Protesters and ACLU sue Seattle over protest tactics

VIDEO: Seattle mayor and police chief sued

SEATTLE — The city of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department are being sued to stop the use of chemicals and blast balls to manage protests.

Filmmaker Alexander Woldeab says it happened to him without warning last Monday.

“I'm familiar with I can't breathe being a cry coming from Eric Garner and George Floyd. But really, at that moment, I understood what that meant as far as I can't breathe and how that feels to have that inflicted on you by a police department,” he said.

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Woldeab and five others are now plaintiffs in a federal civil rights lawsuit to stop the use of chemical deterrents and blast balls. It's led by the Washington state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. They say the First Amendment gives them the right to protest, and the Fourth Amendment provides protection against excessive police force.

“Particularly in a space where people are protesting excessive police violence, to have an excessive use of force response is problematic and is chilling of people's rights to speak up,” said ACLU Executive Director Michele Storms.

But Seattle police officers say they are reacting to violence from the crowd.

“Our people are being in the dozens are being hit with projectiles rocks, explosive devices that injure them,” said Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan.

Storms said, “If an individual person does something that is unlawful, there are steps law enforcement can take to deal with that. It does not mean having to attack an entire crowd.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan appears to almost welcome the lawsuit. Her office released a statement to KIRO- 7:

"Today's lawsuit represents another step by the community to hold the City accountable for its response to the recent events… The Mayor has been clear that she believes that people are righteously marching to fight systemic racism."

“I hope the folks who continue to protest are protected by the First Amendment right and do not have to fear being assaulted or hurt by police in the form of tear gas and flash bangs,” said Alexander.