Federal judge blocks Seattle law banning crowd control weapons as city braces for tumult

Seattle Times reports in an emergency hearing Friday night, a federal judge blocked Seattle’s new law prohibiting police from using tear gas, blast balls and similar weapons, even as it was scheduled to go into effect Sunday and as the city awaits a potentially tumultuous weekend of protests with federal agents in the area.

U.S. District Judge James Robart granted a request from the federal government to block the new law, which the Seattle City Council passed unanimously last month.

The temporary restraining order, filed Saturday in U.S. District Court, will expire in two weeks.

The U.S. Department of Justice, citing Seattle’s longstanding police consent decree, argued that banning the use of crowd control weapons could actually lead to more police use of force, leaving them only with more deadly weapons.

Robart said the issue needed more discussion between the city and the Justice Department before the change went into effect. Ruling from the bench, just before 9 p.m. Friday night, Robart said the temporary restraining order he granted would be “very temporary.”

“I urge you all to use it as an occasion to try to find out where it is we are and where it is we’re going,” Robart said. “I can’t tell you today if blast balls are a good idea or a bad idea, but I know that sometime a long time ago I approved them.”

Robart had slapped down an attempt by Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best, earlier this week, to block the new law. In that order, he criticized the legal approach the city had taken and said it had not attempted to meet the burden necessary to issue an injunction.

But Robart granted the Justice Department’s request, filed the day before a police department directive enforcing the ordinance was set to go into effect.

Durkan pleaded on Friday for protesters to show restraint this weekend, as the Trump administration has deployed a team of federal agents to the Seattle area. Federal agents in Portland have been involved in hostile, violent clashes with demonstrators there in recent days.

In a statement issued Saturday, Dukan spokesperson Stephanie Formas said the mayor believes changes are needed in Seattle Police’s crowd management practices, policies and training.

But the mayor also believes the Council’s ordinance could conflict with the consent decree, Formas said.

“City Council’s legislation imposed changes to the court approved policies before an appropriate review could be done, which is why the mayor and chief raised these concerns with the court in the notice previously filed by the city,” she said.

Chief Best said in a statement posted on the department’s website Saturday that SPD officers would be carrying pepper spray and blast balls while policing expected protests over the weekend.

She wrote she was disclosing that in “a spirit of offering trust and full transparency” and also promised tear gas would not be used.

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