Garfield High School teacher and activist Jesse Hagopian says he is suing the city after a Seattle Police officer hit him with pepper spray during a protest following this year’s MLK Day march and rallies earlier this month:
The James Bible Law Group will be filing a tort claim against the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department in relation to the senseless pepper spraying of a prominent Seattle School Teacher and activist shortly after his MLK day speech. Jesse Hagopian had finished giving a powerful speech about how black lives matter when he was sprayed with pepper spray by a Seattle Police Officer. He was on the phone with his mother and make plans to be at his two year old child’s birthday party when he was sprayed. It is notable that this irrational police action occurred while he was several feet onto a Seattle Sidewalk.
“Recent police activities in Seattle serve as a reminder that there is a great deal of work that remains to be done in terms of police accountability,” the statement on the lawsuit from the James Bible Law Group reads. “We will be forwarding information that we gather about this incident and others to the Department of Justice.”
Hagopian later posted about the incident on Facebook.
Though 19 people were arrested by police that day as protesters chained themselves to block Highway 99 and marched through the area attempting to disrupt traffic, few were ultimately charged with crimes.
In the wake of SPD’s response to the ongoing #blacklivesmatter protests, the department has faced criticism for many of its tactics and crowd control measures when dealing with peaceful — but not always compliant — protesters.
At a January City Council briefing discussing SPD’s response, assistant chief Carmen Best described the department’s actions in response to protests downtown and on Capitol Hill as a “relatively low use of force” despite the use of crowd control devices like flash bangs and pepper spray. “t seems like the protests have been used as an excuse to turn downtown into something that looks like an occupied country,” said one public speaker prior to the briefing. “We didn’t tell protesters where to go,” Best also said. Somebody shouting from the audience responded: “You forced us to Capitol Hill.”
Mayor Ed Murray issued a statement on SPD’s MLK Day response. “Ingrained in my values – and the values of our city – is ensuring that people are able to protest peacefully to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of expression while providing the resources, support and training necessary for our police department to do their jobs and protect the public’s safety at these protests,” Murray said.
“Together with the Department of Justice, a court-appointed Federal Monitor and the Community Police Commission, we have worked to create and implement a comprehensive and transparent police accountability system that will be the most robust in the nation.
This includes ensuring that we have clear policies and protocols in place to investigate incidences when force is used. These investigations must take place quickly and comprehensively. Ingrained in my values – and the values of our city – is ensuring that people are able to protest peacefully to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of expression while providing the resources, support and training necessary for our police department to do their jobs and protect the public’s safety at these protests.
Under the accountability system that we’ve set up, the uses of force that occurred during the MLK protests are currently under review and being investigated. Moving forward, the City must also continue to implement many other reforms to ensure our officers are adequately trained and prepared to serve and protect all of Seattle’s residents.”