The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday alleging that the city of Seattle violated the constitutional rights of protesters throughout the city by allowing Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers to “deploy unnecessary violence against peaceful demonstrators who [were] speaking out against discriminatory police brutality.”
The protests follow the May 25 murder of George Floyd, a Black man accused of a non-violent crime, who died due to excessive force by the police. During his arrest, a Minneapolis Police Department officer “placed his knee—and the weight of his body—on Mr. Floyd’s neck” for nearly nine minutes while “other officers held his legs or stood by.” Floyd’s death sparked outrage across the country and around the world, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The plaintiffs—a Black Lives Matter nonprofit, several protesters, a law student, and a journalist—were among thousands of Seattle residents protesting the “systemic injustices perpetrated by law enforcement against Black people and other people of color.” The 27-page complaint details SPD’s “overwhelming and unconstitutional use of force to discourage these protesters” from exercising their First and Fourth Amendment rights.
Specifically, the complaint calls out Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and SPD Chief Carmen Best for their failure to act after SPD “repeatedly sprayed crowds … with tear gas and other chemical irritants … as recently as Monday, June 8, just days after the City pledged a 30-day moratorium on the use of tear gas.”
SPD policymakers, including Mayor Durkan and Chief Best, have acted with deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of protesters … by authorizing, both explicitly and implicitly, the use of less-lethal force against protesters who did not pose ant safety threat; by failing to properly train, supervise, and discipline SPD officers; and by failing to rectify the SPD’s unconstitutional custom of using less-lethal force to control and suppress demonstrations.
In addition to chemical irritants, the complaint lists other less-lethal SPD tactics such as batons, kinetic impact projectiles, and “weapons intended to stun with light and sound.”
The suit illustrates an escalating timeline of excessive police force at Seattle protests, beginning on Friday, May 29, when “SPD officers in riot gear responded to protesters by deploying [tear gas] and flash-bang devices to disperse crowds and arresting others.” It alleges that since the 29, the Seattle Office of Police Accountability “has received about 12,000 individual complaints of abusive conduct by SPD.”
Moving forward, the complaint calls for an order “restraining the City … from further violating the First and Fourth Amendment rights of Plaintiffs by using less-lethal weapons to control and suppress demonstrations,” as well as a declaration of these violations from the City.