Prior to the launch of an investigation into his officers’ response to a late-night “dance party” protest that wound its way through the streets of Capitol Hill early Sunday morning before coming to a halt on E Madison in the wake of six arrests and the deployment of pepper spray, new East Precinct Commander Capt. Ron Wilson told CHS the actions taken Pride weekend were the result of a culmination of observations made by police that the situation was about to become violent.
“We have the responsibility to ensure the peace on both sides,” Wilson said Monday afternoon in an interview with CHS. Wilson said he stands by the decisions made in Sunday’s early hours.
CHS’s report from the scene of the Pride weekend conflict between marchers and police
Citing an unnamed source, the Stranger has reported that the Seattle Police Department disciplinary office is beginning an investigation into possible officer misconduct during the arrests. The Seattle Times confirmed the report.
Wilson, part of the contingent of police following the crowd of more than 50 people Sunday morning as marchers circled and attempted to enter areas near the various Pride beer gardens operating along E Pike, said his officers reported that individuals wearing backpacks in the crowd were starting to put on bandanas and that the dance and marching event began to take “the same nature and look as what happened last year.”
In 2011, CHS reported on a group of more than 100 hundred people dancing in the streets of Pike/Pine and on Broadway — as well as busting glass and tangling with police in riot gear. One person was arrested. Fear of a repeat had East Precinct deploying extra officers and keeping an “emphasis patrol” on hand to “designate resources for developing situations.”
Wilson said there was “talk of breaking windows amongst the crowd” again in 2012 and that the crowd had marched around Pike/Pine and Broadway knocking over construction and business signs, dragging garbage cans into the street and throwing firecrackers near officers as it arrived at 10th and E Pike and the line of SPD officers in riot gear before marching off to E Madison where the SWAT teams eventually moved in and the arrests and pepper spraying went down.
“I don’t believe the actions we took were out of line,” Wilson, newly named as head of the East Precinct as of early May, told CHS.
Wilson’s new role has not yet been announced by the Seattle Police Department but he formally took over the job last month from Capt. James Dermody who has shifted over to command West Precinct. Dermody came to the East Precinct during sweeping changes made when John Diaz was still acting in an interim capacity as the Seattle Chief of Police. Wilson comes to the East Precinct a 36-year veteran of SPD. His previous role was to head the formation of SPD’s Community Outreach Section. “What I want to take from my 36 years of experience with the department is I really want us to build a better relationship between the police department and the community we serve,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s introduction to his new neighborhood is marked by an issue that seems likely to put that outreach effort to the test. He’s slated to attend Thursday night’s meeting of the East Precinct Advisory Council where the agenda is expected to focus on recent gun violence including the unsolved shooting death of Justin Ferrari. While the incident this weekend might pale in comparison, it will likely add weight to SPD’s ongoing problems around use of force and the Department of Justice’s frustrated call for reforms throughout the department.
Wilson said he has no concerns about the actions of Lt. Gregg Calder, a key figure in much of the criticism leveled at the police response to the march for his use of pepper spray in the incident.
According to Wilson, Calder recognized an individual marching in the crowd from an earlier incident. Wilson said Calder saw a man walking with the group “who had thrown eggs and flares” at police — and hit Calder — during a previous protest.
“Lt. Calder had been hit with an egg and recognized that person and pointed out that he knew the person,” Wilson said. “I think that person vanished into the crowd,” he said. UPDATE: Clarification — Wilson said the man Calder spotted disappeared into the crowd. He was not the man who allegedly kicked Calder.
“So it was at that point, given all that discussion about breaking windows, the masking up, it’s time to say, ‘OK, we’re going to contain this better by moving them out of the street, onto the sidewalk,'” Wilson said of the decision to move the crowd out of the E Madison roadway.
Wilson also said while he did not see the incident because he was with the SPD officers trailing the crowd, he has no information to dispute the report that Calder was kicked by one of the marchers, helping to set off the melee.
“I believe it’s factual, the person did it, moved back into the crowd and then reappeared and they tried to arrest him,” Wilson said.
A widely viewed video of the night’s events focuses on Calder’s role in the melee. It purports to show that the suspect charged with assault in the incident was on the sidewalk and did not kick Calder before the suspect was sprayed with pepper spray and taken into custody. In the video, Calder can be seen approaching the suspect and firing pepper spray at the 24-year-old. The video does not clearly show any interactions between the two prior to the use of the spray but it does show the initial use of pepper spray when one of the members of the crowd jumps on top of a parked car.
According to Wilson, Calder was the “Incident Commander for the Pride Events” in the East Precinct that night.
Wilson said he agrees with the decision to push the crowd from the street and that waiting for
the group to march farther would not have brought things to a peaceful end.
“We’ve had that happen and look at the response we’ve gotten,” Wilson said. “We still get criticized because we took enforcement action. We are still blamed as the instigators however the people whose property gets damaged aren’t very happy with us at all.”
Wilson said he expects the plan to be the same Friday night at a rally to protest the police response.
“It’s a tremendous strain on budget and resources to have to address this,” Wilson said. “We’re going to be there to make sure it remains peaceful.”
An element Wilson said he wants made clear was that his officers were not targeting the group because the marchers were LGBT.
“I’ve read… all the different publications that I can find online. I’ve read the comments on all of them. There is a lot of misinformation out there. There is a lot of inaccurate information,” Wilson said.
Wilson said his officers were not “gay bashing” and that several Pike/Pine gay-focused business owners requested an increased police presence following last year’s protest activities when some patrons of the Wildrose beer garden were threatened by the marching crowd.
Wilson also said that it’s not true that the most violent act of the night ended up being perpetrated by SPD.
“We didn’t stop the people,” Wilson said. “That I think really has to be laid out. We didn’t put an end to their march. All we told them to do was to get out of the street. And most everyone complied.”
Of the six people arrested Sunday morning, two were booked for hindering of law enforcement, one for pedestrian interference and obstructing, two for pedestrian interference and the sixth for investigation of assault. That 24-year-old male was, along with a woman booked for hindering, part of the Chase 5 group that CHS reported were found not guilty of trespassing earlier this year after being arrested during a fall 2011 protest inside the Broadway Chase bank.
Four of the six face hearings in Seattle Municipal Court later this week while the case of a fifth has been passed to the City Attorney’s office to determine possible charges. Meanwhile, charges have not yet been filed against the 24-year-old hauled in for assault, according to court records.