SEATTLE — On the sixth day of major protests in Seattle over the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white police officer in Minnesota, city officials announced Wednesday they would withdraw a request that could have cleared the way to lift eight years of federal oversight of the Seattle Police Department.
The dramatic change in the city's approach capped a day of pressure from political leaders, community organizers and demonstrators who called for measures such as defunding and demilitarizing Seattle police. Meanwhile, the protests showed no signs of slowing: Thousands continued to march downtown and in Capitol Hill on Wednesday to oppose police brutality and call for racial justice.
The city also announced it would end nightly curfews, which had been scheduled to remain in effect through Saturday morning.
City Attorney Pete Holmes said Wednesday he has been closely monitoring the city's response to the demonstrations and the 14,000 complaints about police officers' actions during the protests — including the use of pepper spray, flash-bang devices and tear gas against some demonstrators — that have been made to Seattle's Office of Police Accountability (OPA), the watchdog agency that conducts internal investigations.
Noting "we are about to witness the most vigorous testing of our city's accountability systems," Holmes said, "it's become clear to me that we need to pause before asking U.S. District Judge James Robart to terminate" a key portion of a 2012 federal consent decree "so that the City and its accountability partners can conduct a thorough assessment of SPD's response to the demonstrations."
The city last month, in a motion filed jointly with the U.S Department of Justice, had asked Robart to find the city had met the requirements of a two-year period to show it has remained in compliance with the consent decree. The city cited the need to recognize the department's widely praised efforts to address Justice Department allegations of excessive use of force and biased policing and shift badly needed resources to the coronavirus crisis.
Before Holmes' announcement, Seattle City Council President M. Lorena González told The Seattle Times on Wednesday that she supported withdrawing the motion, saying much had changed since Floyd's killing.
"The sheer volume of ... complaints that are flowing from the Police Department's response and management of these demonstrations is reason enough for the city to take a step back," González said.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a Seattle City Club interview Wednesday that she agreed with the decision to withdraw the city's request. She had supported the motion last month and since then. But she said Wednesday, "We need to take a pause ... With what's going on right now, we need to engage more people."
She said in a statement Wednesday that the motion was not filed with the intent to end the consent decree.
But if approved, the request would have opened the door for the city to ask Robart to be released from oversight, while leaving it unclear how it planned to address his concerns.
The city still needs to address issues Robart flagged a year ago regarding the city's contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), Durkan said. The judge cited an appeal process that allowed an arbitrator to lift the firing of an officer who had punched a handcuffed woman who had kicked him. A King County judge later reinstated the firing at the city's request.
Durkan pointed to a May 29 open letter from SPOG as a hopeful sign toward seeking consensus. It condemned the killing of Floyd, saying there was "no law enforcement or self-defense rationale" for the prolonged use of the officer's knee on Floyd's neck captured with cellphone video.
The letter said SPOG, which represents more than 1,200 officers and sergeants, recognizes that all police officers, possibly for years to come, will be held accountable.
Guild President Mike Nolan said Wednesday that he is on record saying he will "meet with anyone at any time."