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Seattle OPA recommends the elimination of blast balls, 1 officer disciplined, 7 others referred to training

We reviewed 15 OPA reports released on April 30, 2021, investigating police conduct during 2020 protests.

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[SEATTLE] – (MTN) The Seattle Office of Police Accountability released findings on 15 more investigations related to protests motivated by the death of George Floyd in May of 2020. Of the 15 cases, 2 were “partially sustained,” and 3 resulted in “management action.” Additionally, the OPA recommends a total ban on the use of blast balls for crowd control.

The batch of reports recommends an officer receive disciplinary action and 7 more to get additional training. In many cases, the OPA concluded that officers pushed the limits of appropriate conduct but did not violate policy. In other cases, reports stated they could not identify the specific officer who violated department policy, preventing disciplinary action.

The most critical finding regards the use of blast balls. Several reports documented injuries sustained by people by the devices, despite evolving policy in their use. In one case where a protester was seriously injured, and the incident was captured on video the OPA concluded, “For these reasons, OPA herein amplifies its previous Management Action Recommendations and recommends that, unless SPD can show compelling evidence that blast balls can be used in a safe, non-indiscriminate manner that takes into account how blast balls functionally deploy and largely eliminates the risk of harm to non-violent parties, this tool be banned in its entirety.

“OPA reaches this conclusion based on the belief that, even if its outstanding recommendations concerning blast balls are all implemented (i.e., no overhand throws or deployments at persons unless an imminent harm to person standard is met), there is no guarantee that bad outcomes will not still result.”

The last time Seattle Police used one for crowd control was on December 18, 2020, at Cal Anderson Park during a homeless sweep. That incident was live-streamed by Converge Media.

The officer recommended for disciplinary action was involved in an August 12, 2020, incident where they drove an unmarked police vehicle aggressively at a group of protesters outside of Cal Anderson Park. The incident was caught on two separate videos. One video shows protesters scattering, including jumping over hedges and a wall to avoid being struck. The OPA concluded that the officer drove approximately 80 feet on the sidewalk before exiting back to the street to avoid hitting a bus shelter.

The officer who was driving during that incident did not cooperate with the OPA during the investigation. The OPA referenced the case for criminal charges to the Seattle Police Department, which concluded they could not build a case beyond “a reasonable doubt.”

Another investigation has resulted in the opening of a new case. The OPA concluded that an arrest made on June 8, 2020, was without probable cause. However, the officer that processed the arrest was not the arresting officer. An investigation into the arresting officer has been opened by the OPA.

We reviewed the 15 reports released today and provided a summary of findings, as well as links to the original reports.

Case 2020OPA-0430 – Excessive Force – blast balls, 40MM launcher used on protesters – June 8, 2020

An individual reported an unknown officer targeted him with a tear gas canister and a 40MM blue-tipped round. The OPA determined the complaint is not sustained in part because OPA was unable to identify the deployment specifically referenced by the complainant, so the OPA cannot determine whether or not it was an appropriate use of force.

Case 2020OPA-0451 – Excessive Force – blast ball buttock injury and pepper spray – June 8, 2020

An individual reported an unknown Seattle Police Department employee deployed crowd control weapons, including a blast ball and pepper spray without warning, causing injury. The OPA determined the complaint is “not sustained” because of the significant number of individuals present at the time of the deployment, the dark conditions, and the placement of umbrellas that prevented individual demonstrators from being identified.

Case 2020OPA-0467 – Excessive Force – officers falsely arrested, dragged woman having seizure – July 25, 2020

Multiple people reported they were arrested for no reason, subject to excessive force. Additionally, the complaint alleged the Seattle Police Department intentionally did not provide medical attention to a person having a seizure. There was an additional complaint that Seattle police did not properly secure the person’s property having a seizure.

Four officers were named in the case, with 9 allegations against them.

The first officer was investigating for violating 16.130 for requirements on providing medical aid.

The second officer was investigated for violating 8.200 using force only when authorized.

The third officer was investigated for violating 6.010, requiring probable cause to make an arrest, 8.200, and 16.130.

The fourth officer was investigated for violating 6.010, 8.200, 16.130, and 11.050, officer requirements to secure detainee property.

The OPA determined that only the fourth officer, referenced as “named employee #4,” should receive a training referral regarding securing a detainee’s property.

“OPA finds that, once NE#1 took Complainant #1 into his custody, he was responsible for her property. However, OPA recognizes that this was a quick moving situation and that NE#4 reasonably believed that he exigently needed to move Complainant #1 to another location. OPA also notes that NE#4 did return to the scene and collect property that he believed belonged to complainant. While this was incorrect, he acted in good faith when he did so. For these reasons and under the circumstances, OPA concludes that a Training Referral is the appropriate result.”

