on May 30 (Screenshot from video by Matt McKnight, Crosscut)

By Paul Kiefer

On Friday morning, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) released the first set of five completed investigations into alleged misconduct by Seattle Police Department officers during the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd in May. These investigations amount to only a tiny fraction of the OPA’s remaining protest-related caseload. The office consolidated more than 30,000 complaints it has received about SPD’s response to demonstrations into more than 100 separate investigations.

The documents released Friday included two investigations stemming from high-profile incidents during the first days of the protests: One in which an officer was accused of kneeling on two demonstrators’ necks during an arrest downtown on the night of May 30; and a widely-publicized incident in which an officer pepper-sprayed an seven-year-old child earlier the same day.

OPA Director Andrew Myerberg only found evidence to sustain two of the four complaints that stemmed from the nighttime arrests. Based on video of the incident, Myerberg concluded that the officer had only kneeled on the neck of one of the demonstrators and instead kneeled on the other demonstrator’s head.

In an interview on Thursday, Myerberg said that “a knee on the head is not against [SPD] policy,” but added that “it’s not encouraged, and [officers] aren’t trained to do it.” Kneeling on a demonstrator’s neck, however, is now against department policy; at the time of the arrest, those restraints were only “strongly discouraged.”

If the OPA had been able to conclude that the officer had intentionally used a neck restraint to restrict the protester’s breathing, the office would have been able to recommend more serious disciplinary action. Myerberg said the SPD policy manual defines a prohibited neck restraint as the intentional application of pressure to a subject’s neck for the purpose of “controlling a subject’s movement or rendering a subject unconscious.” Myerberg said he couldn’t disprove the officer’s claim that he had unintentionally placed his knee on the man’s neck, but he did determine that “what the officer did was not proportional or necessary, because even if inadvertent, the risk of harm is pretty substantial.”

Therefore, the OPA concluded that the officer had unintentionally violated the department’s use of force policy. The OPA also sustained a complaint that the same officer had inappropriately cursed at and threatened demonstrators, calling one woman a “bitch” and telling a fellow officer that he would “fuck up” another demonstrator.

Interim Chief Adrian Diaz will now be responsible for determining how to discipline the officer for both offenses. ”

The OPA also sustained a professionalism complaint against a different officer for an  incident in which the complainant filmed him saying, “I have a hard-on for this shit and, if they cross the line, I will hit them” while responding to a demonstration. The officer in question admitted his wrongdoing to the OPA‚ saying he said he had been quoting a movie (“Top Gun”).

His admission of wrongdoing opened the door for Myerberg to make use of a new disciplinary track for SPD officers called rapid adjudication, which began as one of the accountability reforms proposed by former OPA Auditor and retired Judge Anne Levinson in 2014 and adopted in 2018 as part of the Seattle Police Officers Guild contract.

In a rapid adjudication case, the officer accepts a disciplinary action and waives the right to an investigation or an appeal, saving the city and themselves from an investigative process that could last up to 6 months. The goal of rapid adjudication, or RA, Levinson said, “was to create a department in which officers can admit their mistakes and acknowledge responsibility. Typically, union contracts prioritize due process‚ officers have the right to investigations, for instance—so there wasn’t room for officers to admit wrongdoing.”

In this case, the officer will only receive a written reprimand. At the moment, Myerberg’s office doesn’t measure the efficacy of disciplinary actions in changing officers’ behavior, but he hopes they will start tracking that data in the future. “We could look at recidivism,” he says, adding that a punishment as minor as a written reprimand could still incentivize good behavior because multiple reprimands are grounds for the department to suspend or terminate an officer.

Myerberg’s office did not sustain the complaint against the officer who pepper-sprayed the seven-year-old, concluding instead that the officer had not intended to spray the child and therefore hadn’t violated department policy. The OPA wasn’t able to interview the child or his father (who was pepper-sprayed alongside his child) after the family’s legal counsel didn’t respond to the OPA’s interview requests.

However, based on body camera footage and officer testimonies, the OPA found that the father and child were standing behind a woman who was trying to wrestle away an officer’s baton; when that woman ducked, the pepper spray hit the child. The bodycam footage also appeared to disprove the father’s claim that he and his child had been praying with members of their church just before the incident: the footage showed the father yelling obscenities at officers in the lead-up to the incident.

Because a picture of the child crying after being pepper-sprayed circulated widely on social media, Myerberg expects the OPA’s findings in that case to be unpopular, but he also doesn’t believe his office has legal grounds to push for disciplinary action against the officer. Instead, he said, the City Council’s crowd control weapons ordinance—the subject of an ongoing court battle—could provide recourse in similar situations in the future.

Because the ordinance bans the use of several less-than-lethal weapons (including pepper spray) in crowd-control scenarios, Myerberg said that in the future, “officers could be liable even for unintentional harm.” It would not, however, open the door to retroactively punish the officer for pepper-spraying the child on May 30.

