The Office of Police Accountability, Seattle's civilian-led police oversight board, determined today that it's okay for Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers to punch a protester two times during an arrest, but anything more than that is pushing it. Depending on the threat, of course. In this case, the threat was a water bottle.
The OPA is knee-deep in complaints from the summer's protests. According to the Seattle Times, "the OPA received 19,000 complaints about officer behavior and response to the protests and has opened 128 investigations," though 13,000 of those complaints related to the incident where a cop pepper-sprayed a crowd and hit a kid in the face. Today, the OPA released its second set of findings from investigations into SPD's behavior.
One of those findings involved a May 29 arrest that went viral online. According to the OPA's report, a protester tried to cross a line of cops, but an officer blocked him from doing that. Another cop claimed the protester punched him as he backed away from the line. That cop then pushed the protester to the ground and attempted to arrest him. Another cop then joined the arrest.
While on the ground with one arm pinned by the first officer and his head pushed down by the second, the protester pulled out a water bottle. He hit the first officer with it. With a closed fist, the first officer punched the protester two times. About a second later, the second officer punched the protester "six to eight times," the officer told the OPA. You can see the water bottle fall out of the man's hand and roll away after the first blow from SPD.
Take a look at this footage of the incident from KING5:
While on the ground with one arm pinned by the first officer and his head pushed down by the second, the protester pulled out a water bottle. He hit the first officer with it in the shoulder, the second officer said. With a closed fist, the first officer then punched the protester two times. About a second later, the second officer punched the protester "six to eight times," the officer told the OPA. You can see the water bottle fall out of the man's hand and roll away after the first blow from SPD.
Through its investigation, the OPA strove to determine whether each officers' use of force was appropriate and "proportional" given the circumstances (a "chaotic" scene where demonstrators "outnumbered" officers).
OPA Director Andrew Myerberg determined that two punches was a reasonable response by the first officer since he "did not know at the time whether the water bottle was frozen," and since he didn't have a taser. The second officer's actions were more than "what was needed" in face of the threat.
The question here isn't whether this man should have been arrested, but whether he should have been punched anywhere from eight to 10 times by two men while being detained. All over a water bottle? It's reminiscient of SPD explaining that they tear-gassed a whole neighborhood because someone threw "improvised explosives" at them that were actually just unlit candles.
But, let's address the threat. The water bottle. The protester struck the first officer once with the bottle. The officer wore a helmet. The OPA stated that the officer's gear didn't "change the conclusion"; the officer was still struck by a "hard object" and "it was very possible that the bottle could have hit [the officer] in the throat or another sensitive body part."
The first officer started punching about a half-second after the singular water bottle strike. The punches lasted two seconds. As you can see from the footage, the water bottle falls out of the man's hands as soon as the punches start. Threat neutralized? Still, the second officer began punching around two-and-a-half seconds after the protester hit the first officer with the water bottle. The last of the second officer's "six to eight punches" landed "six seconds after" the water bottle incident, the report reads.
According to the second officer's comments to the OPA, he suspected the protester "might have training in martial arts or ground fighting." The second officer referred to the water bottle strike—which he said hit him in the shoulder—as an "assualtive action" and believed wailing on the protester six to eight times was proportional.
The OPA didn't think so. The agency determined that the first officer's punches were okay since they seemed to be a "direct response" to a threat, and the protester "did not make further attempts to strike the officers" after he was punched. "It was reasonable to punch [the protester] twice to stop [the protester] from striking officers with a water bottle," the OPA report reads.
The OPA recommended that only the second officer should be suspended for his actions since the second officer's force "was not proportional to the threat facing the officers," and was more than "what was needed," according to the OPA. But, had the second officer "used two strikes instead of six to eight," the OPA report reads, "the force likely would have been consistent with policy given the totality of the circumstances."
According to the Seattle Times, a discplinary committee will determine the second officer's punishment, but the OPA's recommendation is "unpaid suspension of more than one day." Ah, justice.
In another investigation resolved today, the OPA found an officer used excessive force when he slammed a protester half his size to the ground, striking her head, at a June 7 protest. The OPA determined that three other incidents did not amount to excessive use of force.