Police arrested an Olympia woman late Tuesday night after she refused to leave Olympia City Hall as a protest against the Olympia Police Department’s use of pepper spray against protesters.
Shelly Robbins announced at that night’s Olympia City Council meeting that she wouldn’t leave the downtown building unless the council changed the city’s policy. The council didn’t discuss any changes to current policy during its meeting.
She was arrested at about 11:30 p.m. just outside of the council chambers.
Before her arrest, Robbins had a lengthy conversation with City Manager Steve Hall, who said that it wouldn’t be feasible for him to allow her to stay in the building all night. Robbins argued that in most cases — including hers — pepper spray just isn’t necessary.
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“How many people will it take to drag me out of here?” she asked. “Four? But it’s not going to take pepper spray.”
Robbins said her actions were prompted by two events that occurred in the last year.
The first occurred Nov. 18, 2016. Olympia police officers, assisted by officers from other local agencies, removed a camp of protesters that had been blocking a downtown rail line. The group was protesting the shipment of ceramic proppants, used in the fracking process.
Some of the protesters were hit by pepper balls, and fled to nearby buildings. Several entered the offices of POWER, a welfare and economic rights nonprofit. Robbins works with the agency.
“Because I was there, I ended up being the documentarian of the incident,” Robbins said.
She said that the chemicals lingered for hours, and were harmful to those who breathed them in.
The second incident occurred last week when four people affiliated with Just Housing were arrested outside City Hall while protesting the city’s camping ban. The first two people arrested weren’t pepper sprayed, but at least one of the others was.
Lt. Sam Costello, who was present during Robbins and Hall’s discussion, said it was the first time he had seen actual pepper spray used in Olympia in years. The incident, like all uses of force by the Olympia Police Department, will be subject to an internal review, he said.
Hall said Tuesday night that he couldn’t promise that pepper spray wouldn’t be used on Just Housing protesters Tuesday night, or any other night.
“I can’t predict what will happen,” Hall said. “I can’t predict how people will act.”
“In my business, there is no certainty,” he said. “We deal in uncertainty.”
The two sides couldn’t reach an agreement, and Hall said that anyone who refused to leave the building would face arrest. Four members of Just Housing left, but Robbins remained.
A group of people watched through the glass front doors of City Hall as Robbins was eventually arrested.
Robbins refused to stand up, and was carried out by three Olympia police officers, as a fourth officer filmed the incident. Footage of the arrest can be viewed on Just Housing’s Facebook page.