Seattle council members protest after tear gas used on crowd

·5 min read

SEATTLE (AP) — Just days after Seattle's mayor and police chief promised a month-long moratorium on using a type of tear gas to disperse protesters, the department used it again during an overnight demonstration, bringing severe criticism Monday from City Council members, vows to overhaul the department and calls for the mayor to consider resigning.

Under pressure from councilors, protesters and dozens of other elected leaders who have demanded that officers dial back their tactics, the Seattle Police Department said it would remove barricades near the East Precinct building in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, where protesters and riot squads have faced off nightly. The department said protesters could march past the building and it would remain staffed to prevent damage.

Council President Lorena Gonzalez and others expressed their frustration with Mayor Jenny Durkan and the police, signaling radical change could be on the way. Gonzalez said the council must think in a “transformational way” about how the city views public safety and funds the police.

“When I hear people say there’s just a few bad apples on the police force, I adamantly disagree with that,” said Council Member Debra Juarez, a former King County judge. “It’s just not a healthy tree. We need to plant a new tree.”

Council member Kshama Sawant had already called for Durkan to resign, and members Teresa Mosqueda and Tammy Morales said Monday the mayor should at least think about it.

“How many people need to write in about being gassed in their own homes? How many people have to be sprayed in the street every night or experience getting hit with flash bombs or rubber bullets?” Mosqueda said during a council briefing. “The mayor should ... ask herself if she is the right leader, and resign.”

In a subsequent interview, Mosqueda said that while she believes the mayor should consider resigning, changing who heads the city is less important than systemic change in its approach to public safety.

As the council's budget chair, Mosqueda announced an inquest into police spending. She said she wants to cut police funding by half and reinvest the money “in communities that we’ve failed,” including in affordable housing and mass transit.

Durkan has a history of working on police reform. Most significantly, as Seattle U.S. attorney she led the Justice Department in forcing Seattle police to make reforms in training, use of force and accountability under a 2012 consent decree. Her office betrayed no intention of her stepping down and said she “will not be distracted from the critical work that needs to be done.”

“As the person who originally investigated the Seattle Police Department for the unconstitutional use of force, Mayor Durkan believes that SPD can lead the nation on continued reforms and accountability, but knows this week has eroded trust at a time when trust is most crucial,” spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower said in a written statement.

The developments in Seattle came soon after Minneapolis City Council members said they intend to disband the city's police department following the killing of George Floyd and protests against police brutality and racism that have erupted around the globe.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he was convening an advisory group of black leaders and law enforcement representatives to develop police reform proposals. Among the topics on the table are an independent, statewide investigative unit for officer-involved killings; rethinking police use of force; and creating a legally binding obligation that officers report misconduct by fellow officers.

Sunday was the second night in a row that problems occurred in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. Police used flash bangs and tear gas to break up a crowd after authorities said people threw rocks and fireworks at officers.

Earlier Sunday evening, in an incident captured in dramatic video, a man drove a car at protesters, hit a barricade and is suspected of shooting a 27-year-old protester who had reached into the driver's side window in an attempt to stop him. The protester, who was shot in the shoulder, walked away from the scene while being attended to by medics, and police said they arrested the driver, identified as Nikolas Fernandez, for investigation of assault after he got out of the car brandishing a handgun.

At his court hearing Monday, Fernandez initially had bail set at $200,000, which was later reduced to $150,000 after family members spoke of his community ties and inability to pay. It wasn't clear if he had retained a lawyer.

According to a police report, he told officers his brother works at the East Precint; he thought he could drive through the area; and that he feared for his life when the protester reached in his window, so he grabbed the gun — which was unholstered on the passenger seat — and fired.

Durkan and Best have apologized over the use of tear gas and pepper spray on nonviolent protesters but have said police must deal with a small criminal element within the demonstrations.

Durkan on Sunday night said she would freeze spending on police technology, weapons, vehicles and buildings until further talks with community members and find $100 million in budget allocations for community needs. That money will not come from police budgets, as many protesters have demanded, Durkan said.

Protesters gathered again Monday night in the city's Capitol Hill neighborhood near the police precinct. At one point in the evening, people chanted at police, “We don't trust you.”


Associated Press correspondent Rachel La Corte in Olympia and writer Lisa Baumann in Seattle contributed.