Case 2020OPA-0495 – Excessive Force – blast ball injury to protester – no date for the incident provided

An individual reported that a police officer shot a stun grenade (blast ball) that exploded and “harmed the protester.” It also alleges that when another person came to render aid, that person was arrested by a second police officer.

The first officer was investigated for violating 14.090, making individual decisions on the use of pepper spray (OC) and blast balls consistent with Title 8 Use of Force policy and providing aid to subjects exposed to pepper spray or blast balls, when feasible.

The second officer was investigated for violating 6.010, requiring probable cause to make an arrest, 8.200, and 16.130.

There were two significant findings in this investigation. First, the OPA calls for the complete banning of blast balls as a crowd control device. The report stated that the use of a blast ball complied with 14.090. However, it was apparent by the injuries to the victim and video of the incident and that even with changes in use of force guidance, there is no way to “guarantee bad outcomes will not still result.”

The second outcome involves the second officer and the arrest of the second individual. The report states, “OPA struggles to understand why this arrest was made. While the Subject had remained in the area after a dispersal order had been given, he was moving. In addition, at the time of his arrest, he was not willfully disobeying orders to engage in malfeasance, but was trying to shield Witness #1, who was on the ground and injured, from further harm. Given this, the Subject should not have been arrested.”

Despite this finding, the person arrested was detained by a different officer. That unnamed third officer handed off the detainee to the officer investigated by the OPA to process the arrest. Although the report concluded 6.010 was violated, the officer did “not know the exact reasons for why the arrest was made, and there is no indication that he spoke to the arresting officer about this.”

This investigation has opened up an additional OPA case against a third Seattle police officer. The report did not provide the new case number.

Case 2020OPA-0515 – Officer drove onto sidewalk, nearly hitting protesters – August 12, 2020

Three officers were named in this high-profile case that was captured on video outside of Cal Anderson Park. Two officers were found to have violated department policy. One has received a written reprimand, and another has discipline pending. 

The first officer was investigated for violating 5.001 employees should strive to be professional. The employee was found to have violated the policy and is receiving a written reprimand.

The second officer was investigated for violating 5.001, 5.001 requiring adherence to laws, city policy, and department policy, 13.030, officers may drive in an emergency response only when the need outweighs the risk. A fourth violation of 5.001, employees may use discretion, was removed from the investigation. The employee was found to have violated 2 of the 3 policies.

A third officer was investigating for violating 5.001 employees should strive to be professional, and it concluded the allegation was “not sustained.”

The report details the August 12 incident where an unmarked SPD vehicle drove up on the sidewalk and traveled for 80 feet toward protesters scattered, including one jumping over a wall. The officer under disciplinary action did not cooperate with the OPA investigation, refusing to testify per the report.

The OPA referred the officer’s actions to the Seattle Police Traffic Division for criminal investigation. The traffic division concluded a criminal case could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and referenced the case back to the OPA. 

The OPA concluded that even if the officer’s claim that they were chasing suspects that were shining strobe lights in their face, “the risk he took simply to apprehend individuals using a strobe light were dangerous, ill advised, and, as was shown by the numerous complaints and public concern this incident generated, undermined public trust and confidence.”

The officer will also be disciplined for his comments captured on video. “Calling a fleeing subject a roach, referring to Seattle pejoratively as “fucking dirty,” and telling community members that his job is to “babysit” for “200 grand” is unacceptable. This is particularly the case given NE#2’s role as a supervisor.” 

Case 2020OPA-0522 – Officer played “Bad Boys” song, taunting protesters – no date for the incident provided

Two officers were referenced in this complaint. Despite a conclusion that the allegations are “not sustained,” both officers were reference for additional training.

A Seattle Police Department van was observed by an individual playing the song Bad Boys by Inner Circle, made famous by the reality TV show COPS. She went to the East Precinct to express her concern about the incident. A sergeant came out to talk to her and “downplayed” the incident.

The investigation revealed the sergeant that spoke to the person about the issue was a passenger in the van. The OPA report states, “NE#2 should not have been the supervisor assigned to speak with the complainant about her concerns as NE#2 was involved in the potential misconduct. NE#2 should have recognized this, recused herself, and had another supervisor handle the complaint. This was the case even given how chaotic the day was.”

The report calls for the van’s driver and the sergeant to “be informed that their conduct was outside of the Department’s expectations and should not be repeated. Lastly, the Named Employees should be notified that future similar conduct will result in a Sustained finding and the imposition of discipline.”

The sergeant was also found to require retraining not to be involved in complaints when “she is involved.”

