Federal judge blocks ordinance to ban tear gas, other tools to disperse crowds

SEATTLE — A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order, blocking an ordinance that would ban the use of tear gas, pepper spray and other tools used by Seattle police to disperse a crowd.

The decision comes after a hearing was held at 8 p.m. Friday, with the U.S. Department of Justice seeking to stop the ban on tear gas, arguing it likely violates the consent decree the Seattle Police Department is under.

It also comes as police Chief Carmen Best put a directive in place ahead of the Seattle City Council’s ban that would go into effect Sunday.

On June 15, the City Council unanimously passed a ban on police using chokeholds and tear gas, following an uproar over how SPD used tear gas on protesters during demonstrations.

Regarding SPD complying with the ordinance, the chief decided that officers would not be allowed to go into the field with OC spray until further notice, starting Saturday at 3 a.m. And Sunday, other less-lethal tools like 40 mm launchers, blast balls and CS gas would not be authorized and collected from officers.

Best had sent a letter to the City Council on Thursday that stated the ban on tools used to disperse crowds would go into effect this weekend. She said in part, “I am sending this notification for the purpose of ensuring I have done my due diligence of informing Council of the foreseeable impact of this ordinance on upcoming events.”

The chief also wrote:

“It is a fact that there are groups and individuals who are intent on destruction in our City. Yes, we also have seen weeks of peaceful demonstrations, but two recent events (Sunday, July 19th and Wednesday, July 22nd) have included widescale property destruction and attacks on officers, injuring more than a dozen, some significantly.

“This weekend we know that several events are planned across the city that will foreseeably involve many of the same violent actors from recent days. There is no reason not to assume we will continue to experience property destruction, arson, looting, and attempts to injure additional officers throughout the weekend and beyond.

“With this Council ordinance, we hear loudly and clearly that the use of these less-lethal tools by SPD officers to disperse crowds that have turned violent have been completely banned by City Council.

“Under these circumstances, as created by Council, we cannot manage demonstrations as we have in the past. If I am not allowed to lawfully equip officers with the tools they have been trained to use to protect the community and themselves, it would be reckless to have them confront this level of violence under the current legal restrictions imposed by Council.”

However, all that changes now with the judge’s temporary restraining order in place, allowing police to continue the use of those tools, especially as more demonstrations are planned for the weekend.