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Watch This SPD Sergeant Pepper-Spray A Protester Calmly Filming Him

Like many so many acts of senseless violence from the 2020 protests, Seattle's so-called police accountability watchdog never investigated this incident.

Memories of the June protests can sometimes bleed together. Day after day, folks came out. Day after day, SPD blanketed them with teargas, pelted them with blast balls, and doused them in pepper spray in a pointless cycle that only ended with the abandonment of the precinct.

But June 7 stood out. That was the day a cop’s brother barreled into the crowd with an extra clip taped to his handgun and shot Dan Gregory as he rushed to stop what he assumed to be a mass shooter. That day, there were also lesser—but still noteworthy— acts of violence largely forgotten by all except those subjected to them.

These petty, casual cruelties never went viral. They didn’t make the 2020 highlight reel. The police who committed them were never punished. In fact, the agencies charged with holding police accountable didn’t even bother going through the motions of investigating them.


That brings us to the video above. Close to midnight on June 7, Sgt. Matthew Didier led a group of bike officers to 12th and Pine, where he found protesters locking arms across Pine. Lt. Jim Dyment told them to move or be arrested.

About 40 seconds later, Didier tried to separate the human chain with his hands and push his way through. When some resisted, he screamed histrionically at his goons to arrest them.

After breaking up the chain, most of the remaining protesters were pushed back to the corner, with a few standing just off the sidewalk. The crowd was calm. They were just standing there holding signs. A few were yelling. But on the whole, they were the textbook definition of “peaceful protesters.”

Of course, that wasn’t enough for the Sarge. Didier wanted them all the way on the sidewalk. With impotent rage, he howled at them to “get back or be pepper-sprayed!” One person was holding a sign a little too close to the handlebars of Officer Scott Luckie, who was to the immediate left of Didier, so Luckie snatched their sign, and Didier hit them with a quick burst of pepper spray.

He screamed at the protesters to step back behind the line and threatened to take their signs. A woman in a pink hoodie filming him looked down to see what line he was talking about. When she looked up again, he sprayed her directly in the face.

Objectively reasonable?

You don’t need a law degree to watch the video and see that the force used was excessive and unnecessary. It’s self-evident. But let’s briefly walk through the legal standard that governs the use of force—Graham v. Connor—just for good measure.

Graham is a Supreme Court case that establishes a legal test for force. For force to be lawful, it must be necessary and proportionate. The courts have laid out a non-exhaustive list of Graham factors that may be considered to determine if force is “objectively reasonable.”

The SPD manual lists several. Let’s go through them one by one:

  • The seriousness of the crime or suspected offense: They were standing in the street.

  • The level of threat or resistance presented by the subject: They posed no threat. They were standing there.

  • Whether the subject was posing an immediate threat to officers or a danger to the community: Again, no.

  • The potential for injury to members of the public, officers, or subjects: Absolutely none.

  • The risk or apparent attempt by the subject to escape and the government's interest in preventing the escape: They weren’t moving

  • The conduct of the subject being confronted (as reasonably perceived by the officer at the time): Calmly standing there.

  • The time available to an officer to make a decision: Literally, all the time in the world

  • The availability of other resources: There were dozens of cops at that intersection with bikes, sticks, tasers, blast balls, and every other conceivable tool in their cop arsenal. Also, there were tons of National Guard right up the street.

  • The training and experience of the officer: Didier has been a cop for at least 15 years, and he was in the army.

  • The proximity or access of weapons to the subject: No weapons or anything that could be used as a weapon.

  • Officer versus subject factors such as age, size, relative strength, skill level, injury/exhaustion and the number of officers versus subjects: Officers appeared to outnumber protesters. Didier has a significant height, weight, and strength advantage over both people he pepper-sprayed

  • The environmental factors and/or other exigent circumstances: There was little to no exigency at that point in time

In short, what Didier did was unnecessary and disproportionate. Also, part of the test is what a “reasonable” officer would do in that situation. To be fair, few SPD officers meet that criterion. But none of the many (generally unreasonable) officers present at the time felt the need to pepper-spray anyone or go beyond pushing and snatching signs.

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