SPD watchdog: Sergeant did not intentionally target boy with pepper spray at protest

SEATTLE — Investigators with Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability say officers did not intentionally target a young boy when they hit him in the face with pepper spray during a protest.

Video of the boy crying, with milk running down his face to lessen the effects of the spray, went viral after the May 30 protest and led to 13,000 complaints filed with OPA.

According to an OPA description released Friday, “(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.”

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

OPA investigators found the sergeant who used the spray followed SPD policy in response to the protester’s actions, and investigators say 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.

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

In another incident caught on camera, OPA investigators found an officer’s use of force was “improper and inconsistent with SPD policy and training” when he placed his knee on a person’s neck during an arrest for 13 seconds. That case is currently before Interim Chief Adrian Diaz for discipline.

OPA received a total of 19,000 complaints regarding officer conduct during protests after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Most of the complaints referred to the same incidents and the civilian-led oversight office is currently reviewing about 100 cases.

The following statement was released on behalf of the Avery family, whose boy was pepper sprayed:

“We are deeply disappointed, but not surprised, by the result reached by the OPA. Today, they have confirmed that it is the Seattle Police Department’s position that the use of pepper spray in an intentional and reckless manner that it would strike an innocent child exercising their First Amendment rights is “within policy.” We understand the OPA has said it is “sorry” for these actions. But “sorry” and “regret” is not sufficient. We demand change. OPA did not address the whether the officers could have ta steps to prevent this from happening and, even further, no police officers attempted to render aid to the child making any apology tough to accept. Moreover, the OPA reached its conclusions by analysis and discussion of body camera footage—tapes that were not provided to the family or their legal counsel before today. The OPA’s also refuses to identify the officers who used force in this incident. All of this undermines the claims of objectivity and transparency that the City purports to value. We continue to demand change, and this confirms that it is still deeply needed because the City of Seattle continues to remain indifferent to the suffering its police, and other City officials, have caused to black and indigenous people of color for decades, including the Avery family.”