Sea-Tac Airport officials defending their response to travel ban protesters

By: Siemny Kim

Updated:

SEATAC, Wash. - Sea-Tac Airport officials are defending the way they responded three weeks ago to protesters who were upset about the President's travel ban.           

At the Port of Seattle commission meeting on Tuesday, airport director Lance Lyttle called what happened that weekend a “new frontier.”

He explained he was trying to balance freedom of speech with the safety and security of everyone at the airport.

“We're viewing from a totally different lens, not just freedom of speech, but from a is it safe?” Lyttle explained.

Lyttle said the situation escalated to a safety and security concern when, he said, protesters became violent.

“That's when the dispersal order was given because it was now getting out of control, happening at multiple points throughout the airport,” Lyttle added.

At one point, police ended up pepper-spraying some protesters. One man said he was manhandled by police with unnecessary force. Light rail trains also skipped the airport stop entirely because police wanted to limit the number of protesters there.

“When light rail was blocked, it was an attack on those communities and an attack on me,” protester Jeffrey Reidhead said.

Port of Seattle interim Police Chief Ron Covey defended his decision.

“We just wanted that break, where we could pause, get some more officers in place,” Covey explained.

Several people sat in on the meeting, and some of them held signs. Many of them didn't buy the airport's side of the story.

“Often security is used as  an excuse to clamp down on freedom of speech,” protester Andrea Cheng Hakmian said.

“I am skeptical about protesters punching people in the face, and jumping  on steps,” protester Sue Hodes added. “I can’t really know, I didn’t see the videos. I implore people to be honest and truthful with what was seen.”

The Port of Seattle commission wants to review the incident to see what they can learn from it.             

Covey said he gathering information from the 11 departments that responded and  says they should have a completed report by March 6th.

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