Seattle city officials and attorneys with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have agreed to extend a federal court order preventing implementation of a new City Council crowd-control ordinance that bans police from using tear gas and other less-lethal weapons.
A temporary restraining order put in place by U.S. District Judge James Robart at the request of the city and DOJ was set to expire Sunday. The parties agreed to extend the TRO through Sept. 18 while they review the ordinance’s impact on police reforms undertaken as a result of a 2012 settlement agreement between the DOJ and city.
Robart, though a court-appointed monitor, is overseeing the consent decree, which resulted from a 2011 DOJ investigation and subsequent lawsuit against the Seattle Police Department alleging its officers routinely used excessive force and showed disturbing, if inconclusive, evidence of biased policing, according to the investigation. The Police Department over the past seven years has undertaken extensive policy and training and data-collection reforms, some of which are now threatened by calls to defund the Police Department in the wake of outrage over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
The council passed the ordinance in June in response to outrage over the Police Department’s use of tear gas, pepper spray, foam-tipped projectiles during protests involving mostly peaceful demonstrators in downtown Seattle and later on Capitol Hill.
In the meantime, another federal judge has issued his own injunction prohibiting SPD from using force against peaceful protesters, after finding the department violated the civil rights of thousands of demonstrators during clashes downtown and on Capitol Hill outside the department’s East Precinct.
Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County, which filed that lawsuit last month, has accused the police of violating that order and is asking U.S. District Judge Richard Jones to find the department in contempt of court.
Robart, however, has issued a restraining order at the request of the DOJ and city. He has asked the city and its so-called “accountability partners” – the civilian-run Office of Police Accountability, the newly formed Office of Inspector General and the Community Police Commission – to measure the impact of the new ordinance on the department’s ability to meet the requirements of the consent decree. The judge has asked for briefing on the issue due later this month.
In a brief order issued Wednesday, Robart said he would entertain a motion to convert the current TRO into an injunction, if after its review, the Justice Department believes the council ordinance should not take effect. The deadline for filing for a preliminary injunction is Aug. 27, Robart said.
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