City responds to motion for contempt, denies wrongdoing

Late this afternoon the City of Seattle filed a response to the motion earlier this week by Black Lives Matter and the ACLU to hold the city in contempt for violations of the preliminary injunction put in place by Judge RIchard Jones last month. That injunction put restrictions on SPD’s use of crowd-control weapons, include tear gas and blast balls.

 

In its filing today, the city denies wrongdoing by the department (though not necessarily of individual officers, who are subject to investigation and disciplinary procedures for their actions). The major points of its argument are:

  • The city asserts that it has substantively complied with Judge Jones’ order. The city provided declarations and evidence that after Jones issued his injunction, SPD emailed a copy of it to all officers. In addition, it claims that at roll call before the protests on July 25, supervisors gave oral instructions to all officers reiterating the rules and restrictions on the use of crowd-control weapons.
  • The video and declarations submitted by the plaintiffs tell only half the story, it claims. The city argues that for charges of contempt related to actions that happened outside of a courtroom where a judge could witness them, the accused is entitled to due process, and potentially even a jury trial, to be able to fully present a defense. Inthis case, the city says that videos don’t relate what happened out-of-frame or before the video began, and that laypersons and qualified to testify as to police officers’ state of mind. Jones’ order allows officers to use crowd-control weapons to respond reasonably and proportionately to what they believe are imminent threats.  The city elaborates on the context of two of the incidents that the plaintiffs submitted with their motion: one in which it claims a person who was pepper-sprayed was attempting to de-arrest a suspect, and another in which it claims a legal advisor stepped sideways into a stream of pepper-spray intended for another targeted person.
  • The city notes that as a matter of law it can’t be held responsible for the individual actions of every officer, unless it can be shown that the officers were following the established policy or practice of the spolice department. In this case, the city argues that the policy and practice the department established was clearly aligned with Judge Jones’ order.
  • The city argues that the additional relief that the plaintiffs are now requesting — additional restrictions on SPD’s use of crowd-control weapons — is in effect a new temporary restraining order, which must meet the test required for issuing one just as the original one had to. The plaintiffs do not attempt to do so in their motion to hold the city in contempt.
  • In addition, the city argues that the additional restrictions would violate the Consent Decree, just as Judge Robart ruled last week that the City Council’s ban on crowd-control weapons violated it. Changes to SPD’s crowd-control and use-of-force policies are required to be reviewed by the Department of Justice and approved by Judge Robart.
  • The city asks for an additional sixty days to respond more substantively to the motion. It claims that will give it time to prepare and submit use-of-force reports from Saturday night’s protest/riot, as well as footage from police officers’ body-worn videos. According to a declaration submitted by the city, it has already identified 1,394 body-worn video clips from Saturday evening, and expects more after all the incident reports have been submitted by officers.

Judge Jones has scheduled a hearing for 9:00am Friday morning.


Among the declarations included with the city’s filing today is that of SPD Lieutenant John Brooks, the Deputy Operations Section Chief last Saturday evening, and the one who declared the protest to be a riot. He details the intelligence that the department recieved from the FBI in advance of Saturday’s protests and riot:

In advance of the July 25, 2020 demonstration, we received intelligence information from the Federal Bureau of Investigations that anarchists were driving up to Seattle from California and Portland, bringing explosives and radios with them in a van. The intelligence bulletin informed us that these anarchists planned to cache the explosives in various locations in Seattle, so they could more easily access them during the July 25 demonstration.

Brooks also described the tactics that protesters were allegedly using to coordinate their actions:

In recent demonstrations that have resulted in officer injury and property damage, there have been tactics used by some in the crowd that were similar to the ones used on July 25. On July 25th, 2020, individuals in the crowd used vehicles and bicyclists to re-direct traffic and law enforcement away from the demonstrations. These individuals tried to forcibly stop police vehicles and personnel from entering the area of the event. The group demonstrated, what appeared to be a high degree of coordination. Members used small radios, cellphones and mobile scouts around the periphery to identify police resources. As police units move, they were tracked by two to four similarly dressed people on bikes who appeared to be updating others in the event. As police move units, officers have observed the group appeared to respond and move at the direction of their scouts. This coordinated effort makes it very difficult for police to monitor events so they can respond and react to any developing safety issues. Often it is impossible for police to see the actions of the group or to identify those committing specific criminal acts. Often police will hear damage to property or receive calls for service indicating the group is committing crimes. Entering past these improvised mobile barriers creates confrontation and escalation exposing both officers and bystanders to violence. The potential for confrontation and the likelihood that entering the demonstration will result in physical resistance creates a substantial officer safety risk. The use of mobile barriers are but one form of action that limits or is intended to interdict the actions of police to hold people individually accountable for criminal acts. Members of the crowd on July 25, 2020 employed these tactics.

Brooks also claims that SPD found this image on social media prior to last Saturday’s incident, and the tactics shown by protesters last Saturday match the ones in the image.

Brooks’ declaration gives an account of the events of last Saturday from his perspective, and makes for interesting reading.

 


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