Plaintiffs in Black Lives Matter v. Seattle and City of Seattle Agree to Order Protecting Protestors, Journalists, Legal Observers and Medics from Police Abuses During Protests

News Release: 
Monday, August 10, 2020
SEATTLE – The City of Seattle has agreed to strengthen and clarify the existing preliminary injunction in response to the contempt motion filed by the ACLU of Washington, The Korematsu Center, and Perkins Coie LLP on behalf of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County. This new Order, approved by the Court today, provides greater protections for protestors, journalists, legal observers and medics against police abuses.

“The use of indiscriminate and excessive force against protestors on July 25 is an example of why we need the protections in this settlement. Police must not respond to demands to dismantle systemic racism and end their violence against Black people with more violence,” said Livio De La Cruz, board member of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County.

The Order resolves plaintiffs’ contempt motion, which was filed in Black Lives Matter v. Seattle after Seattle Police Department (SPD) used excessive and indiscriminate force against protestors in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle on Saturday, July 25, 2020. Plaintiffs argued those events violated a preliminary injunction barring SPD from indiscriminately using chemical weapons and other less lethal weapons against peaceful protesters.  Plaintiffs filed nearly 40 witness declarations detailing the indiscriminate use of these weapons in violation of the Court’s preliminary injunction.

“The freedoms of speech and assembly are fundamental to our democracy and this order provides immediate and critically necessary protections for those rights,” said Robert Chang, executive director of the Korematsu Center at the Seattle University School of Law.

Judge Richard A. Jones approved the order this morning, which:
  • Makes clear that declaring a riot or unlawful assembly does not exempt SPD from complying with the Order, including the prohibition on the indiscriminate use of less lethal weapons. 
  • Expressly provides protections for journalists, legal observers, and medics.
  • Restricts SPD from using chemical and less lethal weapons to re-route a protest unless necessary to respond to a specific, imminent threat.
  • Requires SPD to issue a warning before using crowd control weapons, and give attendees reasonable time, space, and opportunity to leave.
  • Requires the City to immediately notify SPD officers about this new Order. 
  • Pauses proceedings in this case until the validity of Seattle City Council’s ordinance banning less lethal weapons is resolved in an unrelated lawsuit.
  • Extends Judge Jones’ preliminary injunction against the indiscriminate use of crowd control weapons, along with these new clarifications, for 90 days after the stay is lifted.
“This order is the most comprehensive in the country, protecting journalists, legal observers, and medics from police abuses during protests,” said David Perez, trial attorney and partner at Perkins Coie LLP. “We know that Seattle Police attacked professionals doing their jobs during the protests on July 25th, and this Order will protect those charged protecting health, democracy, and our constitutional rights from similar abuses in the future.”

“We will continue to hold the police accountable for violations of constitutional rights,” said ACLU-WA Senior Staff Attorney Molly Tack-Hooper. “This settlement does not end our lawsuit against the City and we will be monitoring to ensure that the rights of free speech and assembly are protected.”

The lawsuit, Black Lives Matter v. City of Seattle, was filed in response to the use of tear gas, pepper spray, and other less-lethal weapons against protestors during numerous demonstrations after the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis. It claims that the use of chemical weapons and projectiles for crowd control when not necessary to prevent injury is an excessive use of force that violates the Fourth Amendment and a form of retaliation that violates the First Amendment. It also alleges that use of these tactics chills free speech in violation of the First Amendment. On Friday, June 17, 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Jones issued a preliminary injunction preventing the City of Seattle from indiscriminately using chemical agents and other less lethal weapons against protests and demonstrations.

The plaintiffs are represented by David A. Perez, Joseph M. McMillan, Nitika Arora, Rachel Dallal, Carolyn Gilbert, Heath Hyatt, Ray Ivey, and Paige L. Whidbee of Perkins Coie LLP; Molly Tack-Hooper, Nancy Talner, Lisa Nowlin, Breanne Schuster, and John Midgley of the ACLU of Washington, and Robert Chang, Charlotte Garden, Melissa Lee, and Jessica Levin of the Korematsu Center of the Seattle University School of Law.