The OPA also declined to sustain complaints in two other cases. In one, protesters alleged that an officers violated the department’s use of force policy by pushing them back with batons; one complainant added that because of his sexual orientation, the officers’ aggression “seemed homophobic.” After reviewing the bodycam footage, Myerberg found no reason to conclude that the officers had used excessive force, nor did he find evidence that the officers acted out of bias.

The second case arose from a complaint that an SPD officer pushed down an elderly man on Capitol Hill on May 30th. The person who filed the complaint, however, heard about the incident second-hand, and Myerberg’s office couldn’t find any witnesses or video evidence of the incident to back up the complaint.

The OPA will continue to release protest-related findings on a rolling basis. Myerberg’s office has not given a timeline for the next sets of investigations, but the OPA website includes a dashboard showing the progress of demonstration-related complaint investigations.

Nonviolent Protests at Officials’ Houses Are Protected Speech. Political Leaders Want to Shut Them Down.

“Pyrotechnic explosives” recovered by police executing a search warrant after recent protests

Elected officials and the police chief of Seattle, who holds the most powerful unelected position in city government, have come together in opposition to a form of behavior that all agree is inexcusable, reprehensible, and violates “every democratic principle that guides our nation.”

No, I’m not talking about teargassing and shooting rubber bullets into the bodies of protesters, or the fact that the budget for the police department dwarfs that for human and social services. I’m referring to the fact that protesters are showing up at officials’ homes—specifically, the homes of most city council members, the mayor, the county executive, and Police Chief Carmen Best—to demonstrate for police defunding and against police violence, including the violence against protesters that helped spur the current protest movement.

Over the last few weeks, the mayor, council members, and their surrogates have suggested repeatedly that protesting outside these officials’ houses, in and of itself, is a violent act that exists beyond the bounds of “decency” and civility. They have maintained, further, that spray-painting the street in front of people’s homes—an act that has recent local precedent at the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, where slogans briefly filled pavement and walls in a neighborhood where hundreds of people live—is an act of violence. (The fact that people in the CHOP area live in apartments, as opposed to the officials who own one or more houses, speaks volumes about which Seattle residents these officials believe have a right to peace and quiet in their homes.)

This weekend, the Seattle Times also condemned the protests, saying that “nighttime marches to council members” are not a legitimate form protest but a form of “bullying” and “intimidating” that is “downright Trumpian.”

To give just one example: A recent email from the Neighborhoods for Safe Streets PAC, which was originally formed in opposition to bike lanes on 35th Ave. NE, suggested that protesters who left “‘defund the police’ literature” at Juarez’s doorstep were “trespassing” and engaging in “illegal intimidation tactics.” (For the record, leaving campaign or other political literature at people’s doors is very common, especially during elections, and is not illegal.)

This weekend, the Seattle Times also condemned the protests, saying that “nighttime marches to council members” are not a legitimate form protest but a form of “bullying” and “intimidating” that is “downright Trumpian.”

And just yesterday, police Chief Carmen Best applauded residents of rural Snohomish, some of them reportedly armed, for blockading roads with pickup trucks and prohibiting protesters from walking down public streets toward “a residence” she owns in the town.

“My neighbors were concerned by such a large group, but they were successful in ensuring the crowd was not able to trespass or engage in other illegal behavior in the area, despite repeated attempts to do so,” Best wrote in a letter demanding that the city council denounce the protests. “These direct actions against elected officials, and especially civil servants like myself, are out of line with and go against every democratic principle that guides our nation.” Best’s letter concluded by accusing protesters of “engaging in violence and intimidation.”

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In fact, the practice of protesting at powerful elected and unelected officials’ homes has a very long tradition in the United States, going back at least to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The principle behind protests of this kind over the decades has been that people feel unable to access their leaders through “ordinary” means, such as requesting meetings and showing up at City Hall, so they take the protest to their houses.

In Seattle, the tradition of protesting outside leaders’ homes has recent precedent in the SHARE/WHEEL protests of 2009, when activists demanding funds for bus tickets camped overnight at city council members’ houses, in 2012 when homeless advocates showed up at then-mayor Mike McGinn’s house, and in 2016 when Black Lives Matter protesters set up shop outside former mayor Ed Murray’s house to protest his support for a new youth jail.

Then as now, some officials—including then-council member Bruce Harrell—came out to talk to the protesters and listen to their concerns, an act that defused the situation considerably, since, again, one motivation for showing up at people’s houses is frustration at not feeling heard.

