An independent review of the violence that rocked Seattle’s business core during last year’s May Day protests is critical of the department’s planning for the event and said officers on the street were confused over who was in charge and when they could use force to stop the violence.
The report, released today and authored by Michael Hillmann, former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, said officers were universally critical of the actions of Assistant Chief Mike Sanford, who rushed into the crowd in shirtsleeves to make an arrest and then had to be rescued. Hillmann said everyone interviewed said Sanford’s actions resulted in his rescuers having to use force against the protesters to extricate him.
Sanford was lauded, however, for his foresight in creating initiatives on crowd-control planning — contained in the department’s “20/20 Vision” reform plan — that Hillman found unprecedented and refreshing. At the same time, the department failed to integrate those initiatives during the May Day response, leaving officers confused and incident command “unclear.” Hillmann’s report makes 38 recommendations.
A number of officers interviewed also expressed concerns that their actions and tactics were under the microscope of the Department of Justice, which at the time had determined the department’s officers routinely engaged in excessive use of force. The police department was involved in testy negotiations with the DOJ at the time.
Hillmann pointed out, remarkably, that the SPD rank-and-file had not received any crowd-management tactics training since the 1999 World Trade Organization protests.
Hillmann’s report was critical of the incident commander, Capt. Joe Kessler, who the report found was not adequately involved in the planning of the response he was directing. Troops complained that he and Sanford gave conflicting statements during roll-calls regarding the use of force and, particularly, the use of pepper spray during the incidents.
Thousands of protesters and marchers crowded the downtown core during the height of the incident, including “Black Bloc” anarchists who broke windows, threw firebombs and vandalized the Kenzo Nakamura U.S. District Courthouse.
Hillmann concluded the SPD lost control of the streets and the events of that afternoon were “not a shining example of successful crowd control management and protection of property.”
“The ‘mayhem’ that resulted during the morning significantly damaged the credibility of the Police Department with the community because of the ‘appearance of inability’ to protect the downtown,” Hillmann wrote.