Seattle’s National Lawyers Guild Condemns Continued Police Violence Towards Legal Observers

For Immediate Release: August 17, 2020

SEATTLE – The Seattle Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild condemns another violent attack on legal observers by the Seattle Police Department (“SPD”). Legal observers, readily identifiable by bright green hats and vests labelled “National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer,” are attorneys, law students, and legal professionals who volunteer to monitor and document police actions against people engaged in political protest.

In the late evening hours of August 16, 2020, in the SODO area of Seattle, SPD attacked dozens of protestors who were demonstrating against police violence. Violating past assurances that the SPD would honor the rights of legal observers with the Seattle Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, SPD officers instead threatened observers with arrest, and repeatedly assaulted them – pushing, grabbing and shoving – even throwing one legal observer to the ground.

Legal observers, like members of the press, are an important bulwark against injustice. As such, they are witness to the culture of violence and racism that is entrenched in the Seattle Police Department. Legal observers’ work requires their physical presence at the scenes of police interactions with protestors without fear of being attacked. It is clear that SPD is targeting legal observers out of fear that their illegal conduct will be exposed to the world. SPD is currently following the approach of police departments in Belarus or Hong Kong which use force to silence anti-government protests.

The Seattle NLG condemns SPD’s continued assaults on our legal observers. The Seattle City Council recently passed Amended Resolution 31961 (co-sponsored by Seattle City Council Members Teresa Mosqueda and Alex Pedersen), which condemns SPD’s intentional targeting of press, legal observers, and medics who are engaging in lawful conduct. We now call on the City Council to pass an ordinance legally protecting these groups. Specifically, we call on the City Council to pass an ordinance that: (1) exempts press, legal observers, and medics from the scope of the so-called “failure to disperse” ordinance, SMC 12A.12.020, and (2) creates a civil remedy for press, legal observers, and medics harmed by SPD.

Legal Observers from Seattle’s National Lawyers Guild Aggressively Targeted by Law Enforcement

The Seattle National Lawyers Guild Condemns the Violent Targeting of its Volunteer Legal Observers by the Seattle Police Department

SEATTLE – On Saturday, July 25, 2020, Seattle National Lawyers Guild’s (NLG) legal observers were dispatched to Capitol Hill to witness the protests against police violence and the presence of federal law enforcement officers in the city of Seattle. 

During the protests, Seattle Police Department officers engaged in the indiscriminate use of crowd control munitions against largely peaceful protestors. All of the following were in violation of a federal court order (Case 2:20-cv-00887-RAJ, attached), including:

  • Pepper Spray
  • Blast Balls 
  • Rubber Bullets
  • Flash Bang Grenades

In addition to SPD’s haphazard and arbitrary deployment of force, officers specifically targeted the Seattle NLG’s legal observers, all while concealing their badge numbers. These incidents included:

  • Deliberately spraying pepper spray into a legal observer’s face at close range 
      • Video available by request 
  • Tossing flash bang grenades directly at legal observers 
  • Needlessly grabbing and shoving legal observers
  • Purposely hitting legal observers with their bicycles

The NLG has been providing legal observers at protests nationally since 1968, and in Seattle for decades. They are well-known to law enforcement and immediately recognizable by their bright green hats, which say “National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer.” Legal observers fulfill the crucial function of monitoring demonstrations to ensure that protesters’ First Amendment rights are respected. They are important bulwarks against police misconduct. Seattle legal observers are all lawyers, law students, or legal workers. They are trained in professionalism and are not permitted to participate in the protests they observe or interfere with police actions. 

The rights of legal observers are codified in Seattle law, which specifically permits the observation and recording of police officers; prohibits officers from punishing or retaliating against observers; and requires officers to minimize harm to observers when deploying crowd control munitions. Court orders have been issued in other cities, including Portland, OR., prohibiting use of force or retaliation against legal observers. Consistent with the ordinance and the orders, the Seattle NLG had sought and received assurances from SPD that its legal observers would not be targeted at protests, per an email from the SPD’s Legal Affairs Department on July 8, 2020. Seattle NLG’s legal observers relied upon those dishonored promises to their detriment.

Seattle NLG calls upon Chief Best to investigate SPD’s use of force against legal observers and to impose disciplinary sanctions against the officers involved immediately. 

Upcoming Event: NLG Seattle Student Mixer

We will be hosting a social and networking event for law students, legal workers, and attorneys interested in the work of the National Lawyers Guild. Come talk to current members, meet each other, learn how to get involved, and help build our community!

  • When?: Thursday, October 10, 2019 @ 6:00 p.m.
  • Where?: Wayward Vegan Cafe, 801 NE 65th Street, Seattle, WA 98115

** Food and refreshments provided! **

Please email nationallawyersguildseattle@gmail.com if you need more information about this event.

We hope to see you there!

