In the wake of the mayhem that marred yesterday’s May Day rally, Seattle police say they are reviewing photos, videos and other evidence in a feverish attempt to identify and investigate any crimes that may have been committed during the demonstration that overtook parts of Capitol Hill and downtown for several hours Wednesday night.
Earlier today, six people were charged in city court with misdemeanors stemming from May Day arrests. Another five people made their first appearance in King County court today, with three facing possible misdemeanors charges and released on their own recognizance and two facing possible charges of with felony riot.
Police today made clear that there were more arrests to be made, and that they felt a more serious felony charge -- assault of an officer -- was warranted for people who threw rocks and bottles officers (one officer is still recuperating after taking a rock to the knee).
A task force is expected to be formed to conduct investigations for further arrests, similar to the approach used after last year’s May Day vandalism spree – an effort that included the serving of search warrants at the homes of several May Day suspects and Occupy alums in the months after the protest … and largely resulted in the seizing of clothing and political flyers.
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, police sounded confident that their actions last night were justified, with Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh saying he was eager to detail their tactics to federal officials tasked with watching over the Seattle Police Department on use of force issues.
Responding to the police firing “blast balls” at the feet of protesters, Capt. Chris Fowler said police had used the devices -- which he said do little more than flash and make a loud noise -- safely.
McDonagh specifically addressed one family who complained that a piece of the ball had landed under their baby’s stroller: “I would wonder why they were there, why they would bring a child into that situation. They heard Capt. Fowler’s order to disperse. They were given that order. They chose to stay.”
Fowler said police confrontation with protesters was provoked when officers went to arrest two men who had assaulted a peaceful protester. The crowd circled around the officers, and then circled around their cruiser after they were able to get out of the crowd.
“We determined it was a dangerous situation for the officers,” he said. That’s when the first blast ball was fired and the crowd was pushed east from downtown toward Capitol Hill.
Many have been critical of the way SPD managed the situation. As Brendan Kiley of The Stranger has noted, the Seattle Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild issued a statement denouncing SPD’s “unprovoked use of force, including the use of concussion grenades and chemical agents, against people who merely were exercising their First Amendment right to protest.” PubliCola’s Erica Barnett has described being deliberately pepper sprayed despite doing nothing more than documenting the action with her camera.
McDonagh said it wasn’t known yet whether federal authorities would be involved in the investigation.