Federal Judge Orders Seattle Police to Stop Using Tear Gas, Pepper Spray to Disperse Peaceful Protests

By Lisa Baumann / AP June 13, 2020 1:22 PM EDT

TIME

(SEATTLE) — A U.S. judge on Friday ordered Seattle police to temporarily stop using tear gas, pepper spray and flash-bang devices to break up largely peaceful protests, a victory for groups who say authorities have overreacted to recent demonstrations over police brutality and racial injustice.

The liberal city with a lengthy history of massive, frequent protests has taken hits from all sides — from demonstrators, some city officials, the president and now a judge — over the way it’s responded to crowds taking to the streets following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. Those on the right say the mayor and police chief aren’t being tough enough on protesters who have taken over part of a neighborhood near downtown Seattle, while those on the left say police tactics have been far too harsh.

U.S. District Judge Richard Jones sided with a Black Lives Matter group that sued the Seattle Police Department this week to halt the violent tactics it has used to break up protests.

Last weekend, officers used tear gas, pepper spray and other force against crowds of protesters. Jones’ order halts those tactics for two weeks, though demonstrations this week have been calm.

Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best have apologized to peaceful protesters who were subjected to chemical weapons. But Best has said some demonstrators violently targeted police, throwing objects and ignoring orders to disperse. Both have faced calls to resign, which they have rejected.

The judge said those objecting to the police tactics make a strong case that the indiscriminate use of force is unconstitutional. Jones said weapons like tear gas and pepper spray fail to target “any single agitator or criminal” and they are especially problematic during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Because they are indiscriminate, they may even spill into bystanders’ homes or offices as they have done before,” Jones wrote.

Durkan, a former U.S. attorney, “believes the court struck the right balance to protect the fundamental constitutional right to exercise protest, with the need to also ensure public safety,” spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower said in an email.

Durkan also has requested reviews of police actions from the Office of Police Accountability and the city’s inspector general. Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste also said Friday the agency will stop using gas until further notice, particularly amid the pandemic.

This week, demonstrators have turned part of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood into a protest center with speakers, drum circles and Black Lives Matter painted on a street near a police station. Police largely left the station after the chaos last weekend, when officers tear-gassed protesters and some demonstrators threw objects at them. Police sprayed tear gas just two days after the mayor and police chief said they were temporarily halting its use.

Bill Fuller

Bill Fuller

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