'Poor choice of words': WSP team leader tells troopers 'don't kill them, but hit them hard' at Seattle protest

SEATTLE -- Washington State Patrol has apologized for a "poor choice of words" after video surfaced showing a WSP team leader telling troopers "don't kill them, but hit them hard" as they prepared for potential confrontations with protesters in Seattle.

"WSP is aware of the video and apologizes. We hope the public will accept that apology and ask that it offer some grace as our troopers are out there in a very real world tonight, a real world of real danger and real difficulties, a real world being met by real courage, real commitment and real compassion," State Patrol officials said in a prepared statement.

Krystal Marx, deputy mayor of Burien, posted the video on her Twitter page Tuesday evening during a fifth day of protests in Seattle. Tuesday's protest remained peaceful until late, hours after a citywide curfew was in effect, when tear gas and flash bangs were deployed to break up the crowds.

Police said they interjected after protesters threw objects at officers.

"As disappointed we are that a word choice might obscure a work choice, we are proud of how our agency and others have worked to protect the rights of free speech and peaceful demonstration throughout this unprecedented period of statewide demonstrations," WSP said. 

WSP said the team leader was trying to "create a mental environment" for his troopers to do a "push technique," when officers push "belligerent, non-compliant, aggressive and threatening protestors away from a designated area."

"That type of physicality takes motivation and focus as well as balance and restraint," WSP said. 

The protests in Seattle and surrounding areas have gotten more peaceful since the weekend, when a massive, peaceful march was interrupted by outside groups that came in to riot, loot and destroy businesses. Hundreds of businesses and buildings in Seattle were damaged by weekend riots, 90 of which were in Chinatown-International District.

Washington State Patrol and the National Guard have been called in to help with protests happening across the state in response to the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck until he stopped breathing.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday that while the damage from weekend protests that turned violent must be condemned and those responsible prosecuted, “we will not allow that to obscure the justice of the underlying protest.”

Inslee said that people are justifiably outraged following the police killing of Floyd and emphasized the constitutional right to protest. But he said that “violence and destruction has no place in this.”

"Our objective is ALWAYS public safety," WSP said. "The team leader’s intent of motivating and reassuring his troopers was commendable but his word choice, especially when considered outside of the context of his team’s immediate challenges, was not. Both he and WSP are accountable. We own this. We also own the risks and the courage to meet those risks."

Numerous police officers have been injured during protests, both locally and across the country.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best have vowed to review police practices in response to the protests, as the city's Office of Police Accountability has received thousands of complaints regarding 10 incidents that happened during the chaotic weekend.

Those incidents included a child being pepper-sprayed, allegedly by an officer, and a police officer placing his knee on the neck of someone who was detained - prompting a fellow officer to move his knee away from the detainee's neck.

"We apologize if this added in any way to anyone’s strain from these difficult days and hours, for our objective is never to add to difficulty but to always address difficulty," WSP concluded in its statement. "BUT we are proud of our troopers.  We appreciate their leadership. And we are bettered by the compassion they have all shown to protect the rights of free speech and the courage with which they have faced these dangerous times."