Federal lawsuit filed against city of Seattle over child pepper-sprayed during 2020 protest

SEATTLE — The father of a child pepper-sprayed by a police sergeant during a protest in May 2020 has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Seattle.

>>FILE RAW FOOTAGE: Family of 7-year-old who was pepper-sprayed during Seattle protest speaks out

According to the lawsuit, Armand Avery decided to attend a rally near Westlake Mall with his son — named “A.J.” in court documents — who was 7 years old at the time, and fellow church members in protest of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

During the protest and rally, Avery was peacefully waiting for speakers to begin speaking, according to the lawsuit. While waiting, some protesters exchanged words with the police.

The lawsuit also states Avery did not see any others acting violently toward police or in possession of a weapon.

At about 3 p.m., officers were said to have pushed through the crowd near where Avery and his son where standing and then were peppered sprayed.

According to the lawsuit, Avery’s son was hit directly in the face with the spray. Avery was also hit.

Avery reportedly told his attorney that his son’s face felt like it was on fire and the child had difficulty breathing due to the spray. “He was crying out in pain and shaking,” the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, a nearby person tried to ease the child’s pain by pouring milk on his face.

As that did not have an effect, Avery and his son left the area and went home, where the child was given showers and used ice in an attempt to ease the pain. But when that did not work, they ended up at the hospital and were prescribed a topical ointment for chemical burns.

Video of the boy crying, with milk running down his face to lessen the effects of the spray, went viral after the protest and led to 13,000 complaints filed with Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability.

It was not until mid-September 2020 that an OPA investigation found the officer did not intentionally target the boy with the pepper spray.

According to an OPA description, “(The boy) and his father moved towards a protester who had grabbed an officer’s baton and was pushing into the police line. An SPD supervisor used pepper spray to move the protester back. In response, the protester ducked, causing the pepper spray to inadvertently affect the boy and his father.”

The sergeant was found to have followed SPD policy in response to the protester’s actions, and investigators said their review of the body cameras worn by officers showed the sergeant was not able to see the child.

After the incident, many people on social media claimed to identify the officer who used the pepper spray.

But OPA investigators found the complainants identified the wrong officer, and that the pepper-spraying was actually done by the sergeant.

After the OPA released its findings, a statement was released on behalf of the Avery family, whose boy was pepper-sprayed, saying they were “deeply disappointed, but not surprised by the result reached by the OPA.”

The Avery family’s lawyer contends that “the injuries experienced by the plaintiffs continue to impact them emotionally,” and “A.J. and Armand did not do anything to justify being sprayed with OC spray. They were simply exercising their constitutional rights.”