Review slams Seattle police response to 2020 protest zone

SEATTLE, WA - JULY 01: Police officers block a street as city crews dismantle the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) area outside of the Seattle Police Department's vacated East Precinct on July 1, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. Police reported maki

Poor communication, deception, bad judgment and a lack of leadership contributed to tension, violence and killings in Seattle in 2020, according to a review of the city’s response to racial injustice demonstrations that year.

Seattle’s inspector general, Lisa Judge, released the 81-page review Tuesday. It focuses on 23 days in June, shortly after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis led to protests across the U.S., The Seattle Times reported. Earlier reports by her office looked at the Seattle Police Department’s crowd control policies and on rebuilding community trust.

On June 8, 2020, police abandoned the East Precinct building in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood in an attempt to defuse tension with protesters. The demonstrators used the opportunity to declare an eight-block "cop-free" zone known as the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest or the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.

The inspector general’s office concluded the occupation revealed a dysfunctional relationship between the city administration, led by then-Mayor Jenny Durkan, and the police department, led by then-Police Chief Carmen Best.

RELATED: Woman struck by rubber bullet during 2020 protest sues Seattle police

It also found police brass misled the public, exaggerated dangers posed by protesters to justify leaving the precinct, and employed a racist ruse in an apparent attempt to frighten and intimidate thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters.

The ruse involved fake radio chatter on public channels warning that an armed group of Proud Boys — a far-right group with a reputation for street violence — was gathering downtown and heading toward Capitol Hill. As a result, some protesters armed themselves and prepared for violence.

"Lying to the community in this way was not only contrary to policy, but it was also a poorly considered tactic contributing to the tensions," the report said. "Many panelists viewed this incident as an example of the way structural and internalized racism can coalesce in police decision-making and cause harm to the community."

Police, including the chief, made unsubstantiated or false claims that Capitol Hill leaders were extorting area business owners and that protesters were stopping citizens at armed checkpoints, the review found.

The report raised concerns about the decisions by police and Seattle Fire Department medics to stand by at the protest zone perimeter after two fatal shootings, leaving treatment and transportation of the victims to volunteer medics and private vehicles while trained medical responders and ambulances were just blocks away.

Violence and crime escalated until the night of June 20, when 19-year-old Lorenzo Anderson was shot multiple times during an altercation. He was taken to a medic tent where civilian medics tried to stop his bleeding. Seattle Fire Department medics and firefighters declined to respond without a police escort, citing Fire Department policy.

Early June 29, someone in a white Jeep was reported to have fired shots toward a nearby park. As the vehicle approached a set of barricades, people believed to be armed, self-appointed CHOP security guards opened fire, killing the 16-year-old driver and wounding his 14-year-old passenger.

Two days later, police moved through the area and expelled the protesters.