You may recall that there are two pending lawsuits charging SPD with violating protesters’ constitutional rights for its crowd-control tactics and specifically its use of crowd-control weapons. This week both have filed new motions with the court asserting recent violations of the injunction already in place.
The first case, filed in June, was brought by the ACLU and Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County. Judge Richard Jones issued an injunction placing some restrictions on SPD’s use of crowd control weapons and in particular restricting their indiscriminate use. In August the plaintiffs and the city negotiated an update to the injunction after the violence on July 25.
Today the plaintiffs filed a new motion, this time asking U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones to find the city in contempt, based upon SPD’s actions on four nights: August 26, September 7, September 22, and September 23. The motion provides lengthy accounts from protesters alleging that SPD violated several of the restrictions in Judge Jones’ injunction on those nights. It asks Jones to approve a new order including the following provisions:
- SPD must institute in-person training for all SPD officers on what is prohibited by the injunction. SPD must submit to the plaintiffs and the court its plan for the training, and the court will determine whether it is adequate.
- SPD must inform the court of actions it has taken to address violations.
- Going forward, whenever SPD deploys crowd-control weapons, the City shall, within 5 working days of deployment, file with the court a certification that every deployment was in conformity with the injunction, or what noncompliance occurred and how the city is remedying it.
- SPD must distribute a copy of the order to all officers within 24 hours.
- SPD must certify to the court that all command staff and supervisors have read the order.
- SPD must ensure that no officer participates in crowd control until they have read the order, and that after November 15 no officer who has not completed the new training may be deployed to any event that might require crowd control.
- The city must pay the plaintiffs’ legal and court fees for bringing their new motion.
SPD will have an opportunity to respond to the new motion before Judge Jones rules.
The second case, Benton et al vs City of Seattle, was brought in early August on behalf of a separate group of protesters; you may recall that this case attracted media attention for the claim that SPD’s violent response was forcing protesters to buy protective equipment and thus precluding individuals who could not afford such equipment from exercising their First amendment rights at protests. Judge Jones is also hearing this case, and he dismissed that claim, leaving a set of surviving claims very similar to the ones in the BLM/ACLU case. The plaintiffs also asked for a more stringent injunction than in the BLM/ACLU case, and Jones denied that request.
Earlier this week the plaintiffs filed a revised complaint, dropping their controversial claim but retaining the other allegations, and extending the incidents cited to include the same four nights that the BLM/ACLU case added: August 26, September 7, September 22, and September 23. They also filed a motion for a new preliminary injunction, asking the judge to order “cessation in use and possession of 40mm launchers, blast balls, CS gas, and oleoresin capsicum (“OC”) spray.”
SPD has not yet responded to this case either.
At this point it seems inevitable that the two cases will be joined together: they are raising essentially the same claims and legal issues against the same defendant, and have aligned on the specific incidents in question. The cases are already being heard by the same judge, and they are making similar claims for relief. The ACLU/BLM plaintiffs have the better legal team, but the Benton plaintiffs got the jump this week in adding charges related to the four recent incidents (which may have provoked today’s filing). They may not want to combine their efforts, but the city is very likely to ask the court to force them to do so, and Judge Jones will probably want to save the time and effort of adjudicating them separately. So look for a motion to join the cases any day now.
In the meantime, SPD will file responses to the two motions. Having now been around this track a couple of times with both sets of plaintiffs, he may or may not want a hearing depending upon how SPD responds. Jones has been unwilling to completely restrict SPD’s use of crowd-control weapons, expressing his desire to ensure that the department is equipped to respond to violent crime during protests. He has also noted in his past rulings that video snippets on social media often don’t tell the entire story of what happened in a particular incident, and he will want to hear SPD’s side of the story before he makes up his mind.
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