Today, protests at elected leaders’ homes aren’t just normalized—they’re typical. As much as Seattle likes to see itself as unique in both our political progressiveness and our collective response to injustice, protesters are gathering outside the homes of local officials in cities across the country—from St. Petersburg, FL to New York to San Francisco. To watch these protests is to watch a norm shifting in real time: Standing outside elected officials’ houses and waving signs or painting on the street was a phenomenon that wasn’t all that common—until now, when it very much is. Continue reading “Nonviolent Protests at Officials’ Houses Are Protected Speech. Political Leaders Want to Shut Them Down.”

FBI Says There Was Specific Threat Against East Precinct; Durkan Letter Dodges Protesters’ Three Demands

This morning, city council president Lorena González and public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold said they were both briefed last week by police chief Carmen Best on what the chief had previously described as “credible threats” to the east police precinct in early June, and that the chief described the threats as generalized threats to government buildings in cities up and down the East Coast rather than a specific threat to bomb, burn down, or otherwise damage the East Precinct. Best cited the alleged threats in June as one of the reasons police needed to keep protesters away from the building using tear gas, pepper spray, and eventually physical barricades in the area that became known as CHOP.

“I had heard that it was general threats to all city facilities, which would obviously include the police precinct, but it would also include City Hall and sewer facilities and all other facilities owned by the city of Seattle,” González said. “These were generalized threats, as opposed to specific threats to the East Precinct, that were garnered as the result of what would seem like a generalized bulletin that was received by police chiefs of all cities, not just Seattle.”

“These were generalized threats, as opposed to specific threats to the East Precinct, that were garnered as the result of what would seem like a generalized bulletin that was received by police chiefs of all cities, not just Seattle.”—City Council president Lorena González

However, a spokesman for the FBI in Seattle said the threat was specific to the East Precinct, not a general threat against city buildings. “While I cannot get into specifics of threats, it would be accurate to report we did share intelligence regarding threats to the East Precinct,” the spokesman said. And the mayor’s chief of staff, Stephanie Formas, says the police chief “was provided both direct information from the Seattle FBI Special Agent in Charge confirming that, not only were government and law enforcement facilities known targets along the West Coast —including Seattle; but that the East Precinct was specifically included in these threats” as well as the West Precinct in Belltown. Formas pointed to an apparent arson attempt on June 12, when a man from Tacoma was arrested for lighting a fire outside the precinct building. That fire was quickly put out by people in the area.

“Not only were government and law enforcement facilities known targets along the West Coast [but] the East Precinct was specifically included in these threats.”—Stephanie Formas, chief of staff for Mayor Durkan

A month after the heads of the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative “change teams” sent a letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan asking her to substantively address the demands of protesters, Durkan has responded, with a letter outlining many of the same actions the mayor has highlighted in her press appearances since George Floyd’s murder sparked protests against police violence in late May. The letter from Durkan summarizes what she sees as actions she’s taken to address protesters’ demands; the fact that it does not directly respond to the demands in the letter suggests that she still does not take those demands entirely seriously, and sees incremental changes, such as additional staff for the groups that investigate police misconduct, a sufficient response to the protests that continue to rage across the city.

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The change teams are groups of city employees tasked with monitoring the implementation of the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative. The letter from the team leaders asked Durkan to defund the Seattle police by 50 percent, protect and expand community safety investments in Black and brown communities; stop removing homeless encampments and cut police from the city’s Navigation Team; and release all jailed protesters, among other demands. The list is less radical than the demands made by some protesters, and the effectiveness of the Change Teams is a matter of debate within the city, but their action items were similar enough to protesters’ high-level demands that the mayor’s response can serve as a proxy response to those demands.

Durkan’s letter, which is dated July 6, first listed a number of actions the city has already taken, including: “A full review by [the four police accountability authorities] of the crowd management policy,” an investigation by SPD’s Office of Professional Accountability of misconduct complaints related to the protest, a new policy (proposed and passed by the city council) banning police from covering their badge numbers with “mourning bands,” and a request that the city attorney not charge protesters arrested and jailed for minor offenses, such as obstruction and failure to disperse.

None of these action items are a direct response to the the three primary demands from protesters, which are: Defund the police by 50 percent; reinvest in Black and brown community safety; and release all protesters who have been jailed.

The mayor also described a number of future actions that have already been announced, including $100 million in still-undefined investments in BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and other people of color) communities, accelerating the transfer of several city-owned properties to community groups as part of the Equitable Development Initiative, cutting $20 million from the police department budget (a proposal that, in reality, would cut just $5 million more than the reduction Durkan had already proposed before the protests), and a greater role for “community leaders” in negotiating the next police contract.

None of these action items are a direct response to the the three primary demands from protesters, which are: Defund the police by 50 percent; reinvest in Black and brown community safety; and release all protesters who have been jailed. Continue reading “FBI Says There Was Specific Threat Against East Precinct; Durkan Letter Dodges Protesters’ Three Demands”