Case 2020OPA-0569 – Excessive Force – officers tackle male in Cal Anderson Park – September 1, 2020

An individual reported that a police officer failed to de-escalate before using force and applied excessive force during the arrest of a demonstrator. 

In that incident, police told a person within Cal Anderson Park during a homeless sweep to stop walking. One officer grabbed the person’s backpack from behind, and another officer tackled the individual when they pulled away. Based on the bodycam video, the report concluded that the use of force of justified and at an appropriate level.

Case 2020OPA-0585 – Excessive Force – officer shoved woman who hit her head – September 7, 2020

A person claimed that an officer failed to de-escalate and used excessive force when the officer pushed a demonstrator. The OPA also investigated that the officer “may have been dishonest” when he denied making any physical contact with the demonstrator.

According to the report, two people complained about the incident, but not the women pushed by the officer. The OPA could not identify the person in the complaint, complicating the investigation. The incident was captured on Twitter and two bodycams, but none of the videos were conclusive. The OPA states they hired an outside expert to analyze and enhance the video.

The OPA believes that the officer likely did make physical contact with the protester; however, it cannot conclusively prove it. The report states, “Ultimately, OPA finds the expert analysis to be persuasive. The expert, despite using sophisticated technology to analyze, refine, and slow down the video, could not conclusively identify whether or not NE#1 pushed the Subject. This report serves to prevent OPA from meeting its burden of proof to establish misconduct on NE#1’s part. Accordingly, and while OPA retains significant concerns about this case, OPA cannot definitively prove that NE#1 pushed the Subject.”

Case 2020OPA-0586 – Officer antagonized protesters – no date for the incident provided

The OPA received a complaint that an officer engaged in a “back and forth” with demonstrators that were unprofessional and escalatory.

The lengthy report outlines a series of exchanges with the officer and multiple protesters. The incident, captured on video outside of the King County Jail, was reported by a third party to the OPA.

The officer was referred for additional training with the report concluding, “his failure to end the discussion once it was clearly unproductive. He should be advised of other manners in which he could have handled the interaction and should be given any retraining that his chain of command deems necessary.”

Case 2020OPA-0587 – Excessive Force – officers charge at protesters outside of SPOG – September 7, 2020

The lengthy investigation and report involve 7 different officers during the Labor Day protest outside of SPOG. In total, the 7 officers were accused of 9 policy violations.

The report states in justification of the actions of Seattle Police that day, “SPD’s Computer Assisted Dispatch (CAD) report of the incident, which collated updates added to the call’s incident number, reflected that, at approximately 6:07 PM, SPD’s Intelligence Unit reported that the “signal to act” within the crowd would be a plume of white smoke. At 6:09 PM, Intelligence reported that a male in the crowd wearing tan clothing and a pink bandana possessed approximately twelve Molotov cocktails in a box of Corona beer. OPA’s analysis of security video after the fact showed an individual visible at the right of the crowd and carrying a box matching later photographs of the box of Molotov cocktails recovered at the incident scene. This individual was, in fact, wearing a dark blue or gray hoodie and tan gloves.”

“Two minutes after the report, the call was updated to reflect that there was probable cause to arrest the individual and a targeted arrest was approved by a Lieutenant. As discussed more fully in the context of 2020OPA-0583, the attempted arrest was unsuccessful and the incident devolved into violence towards police officers and uses of force, including less-lethal tools, in response. As this continued, the decision was made the declare the incident a riot and to disperse the crowd.”

On November 26, Malcontent News released an investigation into the events on September 7, raising serious questions about Seattle Police actions on that day. Video captured on body cameras and our team indicated numerous opportunities to arrest the individual with the Corona Beer box if the intent of Seattle Police was only to stop that individual.

The report concluded that the actions of the 7 officers were “lawful and proper.”

Case 2020OPA-0611 – Excessive Force – pepper spray directed at a group – July 19, 2020 

In the report, the incident happened outside of the West Precinct with the officer investigated for violating 14.090; an officer may make individual decisions to deploy OC Spray (pepper spray) and Blast Balls consistent with Title 8 – Use of Force.

The report details the events outside of the sally port at the West Precinct, where a riot was declared. The report states that bodycam video supports the officer had bottles, a traffic cone, and a firework thrown at them. It concluded that the use of pepper spray was appropriate.

Case 2020OPA-0613 – Officer pictured posing with pepper spray – September 15, 2020

Three Seattle Police Department officers were investigated after a picture emerged of them on social media laughing during a protest, while one held a bottle of pepper spray. Two officers have been referenced for additional training.

In the incident, a woman was arrested by officers and experienced a broken tibia. A group of protesters who were attempting to de-arrest her were pepper-sprayed and also arrested.

