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Seattle Police Grilled About May Day Response

Police officers pause next to a sign outside a restaurant as they observe a May Day anti-capitalism march, Friday, May 1, 2015 in Seattle.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
Police officers pause next to a sign outside a restaurant as they observe a May Day anti-capitalism march on Friday in Seattle. Seattle councilmember Bruce Harrell criticized police for how they responded to protesters.

Seattle City Council members grilled police officials on Wednesday about their use of force during recent May Day protests. Bruce Harrell, who heads the council’s public safety committee, called some police actions “idiotic" and "not the smartest...or wisest way to go".

He questioned if officers chose the right approach to deescalate the protests on Friday. He said he saw marchers just marching – and then police officers on on bikes ramming them from behind.

“It looked unprovoked,” he said. “And then after that...all melee broke out and there was pepper spray, and things went completely sideways.”

Police made 16 arrests and used explosive devices to disperse the crowd at a so-called “anti-capitalist” rally late Friday night.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell questioned whether police should responded so aggressively to a May Day protest last week. ", "fid": "117459", "style": "placed_left", "uri": "public://201505/1280px-Bruce_Harrell_02.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Wikimedia Commons"}]]In a statement released late Wednesday, Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole said she was "shocked and disappointed" by Harrell's comments.

She says they contradict "the overwhelming, positive feedback" police have received from the community.

Several gave testimony opposing the police response, including Seattle resident Jerry Savage who videotaped part of Friday’s protest.  

“You can see an explosion go off right next me. You can hear me yelling ‘Jesus.’ You can hear people around me yelling 'medic, medic, medic' because they were injured. You can hear explosions going off everywhere. It was like a war zone,” he said.

During his testimony, Savage held up one of SPD's exploded "blast balls" that landed near him during the protest. Two women who testified also showed bruises and marks on their bodies from the SPD devices, and one woman said she's been to the hospital three times for follow-up care.

Police Captain Chris Fowler told council members the police department’s first goal was to keep the protest peaceful, and allow demonstrators to exercise their free speech rights.

But when someone in the crowd assaulted an officer, Fowler said, they had probable cause for an arrest.

“After that arrest, and you can see it on that video, the crowd begins to physically assault officers with the sticks,” he said. “They’re throwing bricks and that continued. As the crowd went from protest in to a much more riot type situation, so we started to use multiple different tools.”

Fowler said officers used two different types of non-lethal explosives to control the crowd. Council members raised several concerns and questions about the department's training and policy on use of these devices.

Several police officers were also treated for injuries.

The Seattle Police Department said a review board will conduct an in-depth review of all officer actions and decisions, including every use of force.

It is unclear when that report will be completed.

Year started with KUOW: 2006