SEATTLE — The Seattle Office of Police Accountability on Friday released its latest batch of findings resulting from dozens of probes into allegations of officer misconduct at Seattle protests since late May.
The trove of new reports includes new rulings on officers’ frequent use of crowd control weapons during summer protests, including a tear gas canister that hit a reporter on live television and a blast ball that seriously injured a young woman. The 22 newest investigations also include a social media post where the Seattle Police Department implied that a photo of candles showed improvised explosives.
The OPA released a video to accompany three cases that originated from a week-long show of police force on Capitol Hill in early June.
While rulings in specific investigations varied, the OPA found the use of such devices in the highlighted cases broke with training and existing policy and highlight the need for change.
Among the most notable findings, OPA Director Andrew Myerberg found an officer improperly deployed a blast ball that during a late-night protest outside the East Precinct on June 8. Street medics said the woman had to be resuscitated three times before being taken to the hospital. In the OPA’s report, investigators said hospital records confirmed she suffered cardiac arrest and noted several possible causes, including “disruption of the heart rhythm that can be caused by a blow to the area around the heart,” and other complications not directly related to the impact.in the chest as she stood in the street
Myerberg concluded that the projectile that struck her was used outside existing policy and against the officer’s training.
“As indicated above, [the officer] threw the fourth blast ball overhand and towards a person — the Subject. At the time of the deployment, the Subject was unarmed and was not throwing projectiles at officers. Moreover, the other individuals in her immediate vicinity also were not doing so. While [the officer said he did not intend to hit the Subject and that he did not know that he did so until he became [aware] of the FIT and OPA investigations, this, in and of itself, is a problem.”
A disciplinary decision is still pending before the police chief.
Officer who hit reporter with tear gas canister violated policy, OPA finds
In another case, police body camera videos show an officer throwing a CS gas canister overhand and directly at people inside Cal Anderson Park, including an MSNBC reporter who was providing a live report.
“This is impermissible without necessity,” the OPA said. “The collective video established that these individuals were engaged in any crimes of violence at the time. The video also shows that the officer simply did not exercise due care when he deployed the CS gas canister. This caused it to impact innocent bystanders, including the reporter and her crew.”
In a third case, the OPA found, on the same night, an officer improperly threw a blast ball that hit and injured a man who was resting in Cal Anderson Park. Investigators noted that the officer could not see the area where he threw the weapon, violating policies against “blind deployment.”
In a letter dated Jan. 14, Myerberg recommended interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz modify department policies guiding the use of blast balls to specifically prohibit:
1. Deploying blast balls directly into crowds unless individuals in those crowds pose a direct
threat of harm to officers. A direct threat cannot be established simply because a crowd is not
complying with an order to disperse.
2. Deploying blast balls directly at a person’s body or in a manner that creates a likelihood that a person could be struck unless to prevent imminent serious bodily harm or death.
3. Deploying blast balls overhand unless to prevent imminent serious bodily harm or death.
Calls for an outright ban on the use of such devices have persisted for years, including by Seattle’s Community Police Commission. The Seattle City Council is currently considering modifications to a crowd control weapons ban passed at the height of the summer protests, which was later blocked from implementation by a federal judge.
Following the OPA’s latest reports, the CPC released a statement Friday raising concern about an SPD proposal to continue use of all crowd control weapons and even add new ones.
The statement reads in part:
“The findings released by OPA make the new policies SPD is proposing even more concerning. Instead of limiting the use of these weapons, SPD’s proposal would allow the department to increase its arsenal. Under SPD’s proposal, police would continue to use all the current weapons, including tear gas and blast balls. However, they would also be allowed to use an additional weapon against protesters — guns that shoot pepper spray pellets.
SPD’s proposal misses an opportunity to mend and forge relationships with the Community in this moment in police accountability. SPD is asking to grow its crowd control weapons arsenal while abuses of crowd control weapons continue to come to light. This undermines community trust in its police department.
The people marching in the streets were exercising their First Amendment rights to protest police violence against communities of color. SPD’s response was violent. SPD used chemical weapons that affect the respiratory system against members of our Communities during a pandemic. We will not accept law enforcement using tactics like this. Violence and excessive force will not be accepted as the new normal.”
The CPC is seeking public comments on the police department’s proposal through Jan. 26.
OPA finds SPD’s candle tweet was inaccurate, but ‘not intentionally dishonest’
Another ruling among the mass of reports released Friday was a final determination on a Seattle Police Department tweet from June 6, which garnered online blowback from across the nation.
In the tweet, the Seattle Police Department said improvised explosives were thrown at officers, including two images showing candles.
Myerberg concluded that the post was “clearly incorrect” in hindsight, but that the employee who posted the tweet was not intentionally dishonest.
“Where [the employee] went wrong was writing a post that made it seem that the candles were, in fact, the explosive devices that had been used. In hindsight, this was clearly incorrect; however, the employee did not know that at the time and posted based on information that had been provided to her by others and that she believed in good faith. Moreover, OPA finds it significant that NE#1 made the posts reluctantly and based on pressure from her chain of command to quickly get information out.”
Myerberg noted that the employee said she made the post reluctantly, “based on pressure from her chain of command to quickly get information out.” While existing policy “cautions employees to not ‘speculate,'” Myerberg said the same rules do not pertain to social media — a loophole he recommends SPD close.
“It seems to OPA that making posts hurriedly and based on unverified reports is likely to result in such inaccuracies, which can serve to undermine, not build, trust and confidence in the Department and in its veracity and believability,” Myerberg wrote. “Unfortunately, that is what happened here.”
In another letter to Diaz, Myerberg recommended the following changes be made:
- Require chain of command screening of all official Department social media posts concerning high-profile matters that are reasonably expected to impact community perception of SPD and its enforcement actions.
- Reiterate to both Public Affairs unit employees and command staff that while getting information out quickly is laudable, that desire should not undermine accuracy.
Review a full list of protest-related complaints and completed case summaries on the Office of Police Accountability website.
Published at Fri, 15 Jan 2021 18:07:00 +0000