Watchdog: Seattle officer's pepper-spraying of child was unintended

Seattle’s police watchdog on Friday released the results of several investigations stemming from complaints over officer conduct during anti-racism protests, finding in the most high-profile case that an officer did not mean to pepper-spray a young boy.

The incident on May 30 prompted 13,000 complaints to the Office of Police Accountability. The office said body-worn video clearly showed that the officer who used the pepper spray was targeting a woman who had grabbed another officer’s baton. When the woman ducked, some of the spray hit the child and his father; the child was not in the officer’s line of sight and he could not have known the child was there.

“Contrary to the popular narrative surrounding this case, the Child was not individually targeted with pepper spray by an SPD officer,” OPA Director Andrew Myerberg concluded.


Myerberg said the case was the one of the hardest cases he had handled. Both his office and the officer who fired the spray regretted that the child was sprayed, he wrote.

“The picture of the Child standing in the middle of the street, crying, with milk running down his face is an unforgettable image from these demonstrations,” Myerberg wrote. “That the Child suffered this trauma is something that OPA is extremely sorry for and that no decision in an administrative investigation can ever remedy.”

In the results of other investigations arising from police conduct at the protests, Myerberg found that an officer who placed his knee on a demonstrator’s neck for about 13 seconds on May 30, during a stressful night of chaos and looting, had improperly used force. Another officer eventually moved that officer’s knee off the detainee’s neck as they arrested him.

Further, while investigating that use of force, the office reviewed the officer’s body-worn camera video and heard him making what it described as unprofessional statements. He cursed at one demonstrator, told an arrestee to “shut the (expletive) up,” and, in a comment to another officer, suggested roughing up a certain protester.

The case is before the police chief for a decision about discipline, Myerberg said.

In another case, a police officer disclosed to his supervisor having made an inappropriate comment, which he described as an allusion to the movie “Top Gun,” that may have been overheard by a community member. The officer agreed on recommended discipline, which is pending before the chief.

Two other complaints, alleging excessive force and other issues, were not sustained.

In all, the office said it had received about 19,000 complaints since May 30, resulting so far in 118 investigations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.