The report concluded that police did not use excessive force and the actions were “lawful and proper.” The report states, “The force was reasonable to effectuate the arrest of the Subject, who failed to comply with officers’ directions to move towards them and went back into the crowd in an attempt to prevent being taken into custody. Given her behavior, force was appropriate to bring her under control. The force was also necessary under the circumstances. Notably, pulling the Subject out of the crowd was a lower level use of force than pepper spraying her or using other lesslethal tools. Moreover, had the officers tried to go into the group to extract her, it likely would have resulted in more harm to the officers and demonstrators. Lastly, the force – pulling the Complainant – was proportional to the threat posed by her actions and those of the other demonstrators who actively prevented her arrest. That the Subject suffered a leg injury is unfortunate, but it does not cause the force to be not proportional or otherwise inconsistent with policy.”

After the arrest, the first officer in the complaint accidentally discharged a fire extinguisher, enveloping the third officer. The officer hit with the fire retardant thought it was pepper spray. The first officer took a picture of the one sprayed with Cold Fire and another officer.

The accidental deployment of the fire extinguisher, the discussion, and photo-taking was captured on bodycams. 

The first officer and third officer in the report received a training referral. The report states, “The chain of command for NE#1 and NE#3 should discuss with them their decision to take a photograph during the demonstration. The chain of command should specifically instruct the officers that such actions, even if not intended to demean or insult others, can have this functional result and can diminish public trust and confidence in the Department.”

Case 2020OPA-0644 – Excessive Force – blast ball ankle injury – July 25, 2020

Two officers were investigated for the use of force using blast balls and 40MM less-lethal devices.

In the case of the 40MM less-lethal round that struck a cyclist’s head, the report states the video of the incident could not identify the officer who fired the shot. “If an officer did deploy a 40mm at the head of an individual who was not engaging in any violence, as appeared to be shown by the video, this would clearly violate policy. However, due to OPA’s inability to identify when the force was used and who used it, OPA cannot reach a definitive conclusion on this allegation.”

In the case of the blast ball, the report made a similar conclusion to 2020OPA-0495. The report states, “Given this weighing of the evidence, OPA concludes that, while a close call, NE#1’s deployment did not clearly violate policing. However, as discussed more fully below, OPA believes that it is emblematic of additional revisions that should be made to SPD policies and training. Of additional concern to OPA is the manner in which the blast ball deployed. First, OPA believes that SPD needs to reiterate that officers must roll a blast ball unless they can articulate why another deployment style was necessitated. Here, while NE#1 deployed the blast ball down towards the ground and in an open space, the sidearm deployment may have resulted in the blast ball skipping off the ground and detonating at a higher level than planned.”

Case 2020OPA-0664 – Hostile comments to arrestee – September 15, 2020

Two Seattle Police Department officers were investigated for bias-based policing, professional behavior, and a duty to report alleged policy violations. 

The first officer got in a lengthy exchange with a women under arrest. The report states, “NE#1 knelt beside the Subject and stated: “Hey, you guys are committing property destruction in my city. I don’t care if it’s rude or not.” The Subject responded that it was “[her] city too, thank you.” NE#1 replied: “Are you? Were you born here?” The Subject stated that she was. NE#1 said: “me, north Seattle.” The Subject responded: “me too.”

A bias-policing claim was made, and the OPA investigation concluded that the comment, “you guys are committing property destruction in my city,” was not based on race but a general comment about protesters. The second officer present stated he wasn’t paying attention to the conversation but that the woman under arrest “was trying to cooperate.”

One officer in this incident was referred for additional training. The report concludes, “His chain of command should discuss OPA’s findings with him and, reiterate that, regardless of his frustration level, NE#1 needs to avoid these types of interactions. Lastly, NE#1 should be notified that future similar conduct will likely result in the imposition of discipline. This counseling and any associated retraining should be documented.”

Case 2020OPA-0666 – Excessive Force – force during arrest – no date for the incident provided

An SPD officer was investigated for improper use of force on an individual at a demonstration. 

A person filed an anonymous complaint stating that during their arrest, the officer twisted their hands despite complying, refused to remove or reposition their mask despite repeated requests, and put his hands in their pockets without asking about gender identification.

Based on the report, the OPA states they reviewed bodycam video of the incident. The OPA report does not explicitly mention the complaint of the hands being twisted. It does conclude they could not determine if the person was having breathing difficulties due to the respirator because it muffled the person’s speech. The bodycam does not show the officer putting their hands in the pocket per the report and recorded the officer asking about gender identification. 

The findings were that the officer’s conduct was “lawful and proper.”

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