Police move demonstrators during a June 9 rally near the Kent Planned Parenthood clinic on the East Hill. FILE PHOTO, Mark Klaas

Police move demonstrators during a June 9 rally near the Kent Planned Parenthood clinic on the East Hill. FILE PHOTO, Mark Klaas

City of Kent says ‘matter closed’ over complaint about police actions during summer demonstration

Groups oppose treatment of protesters at Planned Parenthood rally

Demonstrators at a Kent Planned Parenthood rally claim city officials are giving them “the runaround” in response to a complaint about how police treated people at the event.

Kent City Attorney Pat Fitzpatrick reviewed the complaint and sent a six-page letter to Gina Petry, president of Seattle-based Radical Women, one of 11 groups that rallied on June 9 near Southeast 240th Street and 102nd Avenue Southeast outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic to defend women’s reproductive rights.

Petry filed a three-page complaint letter with the city in July after several people who were at the protest testified at a City Council meeting about the use of pepper spray and batons by Kent Police and the Valley Civil Disturbance Unit, composed of officers from several local police agencies who train to respond to large demonstrations. City leaders told Petry the complaint would be investigated.

“Kent PD and VCDU served the Kent community by allowing opposing sides to a divisive issue ample opportunity to express their viewpoint in a reasonable manner,” Fitzpatrick wrote in a Sept. 5 letter to Petry, and provided by the city to the Kent Reporter. “Injuries were minimal (if any did in fact occur), and property damage did not occur. The city considers this matter closed.”

Fitzpatrick concluded the letter that Mayor Dana Ralph, Chief Administrative Officer Derek Matheson and Police Chief Rafael Padilla are willing to discuss the matter further with Petry if she would like to meet with them.

“The investigation and letter from the city attorney still does not address and answer our questions,” Petry said in an email to the Kent Reporter. “We are being given the runaround.”

Petry claimed in her letter to the city that police physically forced demonstrators to move across five lanes of traffic.

“Then just as the group reached the other side of the road, one policeman started spraying pepper spray directly into people’s faces,” she said. “Those being shoved across the street had not and did not resist or make any threatening moves against the police, but were treated with extreme brutality and unnecessary force.”

Fitzpatrick, who said he reviewed video of the demonstration, said officers asked counter protesters to move in order to keep them separate from protesters, but the request was ignored. Police then ordered the group to move and again were ignored.

“Officers then formed a line, and shouted ‘move back’ as they pushed the group across the street,” he said. “The complaint asserts that officers lunged at counter protesters. This is false. Movement across the street was slow and deliberate, was in line with training, and was the minimal level of force necessary to move the group.

“The complaint asserts that counter protesters were pushed such that they were almost trampled and that they did not resist or make threatening moves against the police. This too is false. The counter protesters dug their heels in and leaned back against officers in forceful resistance.”

Police made no arrests during the demonstration.

Pepper spray incident

Patrick Burns, of Seattle, testified at the council meeting about how police treated him.

“I was pepper sprayed directly in the eyes by multitude of cops for emphasizing my rights to free speech,” Burns said. “I appreciate the medic who washed my eyes out. But I was forced off the corner, pushed and shoved by billy clubs. It was purposeful retaliation.”

Fitzpatrick described in detail why an officer used pepper spray.

“One person on a megaphone repeatedly shouted, ‘All cops are bastards!’ Then, an individual dressed in black with a black face covering, grabbed an officer’s baton. In response to this physical aggression, a nearby officer deployed a short burst of OC spray into the face of the assailant. Some individuals next to the assailant were apparently exposed to the OC spray.

“Officers have been killed and injured by individuals who grab their equipment and clothing, and the public understands such behavior will likely be met with force. Officers are trained to immediately deflect any attempt to grab an officer or his or her equipment. Under the circumstances, the deployment of OC spray was reasonable.”

Police bias claimed

Petry in her letter to the council criticized that police during the protest showed bias against the estimated 300 reproductive rights advocates who rallied in defense of Planned Parenthood. She said officers instead focused to escort about 25 people that included Joey Gibson and his Patriot Prayer group as well as the Proud Boys, a far-right group, who were present to demonstrate against women’s reproductive rights.

“The display of bias and brutality against human rights defenders while misogynist fanatics and outright white supremacists are escorted down the streets of Kent – a city that is about half people of color, including many immigrants and a large African American population – is completely unacceptable,” Petry wrote.

Fitzpatrick responded that officers showed no bias and were concerned with the safety of all people.

“The obligation to preserve First Amendment rights applies regardless of the viewpoint of those expressing ideas,” he wrote. “Kent PD and VCDU are not permitted to enforce laws or take action because they disagree with a demonstrator’s viewpoint. At the June 9 event, none of the actions taken by Kent PD or the VCDU were based upon their agreement or disagreement with the message of any of the demonstrators.”

Petry, in her email to the Kent Reporter, remained upset with the city’s response to her complaints.

“What has been clear to us is that there is a real lack of accountability with the police,” she said. “There is no formal complaint process with Kent PD and the city attorney’s letter did not answer that.”

Petry claims the Valley Civil Disturbance Unit has no accountability whatsoever.

“They have no central office, phone or anyone in charge to file a complaint with,” she said. “What we have been able to ascertain is that the unit was formed to deal with protest (formed after the WTO protests), practice surveillance on protesters and criminalize dissent. They are a political arm of the police department. The actions of the police that day with the use of ‘OC spray’ and shoving counter-protesters sent a message that this is the price of free speech and protest.”

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