With SPD’s use of force in MLK Day protest ‘under review,’ Garfield High teacher suing city

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 9.39.48 AM Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 9.38.50 AMGarfield 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.”

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12 thoughts on “With SPD’s use of force in MLK Day protest ‘under review,’ Garfield High teacher suing city

  1. Good. He should sue, because that was crazy.

    It’s unfortunate that we the taxpayers will have to cover the (inevitable) settlement. I hope police oversight continues to be a hot issue during the elections. Clearly more oversight – i.e., a full housecleaning – is needed.

    • I would agree with you. The fish stinks from the head down.

      I’m still shaking my head over the Assistant Chief thinking that protestors being addressed by force is necessary. If there is no violence on their part – looting, window-breaking, physical violence, etc. – there is no reason for them to react with any level of force. If they want to be present as a deterrent, that’s fine, but it’s not up to them to break up the gathering.

      It would appear it’s time to flush.

  2. This is due to the lousy hiring that goes on. I applied a few years back and they largely favored the former military, more “gun-ho” types over the thoughtful measured types.

  3. I fully support him (and not just as a fellow Bulldog from back in the day). If SPD opts not to control its officers for the right reasons, we need to make them do it to avoid monetary risk. If officers making bad use-of-force decisions make the department liable to lawsuits they might think twice about employing them or shielding them from consequences.

  4. I was in a business meeting at a nearby coffee shop. Although I didn’t see if he was pushed, one officer fell off his bike and clearly hurt is ankle. The rest of the officer reacted like if they were a gang and one of their members had been shot. The went nuts and started pepper spraying everything that moved. I saw an officer hit one person in the face with his spray can. The man had been sprayed and clearly couldn’t see where he was going. Still the officer decided that he wasn’t moving fast enough.

  5. The video shows this was clearly an unprovoked act of police brutality against lawful, peaceful citizens.

    Kathleen O’Toole was supposed to change this. Instead, it’s getting worse.

    Another reason I’m running against Mr. Burgess and his buddy Mr. Murray.

    Jesse needs to win this one for everyone!

  6. There is a problem when the Assistant Chief is coming out with ridiculous statements like “it was a relatively low use of force” when there should have been NO USE OF FORCE.

    Come on, Seattle PD: Your job is to uphold the Constitution and protect the rights of the citizens. When you forget that THAT is what your job description really is, it’s time for new leadership.

    And where is the Chief on this? Why is she so silent?

    Does O’Toole want to be known as a Chief plagued with “use of force” issues throughout her whole career?

    What a painfully embarrassing irony: Pepper-spraying protestors on MLK Day…

  7. @Annette: as your friendly neighborhood shrink with a specialization in trauma, I think your point is very on topic. I don’t know how many people would meet official criteria for PTSD per se, but my clinical and research work have left me very concerned that the experiences of being a police officer really push people to black and white, in-group/out-group, reactionary thinking. The military is moving far ahead of the police in attempting to address this pattern. The good news is that it’s actually a much easier thing to address than “the police are inherently bad people” or “the entire legal system is broken”. It needs more attention.

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