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Federal Judge Holds Seattle Police Department in Contempt for Using Pepper Spray, Blast Balls On BLM Protestors

Seattle, WA – On Monday, a federal judge held the Seattle Police Department in contempt of court for violating an order to stop the “indiscriminate” use of chemical irritants and projectiles during Black Lives Matter protests.

US District Judge Richard Jones of the Western District of Washington in Seattle found that the police department failed to prove its use of pepper spray, pepper balls, blast balls and paint balls during multiple Black Lives Matter protest was warranted. 

Jones examined videos and police reports to determine if officers violated the order, which prohibited officers from launching chemical irritants or projectiles of any kind at peaceful protesters. The order was issued as a result of legal action taken by Black Lives Matter protesters earlier this year.

After reviewing four protests in August and September, Judge Jones found four “clear violations” of the previous order that prohibited police from using force against peaceful protestors. 

“SPD has often hurled blast balls into crowds of protestors. In many cases, the accuracy of these baseball-style throws is suspect,” Jones wrote, adding that “they pose a greater collateral danger” to peaceful protesters than other projectiles.

Judge Jones referenced two examples of when officers threw blast balls, a grenade-like device that explodes and spews pepper gas, into crowds of protestors. Saying this was a violation of the order even if the use of force was justified. 

“Of the less lethal weapons, the Court is most concerned about SPD’s use of blast balls, the most indiscriminate of the four” crowd-control weapons whose use he examined. “SPD has often hurled blast balls into crowds of protesters” when no immediate threat to the officers’ safety or public property could be identified, the judge found.

The judge also highlighted four instanced where officers’ use of force complied with his order.

“Some might say that four clear violations — out of four days of protests and countless uses of less lethal weapons — must surely be insufficient to ‘vitiate’ (spoil) the City’s otherwise substantial compliance,” Jones wrote. “But this is misguided.”

“We think this is an important step in holding the police department accountable for how it treats the protesters,” said Lisa Nowlin, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington, who represents the protesters.

It’s not yet clear what legal consequences SPD could face. Those details could be hammered out during a future hearing.

“We’re reviewing the order and intend to confer with City clients as we assess next steps in this case,” the Seattle City Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County responded to the contempt ruling, saying they “will continue to defend our rights until we achieve systemic change and accountability. We will not stop.”

“Police do not have license to attack people demanding accountability and change. The use of pepper spray and blast balls against our community is proof that our protests are necessary,” BLM said.

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