City of Seattle Settles Peaceful Protester Lawsuit for $10M
A historic legal battle of epic proportions brought by 50 George Floyd/BLM Peaceful Protesters against Seattle and its Police Department has ended. Yesterday the City agreed to pay $10 Million to settle the case.
After George Floyd was brutally murdered on May 25, 2020, the 50 Peaceful Protesters, along with tens of thousands of Seattleites, took to the streets of downtown Seattle and the Capitol Hill neighborhood in the summer of 2020. Along with George Floyd, they chanted the names of Black and Indigenous local community members in the region killed by law enforcement including Charleena Lyles, John T. Williams, Manny Ellis, Terry Caver, Herbert Hightower, Che Taylor, Shaun Fuhr, and many others.
Among the 50 Peaceful Protesters represented by Stritmatter Kessler Koehler Moore was Aubreanna Inda who was standing still peacefully when a blast ball was launched directly at her chest, striking her and causing her to go into cardiac arrest. Kel Murphy who was piled on by a group of officers for putting a sticker (which fell off) on a concrete barricade, resulting in seizure and coma. A teenager whose finger was partially blown off. A disabled vet with a cane who was gassed and tackled because he didn’t retreat fast enough. A reporter who was sitting down resting when a blast ball was tossed at her. And dozens of others who suffered permanent hearing loss, broken bones, concussions, wounds, bruising, and emotional damage including PTSD.
All of the Protesters were engaged in First Amendment speech and activity against the very police brutality which they were met with.
In a recent ruling King County Superior Court Judge Sandra Widlan, dismissed the City’s defense that the Peaceful Protesters “assumed the risk” of exercising their First Amendment right to protest because they were aware that they could be harmed by the police response.
According to Karen Koehler, lead attorney:
In preparing the case, we were struck by how the police dehumanized the protesters. How quick to attack at the smallest provocation or suspicion. How many internal policies were not followed. Officers allowed to deploy gas and weaponry despite no specialized training. Hundreds of mandatory use of force reports cut and pasted together months later and rubber stamped by uninvolved desk officers. Officers unaware their body cameras remained on – mocking protesters or bragging about their assaults. The unauthorized use of an elaborate Proud Boy hoax to scare protesters. The SPOG President, in our opinion, coordinated with upper-level SPD officers to orchestrate playing “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” at a Labor Day protest near their headquarters as officers descended upon protesters. Deeming sidewalk chalk graffiti as grounds for arrest. Deliberately assaulting mobility-impaired protesters in the back of protests for not moving “fast enough.” Categorizing umbrellas (used to shield protesters from gas), leaf blowers (used to try to disperse gas), and even canes used by the disabled as “weapons.” Meeting one person’s throwing of a plastic water bottle with force against thousands. At the highest levels – the Chief of Police and Mayor deliberately deleting hundreds of text messages during this historic period, violating the Public Records Act and critical evidence of their involvement in what transpired. Historians should review what we collected and write the true story of the shameful behavior of our City against the Peaceful Protesters.
The case involved reviewing thousands of body worn videos, internal documents, and taking depositions of former Mayor Durkan, former Police Chief Best, Current Chief Diaz, commanders, officers, and Professor Clifford Stott – the foremost crowd policing expert in the world. Dr. Stott was hired by the City to analyze the early days of the protests and said he had not seen that level of aggressive violent police response against protesters in any democratic state.
Lem Howell, long time civil rights attorney and expert for the Protesters, notes:
This City has a long history of racially discriminatory policing. The murder of George Floyd finally brought people together to demand change. This was a good thing. But the City responded with tactics and weapons of war. This settlement is an acknowledgment that the City was very wrong to use violence against Peaceful Protesters.
Since these protests, the Seattle Police Department has shown no sign of reform. On January 6, 2021, six SPD officers attended the racist insurrection in Washington DC. On July 1, 2021, body camera footage revealed a Trump Flag and fake tombstone for Damarius Butts (a Black man who was killed by Seattle police in 2017) in an SPD breakroom. On January 23, 2023, Jaahnavi Kandula was struck and killed by an SPD officer while crossing the street – hours later SPOG President Mike Solan and Vice President Daniel Auderer were joking and laughing about the incident. And on December 27th, 2023, the City bulldozed and violently removed the Black Lives Matter Memorial Garden in Cal Anderson Park – the heart of where many protests took place in 2020. Police stood by and watched as the living memorial for those killed by police violence was destroyed with Mayor Bruce Harrell’s blessing. The City has inexplicably and shamefully failed to restore the garden – demonstrating to all their complete disregard for what Black Lives Matter protesters were and continue to stand for.
The City brought motions to compel the Plaintiffs to attend involuntary psychiatric and medical examinations, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on forensic doctors to examine them and review their entire medical record history.
During the three-and-a-half-year fight, the City paid tens of millions of dollars to its outside counsel K&L Gates, one of the largest firms in the country. No expense was spared. On the other side, the Protesters were represented by Stritmatter Kessler Koehler Moore. A boutique personal injury firm which represented a third of the protesters pro bono.
Plaintiffs were represented by SKKM Attorneys: Karen Koehler, Shannon Kilpatrick, Furhad Sultani, Debora Silberman, Melanie Nguyen, Lisa Benedetti, Gemma Zanowski, Fred Rabb. Law Clerk: Alysha Fung Koehler. Paralegals: Kristin Michaud, Katie Green, Rory Larson. Legal Interns: Ashley Raines, Brittany Gautier, Brendon Mareson.
Video by Joey Wieser.