Seattle police chief demotes commander over protest clash

Seattle’s interim police chief has demoted the assistant chief who was in charge when riot-gear-clad officers fired tear gas blast balls into a crowd of demonstrators on Capitol Hill in June after an officer’s tug of war with a protester over an umbrella.

Interim Chief Adrian Diaz’s decision means the assistant chief who was the incident commander will be returned to a captain’s rank, the Seattle Times reported. Diaz’s decision was laid out in a letter Wednesday to City Councilmember Lisa Herbold and posted on the department’s website. The assistant chief was not named.

The June 1 clash happened during widespread racial justice protests following the police killing of George Floyd.

The decision comes two weeks after Diaz announced he was overturning a recommendation from the city’s police-accountability office to discipline a lower-ranking officer who gave the orders for the department’s response to protesters that night.

Diaz explained in his letter that, as he previously announced when overturning the recommended discipline against the unnamed lower-ranking officer, he "did not believe it was fair or principled" to hold that officer responsible for "circumstances created at a higher rank of command."

The "pink umbrella" clash unfolded near the department’s East Precinct, when some demonstrators started opening umbrellas to guard against pepper spray police threatened to deploy, videos show.

An officer standing in the police line grabbed a pink umbrella from one of the protesters, setting off a tug of war that sparked an eruption of tear gas, flash-bang devices and pepper spray. It sent people running and eventually prompted police to declare a riot.