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caption: Seattle police officers dressed in riot gear stand in a cloud of tear gas, pepper spray and flash grenade smoke on the fifth day of protests following the violent police killing of George Floyd on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, at the intersection 11th and Pine Street in Seattle.
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Seattle police officers dressed in riot gear stand in a cloud of tear gas, pepper spray and flash grenade smoke on the fifth day of protests following the violent police killing of George Floyd on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, at the intersection 11th and Pine Street in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Federal judge in Seattle bans use of chemicals or projectiles against peaceful protesters

U.S. District Judge Richard Jones granted a temporary restraining order banning the use of chemicals or projectiles against peaceful protesters in the city of Seattle on Friday.

That includes tear gas, pepper spray, and flash bang grenades. His order joins similar rulings in federal courts in Portland and Denver.

The ban, which extends for 14 days, comes in response to a lawsuit filed by Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County and the ACLU of Washington.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of several plaintiffs and other demonstrators, who describe the physical injuries they suffered due to SPD’s use of tear gas, flash bangs and other crowd-control methods. They included burning eyes from pepper spray, difficulty breathing from tear gas, and bruises from foam-tipped projectiles.

This woman 'died three times' after Seattle Police hit her with a blast ball

Plaintiffs say the injuries they suffered, or their fear of being injured, violated their constitutional rights to join or observe protests against racism and police brutality over the past two weeks.

In a court hearing Friday, plaintiffs’ attorney David Perez said the order is necessary because Seattle police used disproportionate force against protesters so far. He says law enforcement could have focused more narrowly on people committing violence and property destruction.

“One woman from Tacoma lit five fires,” Perez said. “And they found her doing the hard work and investigation. They found her, and they arrested her. It wasn’t a thousand people setting car fires, it was one woman.”

Perez said only a strongly-worded ban will curb the police response.

“The city has already shown it will drive a truck through any exception,” he said. “The city said it would not use tear gas on Friday and by Sunday it was already using tear gas again.”

He asked Judge Jones to prohibit indiscriminate use of all crowd-control devices. But the order does allow exceptions in the face of a specific imminent threat, if the crowd control methods can be used in a “targeted” way. Tear gas can still be deployed in extremely narrow circumstances, if the chief believes it can be directed against people causing “violent or life-threatening activity.”

Carolyn Boies with the Seattle city attorney’s office says it’s unclear how that exception would work.

“I think a clear directive, if there’s going to be one, would make a lot more sense,” she told the judge.

In his order Friday, Jones said, “The tale of the protests is cloudy .... Both parties agree that some protesters did launch objects at the police, ranging from rocks, bottles, fireworks, traffic cones, traffic flares, and more.”

But Jones said, “Based on the Court’s review, the video and testimonial evidence show that on some occasions the SPD has in fact used less-lethal weapons disproportionately and without provocation.”

He said testimonials and video evidence establish that SPD tactics likely “chilled speech,” violating plaintiffs’ First and Fourth Amendment rights.

Judge Jones opened his order with an acknowledgement that the protests extend far beyond present-day Seattle:

“The city and nation are at a crisis level over the death of George Floyd. One would be missing the point to conclude that the protests that are the subject of this motion are only about George Floyd" Jones wrote.

"His death just happens to be the current tragic flashpoint in the generational claims of racism and police brutality in America. The global strength of the Black Lives movement and the obvious commitment to change are a clear indication—not just to this Court, but globally—that these protests will not be short-lived, and the protestors have made it clear that their determination will be relentless until change and police reform is made.”

Read the order below or see the PDF: