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Black Lives Matter, ACLU say Seattle Police violated court order with violence in protests

caption: Police officers face off with people protesting onSeattle's Capitol Hill on Saturday, July 25 2020.
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Police officers face off with people protesting onSeattle's Capitol Hill on Saturday, July 25 2020.
KUOW photo/Esmy Jimenez

Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County and the ACLU of Washington are asking a federal judge to hold the city of Seattle in contempt of court, pointing to police use-of-force during last weekend's protest against racial injustice.

The Black Lives Matter-ACLU complaint alleges police violated a preliminary injunction by indiscriminately using pepper spray, blast balls and other crowd control measures against people who were not involved in violence, and by targeting legal observers and journalists.

U.S. District Judge Richard Jones has given the city until noon on Wednesday, July 29 to file a response to the complaint. Jones issued a preliminary injunction in June, barring the use of crowd control measures against people protesting peacefully. That was after police used tear gas and other weapons at multiple protests.

But this past Saturday, officers again used pepper spray and blast balls on protesters in Capitol Hill. A legal observer told KUOW that she saw the weapons employed against people who were not being violent.

A spokesperson for Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said, “We’ll review the claims, investigate the assertions, and respond accordingly.”

The Black Lives Matter-ACLU complaints lists several statements from people who said they were not engaged in violence, yet were hit or injured by police, without warning.

The Seattle Police Department said in statements this weekend that some people in the crowd threw fireworks and other projectiles at them and that nearly 60 officers were injured.

But Annika Carlsten, a public defender in Snohomish County who acted as a legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild for Saturday’s protest, said some of the officers’ injuries may have been caused by their own blast balls.

“You can see in the videos, it's the explosives that they're throwing at the crowd that is bouncing back at them,” Carlsten told KUOW. “I saw several officers drop explosives onto them themselves as they're doing things.”

She said the police actions escalated the tensions, and that officers responding to the actions of a few in the crowd wound up using pepper spray and other weapons on people who were protesting peacefully. Carlsten said she was hit by a blast ball in the leg.

Dozens of people were arrested in the clashes Saturday. Construction trailers at the site of the new youth jail were burned, and windows were broken at businesses and the East Precinct building.

In a separate action last week, another federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against a Seattle City Council ordinance that would have gone further than Jones’ order.

Judge James Robart said the ordinance, which would have gone into effect over the weekend, may interfere with the federal consent decree that governs police use of force in Seattle. He left open that either side could prevail in the case.

In response to the Black Lives Matter-ACLU complaint, Judge Jones gave the city until noon Wednesday to respond.

Read the Black Lives Matter-ACLU complaint below:

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