Judge Blocks Seattle From Stripping Police Officers Of Pepper Spray

SEATTLE, WA - JULY 01: Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best addresses the press as city crews dismantle the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) area outside of the Seattle Police Department's vacated East Precinct on July 1, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. Police reported making at least 31 arrests while clearing the CHOP area this morning. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
David Ryder/Getty Images

A federal judge blocked the Seattle city council from stripping crowd control tools such as pepper spray from its police force after the federal government said the policy could lead to more police use-of-force.

U.S. District Judge James Robart delivered the ruling late Friday, issuing a temporary stay against a measure the city council had approved unanimously last month, according to The Seattle Times. The judge said more discussion between the U.S. Department of Justice and city officials is warranted before the city council rule could take effect.

“I urge you all to use it as an occasion to try to find out where it is we are and where it is we’re going,” Robart said. “I can’t tell you today if blast balls are a good idea or a bad idea, but I know that sometime a long time ago I approved them.”

Robart’s ruling came as Seattle residents and police officers were well into preparing for new forms of policing under the rule, which still may be enacted at a later date. Robart described the injunction he put in place as “very temporary.” The judge has previously denied a similar application for an injunction against the rule filed by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkin and Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best.

Best wrote a letter to residents and business owners earlier Friday warning that officers may not intervene to stop rioters from destroying private property.

Officers would scale back their approach to protecting private property and may let it be destroyed entirely before putting an officer at risk of a violent mob. The city council’s restrictions on officers’ tools such as tear gas and pepper spray would leave them largely unable to disperse crowds.

“Simply put, the legislation gives officers NO ability to safely intercede to preserve property in the midst of a large, violent crowd,” Best wrote. “Seattle police will have an adjusted deployment in response to any demonstrations this weekend – as I will never ask our officers to risk their personal safety to protect property without the tools to do so in a safe way.”

Last weekend, at least a dozen Seattle police officers were wounded attempting to contain violent riots that have broken out across the city in recent weeks. The rioters “were responsible for a significant amount of property damage to government buildings and private businesses,” police said.

The violent activists “appeared to be very organized and this appeared to be a very concerted effort at property damage of certain businesses and government facilities,” police added.

The Trump administration is sending federal law enforcement officers to Seattle to protect federal buildings, monuments, and other property from violent riots. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Special Response Team will play a similar role in the city that other federal agents are playing in Portland, Oregon. President Donald Trump has also dispatched federal law enforcement to other major cities around the U.S., as well.

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