On February 24, a small group of University of Washington students gathered on the Northeast 45th Street overpass above Interstate 5, carrying a 30-foot banner that read, "Education Not Incarceration." After an hour of perfectly legal protesting—you're allowed to assemble on overpasses, as long as you don't hang signs from the freeway and aren't blocking traffic—the students were getting ready to head home when a Washington State Patrol officer arrived on scene.
"We heard the whoop whoop [of the siren]," says UW student Jamie Brown, 27. According to Brown, the state trooper, Douglas Power, told the group to take their sign down and move on. "He wouldn't or couldn't tell us what law we were breaking," Brown says.
"He was saying it was a safety issue, that we were threatening people on the freeway." Next, Brown says the trooper grabbed one of the students and pulled the sign down on top of the group. Oh, and the entire incident was caught on tape.
In the video, Power can be seen grabbing one of the students and threatening to arrest the group for obstruction, before pulling the large wire banner down on top of the group and dragging it to his patrol car.
The state patrol is pretty candid about the trooper's conduct. "When the trooper got there, he thought there was a hazard of the sign possibly blowing into the lanes of I-5," says state patrol spokesman Bill Gardiner. "He probably overreacted."
According to Gardiner, the demonstration "should have been okay" since nothing was affixed to the overpass, and he blames Power's behavior on a lack of experience. "[He] may not have developed that skill of diffusing things," Gardiner says. Because of the incident, Power will receive additional training and a record of the incident will be added to his personnel file. Several of the students say they will be filing complaints with the Washington State Patrol.