Denied anti-seizure medicine, a knee in the neck. Seattle protesters say they feared death following arrests
Samantha Six, 31, was arrested on July 25 during a civil rights demonstration on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. Six, who has epilepsy, says she had several seizures while in custody, and was denied access to her anti-seizure medication.
Her husband, Damien Boyd, 38, was also injured when he was arrested that afternoon. Now the couple is pursuing a lawsuit over their ordeal.
Saturdays are typically date nights for Six and Boyd, and they decided to spend this one at a protest on Capitol Hill.
But the day ended with the couple in jail: Six for 19 hours and Boyd for nearly two days.
Six had multiple petit mal seizures while in the custody of the Seattle police and the King County Jail, and said she was denied life-saving medication. Those seizures could escalate to grand mal seizures and kill her, she said, if left untreated for too long.
Jail guards forced a bag over her head when she refused to wear a soiled face mask, sexually harassed her, and wrote off her pleas for medical attention as a sign of mental illness, Six told KUOW. She was placed in solitary confinement.
“We went to the protest with the sole intention of providing our support and using our position as white Americans to lift minority voices and experiences,” Six said.
But things escalated, she added, when police emerged from the East Precinct to confront protesters.
“They just unloaded [munitions] on the crowd,” Six said. “They were not shooting canisters up into the air, to arc them over a crowd. They were shooting them straight at people. They were throwing grenades directly into human bodies.”
She and Boyd were among 47 demonstrators arrested that day; neither have been criminally charged.
That July afternoon, Seattle police declared the protest a riot, citing an arson at the King County Youth Jail and explosive devices thrown at officers. The department said that 59 officers were injured, and shared photos of officers with skin burns and abrasions. Legal observers there that day with the National Lawyers Guild have said the police, in many instances, were the victims of friendly fire.
The Seattle Police Department has come under fire in recent months for its repeated — and at times, indiscriminate — use of force against protesters, with crowd control weapons such as tear gas, projectiles, and flash-bang grenades.
Many demonstrators have been injured, including a woman who went into cardiac arrest but was resuscitated after police shot her with a blast ball and another woman who was possibly blinded by a rubber bullet.
RELATED: Needing body armor to protest in Seattle violates constitutional rights, lawsuit argues
A video capturing the moments leading up to Six and Boyd’s arrests shows a line of Seattle Police officers with bikes rushing protesters back and threatening to make arrests. Six and Boyd were among the demonstrators nearest police officers who approached the back of the crowd.
“Keep moving!” one officer is heard yelling.
“Faster!” someone adds, as an officer is seen shoving Six forward without any apparent provocation. Seconds later, the same officer grabs Six by the handle of her backpack before the camera cuts away.
“It didn't become clear to me that I was going to be arrested until after I was ripped to the ground,” Six said. “I had been screamed at to walk away and told that if I didn't do it, I'd be arrested."
The arresting officer, Scott Luckie, wrote in his report that Six had used her body as a shield to protect suspects throwing rocks at police.
“I specifically pointed at and touched Six’s back to make it clear I was addressing her, and told her if she did not leave, she would be arrested,” he wrote. “Six refused to start leaving.”
Samantha Six Arrest Report
Six, however, maintains that she followed officers’ orders to the best of her ability. Boyd said it was impossible for them to leave in the way police had ordered, since they were sandwiched between officers and other protesters.
“As we're being pushed and trying to walk, there is nowhere to go,” he said. “And they started hitting us with batons. They started slamming people in the back of the neck. I got pushed over a rock and I almost got trampled because the cops would not stop, no matter what.”
In video footage of the arrest, Six initially appears to be alert as she sits on the ground. But several minutes in, her body is limp as two officers drag her down the sidewalk. Six appears unresponsive for at least nine minutes of the video before medics arrive at the scene.
When she regained consciousness, Six said she realized she had suffered a petit mal seizure and her knees were badly scraped. Six has taken a medication called Vimpat since April 2019 to manage her epilepsy. She hadn’t had a seizure in more than 10 months, before her arrest.
“It feels like deja vu,” Six said. “I will get flushed and hot, my hands will shake. I get nauseous, I will vomit, my entire body gets really weak.
“I don't know how many petit mal seizures I will have before I have a grand mal seizure,” Six continued. “The very scary thing about all of it is that I never know what grand mal seizure might be the last one that I have.”
Boyd also said officers brutalized him during his arrest, using the same knee-on-neck restraint tactic used by Minneapolis officers who killed George Floyd, whose death was a catalyst for nationwide demonstrations against police violence.
“When I was taken down, they punched and kicked me,” he said. “My knees were bloody, they were applying pressure points on my wrist — I didn't resist. Somebody kneeled on the back of my neck and pressed really hard so I started screaming that ‘I can't breathe, they’re on my neck.’ I thought I was gonna die.”
"Nobody even looked or cared"
Six and Boyd were taken for processing at the Seattle Police Department’s West Precinct. That’s when Six learned that her backpack — containing her anti-seizure medication, which she takes every 12 hours — had been lost.
