Federal Court Blocks Use of Chemical Agents on Protesters in Seattle

June 12, 2020 8:15 pm

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

SEATTLE — A federal court today issued a temporary restraining order preventing the Seattle Police Department from using chemical agents and other weapons against protesters. In issuing the order, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones stated that “Plaintiffs have made a clear showing of a likelihood of success on the merits on their First Amendment claim,” and that “both testimonial and video evidence establish that SPD likely violated Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights.”

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, the law firm of Perkins Coie, and the Korematsu Center of the Seattle University School of Law.

“We are pleased that the court is preventing Seattle from using chemical agents and less lethal weapons against demonstrators,” said Michele Storms, executive director of the ACLU of Washington. “The City must allow for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and it must address police accountability and excessive use of force. It is impossible to expect progress if the city continues to attempt to silence protester demands with excessive force.”

This lawsuit is part of a number of legal actions the ACLU has been taking around the country in response to escalating law enforcement attacks on journalists and protesters, including suing President Trump and other administration officials for firing of tear gas on protesters outside the White House on June 1.

“Police nationwide should take note of this ruling, and remember that they will be held accountable for rights violations,” said Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.

The TRO will last for 14 days, while court proceedings in the lawsuit, Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County v. City of Seattle, continue. Tear gas may only be used against a targeted individual after all other available options are exhausted, and no chemical irritants (pepper spray or tear gas) or projectiles may be deployed indiscriminately into a crowd.

Below is additional comment from:

Robert Chang, executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Center: “We know what happens when people don’t speak out against government wrongs. Here, people are speaking out against police brutality against Black people that has gone on for far too long. This TRO recognizes that it is crucial to our democracy for people to be able to protest without fear of state violence. Maybe then, change will come.”

David A. Perez, partner at Perkins Coie LLP: “Today is a big win for justice and our core values. The First Amendment is sacrosanct in our constitutional system. The protesters in Seattle have a right to exercise those rights without fear of our own City government directing violence against them.”

The complaint is here: https://www.aclu-wa.org/docs/order-granting-temporary-restraining-order.

Additional information about the lawsuit is here: https://www.aclu-wa.org/cases/black-lives-matter-seattle-king-county-v-city-seattle.

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.