ACLU of Washington, Korematsu Center, and Perkins Coie file a motion for contempt to enforce preliminary injunction barring Seattle Police from indiscriminate use of crowd control weapons

News Release: 
Monday, July 27, 2020
SEATTLE – The ACLU of Washington, Korematsu Center, and Perkins Coie filed a motion for contempt today in Black Lives Matter v. City of Seattle, to enforce a preliminary injunction barring the Seattle Police Department (SPD) from indiscriminately using chemical weapons and other less lethal weapons against crowds. SPD deployed excessive and indiscriminate force against protestors in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle on Saturday, July 25, 2020, firing and throwing explosives and chemical weapons into a peaceful march. Photos, videos, and witness testimony document numerous additional abuses, including SPD’s targeting of clearly identifiable legal observers, journalists, and medics and attack on a group of women known as the “Wall of Moms.”

“The violence with which SPD met protestors on Saturday was disproportionate, unconstitutional, and, we believe, in violation of Judge Jones’ preliminary injunction,” said ACLU-WA Senior Staff Attorney Molly Tack-Hooper. “SPD’s contempt for those who are seeking to hold them accountable for police brutality is clear from the evidence and it’s unacceptable. We are asking the court to take additional precautions to make sure the City follows the injunction and stops violating the civil rights and liberties of those they are sworn to protect.”

Among those subjected to less lethal weapons were legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG). NLG observers wear bright green hats to all demonstrations and notify law enforcement in advance to assure that they will not be impeded while monitoring police activity and ensuring protestor rights. Despite these precautions, video evidence shows an SPD officer attacking a legal observer wearing a green NLG hat with OC spray, also known as pepper spray. Other evidence indicates officers attacked reporters, photographers, and medics in scrubs with flash bang grenades, blast balls, pepper balls, foam-tipped projectiles, and other less lethal weapons.

“Targeting journalists and legal observers monitoring for police misconduct is particularly objectionable,” said David Perez, trial attorney and partner at Perkins Coie LLP. “It is unconscionable for SPD to attack individuals who are protecting free speech and assuring that police follow the law. Seattle should be defending fundamental constitutional rights rather than attacking its monitors and critics.”  

“On Saturday, SPD met protesters, medics, journalists, observers, and even a ‘Wall of Moms’ with an excessive display of militarized force,” said Robert Chang, executive director of the Korematsu Center of the Seattle University School of Law. “Their response to constitutionally-protected activity is strong and irrefutable evidence of the need for police reform and the importance of enforcing this preliminary injunction.”

The lawsuit, Black Lives Matter v. City of Seattle, was filed in response to the use of tear gas, pepper spray, and other less-lethal weapons against protestors during numerous demonstrations after the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis. It claims that the use of chemical weapons and projectiles for crowd control when not necessary to prevent injury is an excessive use of force that violates the Fourth Amendment and a form of retaliation that violates the First Amendment. It also alleges that use of these tactics chills free speech in violation of the First Amendment. On Friday, June 17, 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones issued a preliminary injunction preventing the City of Seattle from indiscriminately using chemical agents and other less lethal weapons against protests and demonstrations. Today’s filing asks the court to sanction the City for ignoring the injunction and violating the civil rights of protestors.

The plaintiffs are represented by David A. Perez, Joseph M. McMillan, Nitika Arora, Rachel Dallal, Carolyn Gilbert, Heath Hyatt, Ray Ivey 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, Charlotte Garden, Melissa Lee, and Jessica Levin of the Korematsu Center of the Seattle University School of Law.