SEATTLE -- The Seattle Police Department said it is prepared to make arrests should annual May Day demonstrations get out of hand on Sunday, despite the fact that less than half of previous arrests have resulted in criminal convictions.
Of those who are found guilty, the many are given plea deals to avoid jail time – a result that has the city’s police union accusing the court system of coddling violent protesters “like children.”
For the past four years, an annual anti-Capitalist march has devolved into chaos, often marked by vandalism and tense confrontations between protesters and police.
Since 2012, at least 51 protesters involved in the march have been arrested for crimes, including failure to disperse, obstruction of justice, and assaulting a police officer.
Of those protesters, 27 were never convicted of a crime. Thirteen of the 27 cases were dismissed outright, some for “proof problems,” according to court records.
Such data could suggest “possibly that the wrong people are being arrested,” said Lisa Daugaard, director of the Public Defender Association.
Many of the cases dismissed involve charges of obstructing justice or failure to disperse – an indication that officers could be giving protesters orders they have no legal basis to make, Daugaard said.
“In these circumstances, often it turns out that there is no case to be made that the officer had the authority to issue the order or take the action that they took,” she said.
Assistant Seattle Police Chief Steve Wilske rejected the notion Friday that officers are making illegitimate arrests.
“People can always have their opinion, but in my experience, and I’ve done an awful lot of these (protests), officers don’t do that,” he said. “They arrest people who they see committing a crime. We just have to make sure that we have the information and we do the work to prove that.”
The Seattle City Attorney’s Office, which dismissed some of the cases in question, offered this statement:
“We don’t have any criticisms of the police officers, who are acting in very fluid situations. It’s our job, removed from the heat of the moment, to evaluate the arrests as cases we think we can or cannot prove.”
While many May Day cases have been dismissed and others have ended in acquittal, those involving the assault of a police officer often end in guilty pleas. In nearly all of those cases, the defendant is given a suspended or deferred sentence, allowing them to avoid jail time in some cases or get the conviction wiped from their record in others.
Raymond Miller, for example, was arrested during a 2013 May Day demonstration for punching an officer in the shoulder and then resisting arrest. He pleaded guilty in exchange for a deferred sentence. Miller was given credit for one day served in jail and agreed to perform community service, according to court records.
A deferred sentence results in a criminal conviction being taken off your record if you complete requirements set forth by the court.
“I think that’s outrageous,” said Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild. “Nobody has a right to punch a police officer in the shoulder or anywhere else. Somehow the court system around here has forgotten that nothing gives anybody the right to assault a police officer. They don’t take is seriously. An officer is going to have to be seriously injured and or worse for the courts here in Western Washington to take it seriously.”
Smith said dismissing cases against protesters or offering deals to those who are convicted sends the wrong message.
“That people can come here from far and wide. They can come up from Eugene, Oregon, and Portland to come up here and create a ruckus, and there’s no consequence for it,” he said. “I think these people are coddled like children.”