Seattle City Council bans chokeholds, police use of crowd control weapons

The Seattle City Council has voted unanimously to ban police from using tear gas, pepper spray and several other crowd control devices after officers repeatedly used them on mostly peaceful demonstrators protesting racism and police brutality.

The 9-0 vote Monday came amid frustration with the Seattle Police Department, which used tear gas to disperse protesters in the city’s densest neighborhood, Capitol Hill, just days after Mayor Jenny Durkan and Chief Carmen Best promised not to.

The council heard repeated complaints from residents forced out of their homes by the gas even though they weren’t protesting; one resident said his wife doused their child’s eyes with breast milk.

According to the Seattle police manual, neck restraints and carotid restraints were already "strongly disfavored" due to the "high risk of injury or death."

The entry also states that any use of a chokehold will result in a use-of-force investigation and will be "subject to strict scrutiny:"

Neck restraints and carotid restraints are strongly disfavored by the Department due to the create a high risk of injury or death when improperly applied. Any use of a neck or carotid restraint is a Type III use-of-force, will result in a FIT investigation, and will be subject to strict scrutiny by the Force Review Board.

Known inadvertent contact with a subject’s neck during the application of a head control tactic, or other control technique which results in momentary contact with the neck of a subject without the risk or intention of restricting the flow of blood or oxygen is not a neck or carotid restraint, but must be screened with a supervisor.  Any contact with the neck, causing or reasonably likely to cause injury or loss of consciousness will be screened with FIT.

The vote by the city council takes it a stop further -- outright banning the use of chokeholds by police.

Next, the council voted unanimously to ban the city from owning and using crowd-control methods like tear gas and blast balls.

Finally, the council voted to prohibit officers from covering badge numbers with mourning badges. Although it's a new SPD policy, council members said they want to make sure it's also the law.

A federal judge on Friday issued a temporary order banning Seattle police from using tear gas, pepper spray, foam-tipped projectiles or other force against protesters, finding that the department had used less-lethal weapons “disproportionately and without provocation,” chilling free speech in the process.

Socialist Council Member Kshama Sawant, who sponsored the legislation, said the police department had demonstrated it could not be trusted with the weapons.

“Many of us have witnessed it; many of us have experienced it,” Sawant said. “They falsely claimed that the protesters were violent rioters and that they had no alternative. ... They even attempted to maintain those lies in the face of videos showing the police were the source — and the sole source — of the violence.”

The police department and mayor’s office did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

Seattle police have since pulled back from the neighborhood where the most recent clashes with protesters occurred, near the department’s East Precinct, ceding several city blocks to demonstrators.

A festival-like atmosphere has emerged in the area, now called the “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest,” with participants painting a Black Lives Matter mural on the street, planting a community garden and handing out free food. The situation has nevertheless drawn the ire of President Donald Trump, who claimed violent people had taken over.

The measure approved by the council bans Seattle police from owning, renting, storing or using such weapons, including chemical irritants, water cannons, acoustic devices or other weapons that can cause pain or discomfort on multiple people.

Council President Lorena Gonzalez said further discussion would be needed to figure out how to dispose of those weapons already in the department’s possession without transferring them to other cities that might use them.

Mayor Jenny Durkan has agreed to the following reforms in response to the protests:

- Requiring Body-Worn Video Recording at Protests

- Filing a motion to terminate SPD’s consent decree

- Updating SPD’s Use of Force Policies

- Requiring the Display of Officer Name and Badge Number

- Statewide Independent Investigation for Officers who use deadly force

- Additional resources and more transparency for Officer Discipline

- Review of SPD’s Crowd Management Policies

- Banning the use of tear gas and less-lethal crowd management tactic

- National Guard redeployed

- No filing criminal charges against protesters

- Preserving the CHOP