City to pull request to end years of federal oversight of Seattle Police Department

SEATTLE -- The City of Seattle says it will withdraw a pending motion to bring to a close years of federal oversight of the Seattle Police Department, citing the desire to review the response to recent protests first.

Thousands of people again marched Wednesday through the streets of Seattle to protest the killing of George Floyd.

Seattle Attorney Pete Holmes released the following statement on Wednesday:

“We’ve witnessed historic events this past week. We saw protests erupt in cities across our nation in reaction to an heinous act by a Minneapolis police officer, rooted in a larger history of racially disproportionate policing. George Floyd’s murder was gruesome and the Minneapolis officers’ apparent nonchalance chilled me to the bone. I am struggling with feelings of sadness, grief, and anxiety, and know I am not alone.  

“We’re deep into an economic crisis in which people of color are disproportionately losing their jobs. We face a pandemic in which people of color are more likely to die. We operate in a criminal justice system in which people of color are much more likely to find themselves entangled, echoing the Jim Crow chain gangs—which in turn perpetuated the evils of slavery beginning in Virginia four centuries ago, despite the Civil War and the 13th Amendment. No thinking person can deny that our society is fundamentally unjust. These are issues rooted in trauma and continue to traumatize our nation today.    

“Here in Seattle, I’ve been closely monitoring the response to demonstrations, and 14,000 complaints to our Office of Police Accountability (OPA) in recent days signal that we are about to witness the most vigorous testing ever of our City’s accountability systems. As OPA undertakes its independent investigation of misconduct allegations, it’s become clear to me that we need to pause before asking U.S. District Judge James Robart to terminate the sustainment plan elements of the federal consent decree so that the City and its accountability partners can conduct a thorough assessment of SPD’s response to the demonstrations. 

“Therefore, I intend to withdraw the City from the pending motion before the Court, until we thoroughly review and assess SPD’s response to recent demonstrations. I hope and expect that the City will continue to refine its proposal to address the Court’s concerns relating to accountability. The City will then be in a better and more informed position to submit further briefing to the Court in collaboration with the parties to the Consent Decree.” 

Seattle police chief vows changes in crowd-control tactics

Seattle’s mayor and police chief promised a large crowd of protesters Tuesday to review the department’s use of pepper spray and flash-bang grenades to break up a crowd of peaceful protesters the night before, encouraging them to keep marching as long as they do not do damage.

“Your voices holding me accountable are important and you should continue to raise them,” Mayor Jenny Durkan told those assembled outside the city’s Emergency Operations Center downtown. “We want you to march. ... We want you to continue on the path of justice. But we need you please to do it peacefully.”

Earlier in the day Seattle’s police watchdog agency said it would investigate the use of pepper spray Monday night to break up a fourth consecutive day of large protests over the George Floyd killing.

The department insisted that demonstrators threw fireworks and tried to storm a barricade near a police station. Police Chief Carmen Best said one officer was struck in the face with a chunk of concrete.

But video posted on Reddit and Facebook showed that in the moments before the chaos began, an officer grabbed a pink umbrella that a demonstrator was holding just across a barricade as a shield against a potential application of pepper spray. Other officers nearby then began spraying chemicals and firing flash-bangs at the crowd.

“It was a beautiful, beautiful march for hours,” the mayor said. “We know the end was not how it was meant to be, and the chief and I have talked about it. We’re going to look at it.”

Durkan also promised to address underlying issues of injustice and discontent with the crowd. When one protester asked her when, she asked what the group was doing Wednesday.

Best expressed support for the protesters, saying, “As a black woman, I feel the same things you feel. Just because I wear the uniform doesn’t change that.”

During a subsequent news conference, Durkan emphasized that change is needed to remedy a deep history of discrimination that has marred the U.S. since its founding. She also spoke to Seattle’s efforts to reform its police departments; in her prior position as U.S. attorney, she led the Justice Department in forcing the city into a consent decree to change training and accountability practices after questionable uses of force.

She stressed that police uses of force must be rare, necessary and proportional, and she said she had concerns about police tactics used Monday night.

Large crowds remained peaceful Tuesday evening in front of a barricade erected by police who stood silently on the other side in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Demonstrators shouted “Who do you serve,” and “No more gas,” referring to tear gas used by officers during previous protests.

Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability said Monday it has received about 12,000 complaints over the Seattle Police Department’s handling of the demonstrations, break-ins and theft. There were reports that a young girl was tear-gassed, officers placed their knees on the necks of two people who were being arrested, and protesters twice grabbed unattended rifles out of police cars before being disarmed by a television news crew’s security guard. Many of the incidents were captured on video.