ACLU of Washington, the Korematsu Center, and Perkins Coie file lawsuit on behalf of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County to stop the use of chemical agents and projectiles for crowd control

News Release: 
Tuesday, June 9, 2020
SEATTLE – The ACLU of Washington has joined with the law firm of Perkins Coie and the Korematsu Center of the Seattle University School of Law to file an emergency lawsuit on behalf of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County and individual plaintiffs to stop the use of chemical agents and projectiles for crowd control by the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department (SPD).

The lawsuit, Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County et al. v. City of Seattle, filed in response to the use of tear gas, pepper spray, and less-lethal weapons against protestors during numerous demonstrations after the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, claims that the use of chemical agents and projectiles for crowd control when not necessary to prevent injury is an excessive use of force that violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. It also alleges that use of these tactics chills free speech in violation of the First Amendment.

The suit comes after SPD deployed chemical irritants against protestors on Saturday night, one day after Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a temporary, thirty-day ban on the use of tear gas for crowd control. On Sunday night, SPD announced that they were authorized to use chemical agents (CS gas) and deployed them against demonstrators.

"These daily demonstrations are fueled by people from all over the city who demand that police stop using excessive force against Black people, and they demand that Seattle dismantle its racist systems of oppression. It is unacceptable that the Seattle Police Department would then respond to these demonstrations with more excessive force, including using tear gas and flashbang grenades," said Livio De La Cruz, board member of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County. "Rather than trying to silence these demonstrations, the City and SPD must address the protesters' concerns by focusing on its policies and systems regarding police practices, use of force, and accountability." 

“Excessive use of force against protestors is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, chills free speech, and widens the rift of distrust between communities and the police that are sworn to serve them,” said Michele Storms, Executive Director of the ACLU of Washington. “The City should instead listen to demonstrators, build community trust, and establish meaningful police reforms.”

“As executive director of the Korematsu Center, I am keenly aware that government wrongs occur more easily when people do not speak out against those wrongs,” said Robert Chang. “This lawsuit seeks to ensure that people can raise their voices to protect Black lives and to gather together and march in silent protest against police violence without fear of police violence.”

“This action seeks to uphold rights that are foundational to our democracy: the rights to peaceful assembly, petition for redress of grievances, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom from unwarranted seizures by the government,” said David Perez, an attorney at Perkins Coie LLP, representing plaintiffs.  “We will not waver in our commitment to defending those rights.”

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court of Western Washington by the ACLU-WA, Perkins Coie and the Korematsu Center on behalf of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County and individual plaintiffs, including:
  • Abie Ekenezar, a veteran with disabilities who has attended protests in Seattle every day since Saturday, May 30, and was subjected to chemical irritants twice during the demonstrations. She served in Afghanistan and Somalia and participated in tear gas drills during her military training. 
  • Sharon Sakamoto, a Japanese-American lawyer who survived internment as a child during World War II and is deeply dedicated to racial justice and civil rights, but who was deterred from the protests in Seattle due to concerns over the negative health effects of tear gas and other chemical agents used by SPD.
  • Muraco Kyashna-tochá, a 60-year-old woman who participated in the Seattle protests every day from May 30 through June 6 was subjected to tear gas and flash-bang grenades during the Capitol Hill protest on June 1. She required medical assistance for the injuries that she sustained that evening.
  • Alexander Woldeab, a Seattle-based videographer who participated in protests in both Downtown Seattle and the Capitol Hill neighborhood. He was subjected to chemical agents and flash-bang grenades several times over the course of a week.
  • Alexandra Chen, a first-year law student at Seattle University, experienced tear gas and flash-bang grenades twice during protests outside of the Seattle Police Department headquarters and in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
  • Nathalie Graham, a journalist with The Stranger, who was forced to stop reporting on the protests on both May 30 and June 2 because of the deployment of chemical agents by SPD on protestors.
The plaintiffs are represented by David A. Perez, Joseph M. McMillan, Mallory Gitt Webster, Nitika Arora, Rachel Dallal, Carolyn Gilbert, and Paige L. Whidbee of Perkins Coie LLP; Molly Tack-Hooper, Nancy Talner, Lisa Nowlin, Breanne Schuster and John Midgley of the ACLU of Washington, and Robert Chang of the Korematsu Center of the Seattle University School of Law.