Activists want Seattle police held in contempt for using pepper spray, blast balls to quell weekend riot

Activists who won a U.S. court order restricting the Seattle Police Department’s use of chemical weapons for crowd control say the department should be held in contempt of court for violating it in a “vengeful outburst” over the weekend.

In June, U.S. District Judge Richard Jones issued an order forbidding Seattle police from using “chemical irritants or projectiles of any kind” against people demonstrating peacefully. But in a motion filed Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and other groups representing Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County said that on Saturday, the department shot pepper spray and blast balls indiscriminately into a crowd after a small number of protesters engaged in property destruction.

“Two days ago, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) ambushed peaceful protesters with a level of violence that surpasses that seen in early June,” the motion said. “Protesters were indiscriminately hit with blast balls, pepper spray, and blunt force objects. Journalists were trampled. Medics were maced for attending to patients. Legal observers were shot at close range. The injuries were extensive.”

Seattle police said they declared the demonstration a riot after several people set fire to the construction site of a new youth detention center and set off explosives at the department’s East Precinct building. They arrested 47 people and said 59 officers suffered injuries including scrapes, bruises and burns.

The department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The judge’s order allowed individual officers to take “necessary, reasonable, proportional, and targeted action” to protect against specific threats, but it added: “To the extent that chemical irritants or projectiles are used in accordance with this paragraph, they shall not be deployed indiscriminately into a crowd ...”

The motion for contempt cites the accounts of several protesters who say they were marching peacefully when they were hit by flash-bangs, pepper spray or other munitions. Some suffered burns.

The police also clearly targeted journalists and legal observers with blast balls or pepper spray, the motion said.