KUOW spoke to several other protesters who were arrested on July 25. One of them, Aisling Cooney, said she witnessed police officers at the West Precinct mock Six while she was in distress about her lost medication.
“She was screaming that she needs it or she'll have seizures,” said Cooney. “And the cops were laughing at her and nobody was helping her.”
The Seattle Police Department declined to comment on Six and Boyd’s cases, and rerouted KUOW to the Seattle Office of Police Accountability, which says it is conducting a preliminary investigation into their arrests.
Later, Six was booked at the King County jail and placed in solitary confinement.
“They walked me up some stairs and put me in an isolation tank,” she said. “I didn't even realize until after my husband got out and told me his experience that that's not what the inside of that jail looks like.”
Cooney, who was in jail at the same time as Six in a nearby holding cell, said she and others could hear Six in distress. Cooney said she saw jail guards ignore Six as she appeared to have seizures.
“They were all turned away from their desks on their phones — nobody even looked or cared, and she screamed the whole time.”
After realizing her medical needs wouldn’t be met, Six said she created a makeshift protective bed in her jail cell.
“I was surrounded in concrete and terrified that I was going to drop to the ground and have a seizure, crack my head open, and be left there to die,” she said. “So I took my blanket, wrapped it around me, and squeezed myself in between the toilet and the wall and tried to make it so if I did thrash, I wouldn't thrash around a lot.”
Noah Haglund, a spokesperson with the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, confirmed Six’s placement in isolation but declined to comment further on her allegations, citing federal health privacy laws.
“If this is what they will do to someone with epilepsy after a protest, in full view, to someone who is white, can anyone imagine what they’d do to someone who is Black and has been arrested?” Six said.
Beyond the lack of medical attention, she alleges other mistreatment.
At one point, she said, guards placed a bag over her head when she refused to wear a face mask stained with make-up.
“They said to put it on and I said ‘no,’ I wanted a clean mask,” she said. “And they grabbed my wrists and wrenched them backwards and threw me backwards into a chair and put a bag over my head.”
Detention center protocol calls for clean, washed masks to be issued daily to people in custody.
Six also said that female officers demanded that she strip while in the presence of a male guard as she was issued jail provided clothing.
“I turned around and saw a male officer standing in the room and he was not looking away,” she said. “And I said, ‘Absolutely not. He needs to leave the room — that is not legal. I am a rape survivor. He needs to leave.’”
It wasn’t clear to her whether or not he had actually left the room at the time she was changing, she said, because the female officers prevented her from turning around. Six said she was later sexually harassed by a male guard, who demanded to know if she found other male guards attractive.
Haglund, the jail spokesperson, did not comment on Six’s allegations specifically but said claims of misconduct are investigated and the appropriate disciplinary action implemented in cases where there is evidence to support the claim.
He also said that the jail had received 51 complaints alleging sexual harassment against inmates since 2019, but only two were found to be substantiated. Twenty of those complaints are from this year — none of which have resulted in findings of wrongdoing.
Boyd said that he saw several jail guards who were not wearing face masks, although he was told it was policy for them to do so.
When Six’s attorney, Sade Smith, came to see her the morning after her arrest, jail staff falsely told them that they had refused each other’s visits, both women told KUOW.
That, Six said, delayed her release, and caused her to miss yet another dose of her anti-seizure medication. Jail officials have disputed this allegation, saying they reviewed documentation that indicated Six declined to speak with her lawyer, more than once.
Smith, who worked as a public defender for seven years before switching to private practice, said such triangulation isn’t uncommon in King County. She pointed to a practice of jail staff limiting certain inmates’ access to an attorney, if they’ve identified them as being “difficult.”
“They'll claim that clients refused to come to court, when in fact, people are getting transported, they're using the restroom, or they're taking a shower or something like that,” she said. “And they don't give any additional information — just, ‘Oh, refusal.”
Local prosecutors have maintained that they will not file charges against peaceful protesters. The King County Prosecutor’s Office makes decisions regarding felony charges, while the Seattle City Attorney oversees misdemeanor charges.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg told KUOW that his office is focused on working through a backlog of about 5,000 felony cases of all types.
“We're not going to file a felony case just because somebody got arrested,” he said. "We're going to want to know exactly what happened and how did that person's conduct appear in contrast to the police officer’s conduct or what other protesters did. We know there's video out there -- there's no reason to file a case without seeing it.”
Satterberg added, however, that even cases where video footage may support officers’ allegations, “those are going to really drop to a very, very low priority matter … if that individual doesn't have any criminal history. “If they just went to a protest, and they got pushed up to the front line, things got out of control, I don't think they should go home with a felony,” he said.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes issued a similar statement in June, saying “If you’re marching the streets, peacefully speaking your voice and out after the now-cancelled curfew, I have no interest in charging you with a crime.”
For their part, Boyd and Six are now taking steps toward filing a lawsuit over their experiences in July. Who they will name as defendants in the claim is still an open question, said attorney Heather Cover, who is representing the couple in their civil case.
“It’s really a shame what was done to our clients and numerous others who were exercising their rights to peaceably assemble," Cover said. "We hope to be able to get them justice.”