Upcoming Event: General Chapter Meeting and Special Presentation

Please join us for our General Chapter Meeting on Thursday, September 19, 2019. In addition to regular Chapter business, we are pleased to host a discussion on radical lawyering. We will also discuss and vote on amendments to our Chapter bylaws, which were sent in advance to Members via email. We look forward to your input.

  • When?: Thursday, September 19, 2019 @ 6:30 p.m.
  • Where?: Seattle University Law School, Sullivan Hall (Room 309), 901 12th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122

We look forward to seeing you,

NLG Seattle Board

Upcoming Event: General Chapter Meeting and Special Presentation

  • When?  July 18, 2019 @ 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Where? Seattle University Law School, Sullivan Hall (Room 110)901 12th Avenue

Seattle Chapter Members, please join us for our bimonthly meeting! In addition to handling our routine matters and updates, we are pleased to have Dusty May of the Lavender Rights Project speak on Transgender Rights in Washington.  

If you’re not yet a Seattle Chapter Member, you’re also welcome to attend to learn more about our organization! Please reach out to nationallawyersguildseattle@gmail.com to introduce yourself and to reserve your spot at the meeting as a non-Member.

We look forward to seeing you,

NLG Seattle Board 

Announcement: New NLG Seattle Chapter Officers (May 2019 – May 2020)

During the May 2 General Chapter Meeting, the following Members were elected to serve as the NLG Seattle Chapter Officers for the term of May 2019 – May 2020:

  • President: Phil Chinn
  • Vice-President: Mike Schueler
  • Student Vice-President: Alex Daye
  • Treasurer: Darius Fullmer
  • Secretary: Janet Thoman
We are also very fortunate that Diane Paul and Grainne Griffiths will continue in their current roles as At-Large Board Members, along with the newly-elected At-Large Board Member Neil Fox.

Congratulations to our new Chapter Officers and newest At-Large Board Member!

Upcoming Event: A discussion with Philippines Senator Risa Hontiveros

  • When? Monday, June 24, 2019 from 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Pacific
  • Where? K&L Gates Seattle, 925 Fourth Ave., Floor 29, Seattle 98104

The National Lawyers Guild Seattle is proud to be co-sponsoring a conversation with Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros. Senator Hontiveros will be in Seattle to meet with the legal community to discuss the civil and human rights crisis that exists in the Philippines. Topics for this moderated discussion include an overview of the rule of law in the Philippines, human and civil liberties in the Philippines, and attacks on the bench and bar.

*** Please RSVP at Matt.Perez@klgates.com. ***

Upcoming Event: General Chapter Meeting and Annual Officer Elections

  • When?  May 2, 2019 @ 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Where? Seattle University Law School, Sullivan Hall (Room C3), 901 12th Avenue

Seattle Chapter Members, please join us for our bimonthly meeting! We will also hold our annual Officer elections during this meeting.

Please see your email, or reach out to nationallawyersguildseattle@gmail.com, for more information about the available Officer positions and how you may become involved or nominate another Seattle Chapter Member.

If you’re not yet a Seattle Chapter Member, you’re also welcome to attend to learn more about our organization! Please reach out to nationallawyersguildseattle@gmail.com to introduce yourself and to reserve your spot at the meeting as a non-Member.

We look forward to seeing you,

NLG Seattle Board

Upcoming Event: General Chapter Meeting and Special Presentation

  • When?  February 21, 2019 @ 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Where? Seattle University Law School, Sullivan Hall (Room C3)901 12th Avenue

Seattle Chapter Members, please join us for our bimonthly meeting! In addition to handling our routine matters and updates, Attorney Leslie Cushman will join us for a special presentation and discussion related to reforming Washington’s deadly force laws as applied to law enforcement. Marilyn Covarrubias, whose son Daniel was killed by Lakewood police and who is a community activist fighting for justice, will co-present.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/family-of-man-killed-by-police-while-holding-cellphone-files-federal-suit-against-lakewood/

If you’re not yet a Seattle Chapter Member, you’re also welcome to attend to learn more about our organization! Please reach out to nationallawyersguildseattle@gmail.com to introduce yourself and to reserve your spot at the meeting as a non-Member.

We look forward to seeing you,

NLG Seattle Board

Upcoming Event: General Chapter Meeting and Special Presentation

  • When?  December 14, 2018 @ 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
  • Where? Optimism Brewing Company, 1158 Broadway, Seattle, WA 98122 (look for our table)

Seattle Chapter Members, please join us for our bimonthly meeting! In addition to handling our routine matters and updates, we’ll have a special discussion regarding legal observing in Tijuana.

If you’re not yet a Seattle Chapter Member, you’re also welcome to attend to learn more about our organization! Please reach out to nationallawyersguildseattle@gmail.com to introduce yourself and to reserve your spot at the meeting as a non-Member.

We look forward to seeing you,

NLG Seattle Board