ACLU of Washington, Korematsu Center, and Perkins Coie File a Second Motion for Contempt After Repeated Violations of Preliminary Injunction Barring Seattle Police From Indiscriminate Use of Crowd Control Weapons

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
September 30, 2020 4:45 pm

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SEATTLE – The ACLU of Washington, Korematsu Center, and Perkins Coie filed a second 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. On four separate occasions, August 26, September 7, September 22, and September 23, SPD deployed excessive and indiscriminate force against protestors in violation of court orders, including by:

  • repeatedly advancing on protesters without provocation or warning,
  • indiscriminately and without justification deploying pepper spray and gas against protesters,
  • excessively deploying less-lethal weapons and other force against protestors, including soaking demonstrators in unnecessary amounts of pepper spray, rolling a bicycle over a prone protestor, and throwing explosives at people lying on the ground,
  • deploying explosives and firing projectiles into the middle of retreating crowds,
  • forcing protesters to march for miles to comply with dispersal orders,
  • refusing to allow protesters to stop moving to receive medical care for their injuries,
  • deploying less-lethal weapons before ordering protesters to disperse,
  • using less-lethal weapons after dispersal orders to chase protesters or trap them without escape,
  • failing to give protesters a reasonable opportunity to disperse and arresting those who slow down or are unable to keep up.

Photos, videos, and witness testimony document numerous abuses in violation of the Court’s orders.

“It was terrifying,” said Alexandra Chen, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who was pepper sprayed while peacefully protesting on September 7, at a Labor Day protest outside of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild. “The police are using violence to intimidate and silence people like me who are speaking out against police violence and systemic racism. What they are doing proves the point that the protestors are trying to make.”

This is the second time plaintiffs have filed a motion for contempt to get SPD to comply with Court orders. The latest clarified preliminary injunction, which the City agreed to in a settlement of the first contempt motion, was issued on August 10.

“Protestors should not have to repeatedly take the police to court to get them to follow the law and the Constitution,” said ACLU-WA Senior Staff Attorney Molly Tack-Hooper. “Seattle Police’s brutality against protesters must stop.”

The motion asserts that the City has not taken sufficient action to enforce the Court’s orders. Letters from the City suggest that it has not done anything to rein in police use of less-lethal weapons other than to ensure that officers were read the language of the order. This motion for contempt requests that the Court order the City of Seattle to bring Seattle Police into full compliance with the preliminary injunction and the clarified preliminary injunction and to report back to the Court the specific efforts that it has made.

“It is extremely concerning that police sworn to enforce the law repeatedly refuse to follow it,” said David Perez, trial attorney and partner at Perkins Coie LLC. “We are asking the Court to force the City of Seattle and Seattle Police to uphold the constitutional rights of the people they serve and to hold them accountable for repeated disregard of court orders.”

“For police to attack people in mourning is unconscionable,” said Robert Chang, executive director of the Korematsu Center of the Seattle University School of Law. “The reckless behavior of SPD at protests and vigils is a violation of constitutional rights, the rule of law and human decency.”

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 these tactics chill 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. After alleged violations of that order, plaintiffs filed a motion for contempt on Monday, July 27, 2020, and after the City agreed to a settlement on Monday, August 10, 2020, Judge Jones issued a clarified preliminary injunction specifying protections for retreating protestors, medics, journalists, and legal observers. Today’s filing asks the court to hold the City in contempt for repeatedly ignoring the Court’s orders and violating the civil rights of protestors.

The plaintiffs are represented by David A. Perez, 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.

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