Tempers cool at site of Olympia war protest

OLYMPIA — Iraq War protesers clashed with police early Sunday morning as criticism of police crowd control tactics mounted.

Photos: Military Shipment Protest at the Port of Olympia 2007

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Olympia police arrested three people and sprayed at least two others with pepper spray Sunday morning. Twelve people were arrested Saturday.

Demonstrators who carried "Support the troops" signs gathered across the street from those protesting military-cargo shipments at the Port of Olympia, but the rest of Sunday was relatively quiet, police said.

Sunday night, roughly 100 people attended a standing-room-only forum at Olympia City Hall organized by City Councilman TJ Johnson to discuss whether police have gone too far in their use of batons and pepper spray at the recent protests.

Johnson told those who attended to fill out citizen complaint forms, which were available at the forum, if they wanted to report something they perceived as improper behavior by a city of Olympia employee.

Olympia police Cmdr. Tor Bjornstad said police have not swung their batons at anyone but have used them to push back protesters trying to block roadways. And he said everyone who was sprayed with pepper spray was warned at least four times beforehand. Some who attended Sunday night's forum said they were sprayed without warning.

Police response

But Bjornstad said: "No one got sprayed that didn't know it was coming."

Though he stopped short of accusing police officers of misconduct, Johnson called the situation a "significant crisis" and said he decided to organize the forum because he was concerned by police acts he'd witnessed and heard about.

Olympia Mayor Mark Foutch released a written statement Sunday that said any reports of excessive police force that are filed with the city will be "thoroughly and impartially" investigated. But he said police reported that some demonstrators have acted in ways that exceeded their rights to use public roads for political expression. And he said demonstrators need to "express their opinions in ways that do not block the public rights-of-way for unreasonable periods and to respond promptly to lawful requests and orders of police officers on the scene."

Between 30 and 40 officers worked Sunday as a result of the protests, said Dick Machlan, Olympia police administrative services manager.

Olympia police got additional support from Lacey,

Tumwater and Thurston County law enforcement agencies.

The additional staffing needed for such protests can cost the city of Olympia between $2,000 and $15,000, Machlan said.

"It's so dependent on the individual event," he said.

The latest port protest could end up being on the more expensive end if additional police are needed to work today because it's the observed Veterans Day holiday, Machlan said. That means working staff members earn one-and-a-half times their typical wage.

Sunday's events

The confrontations Sunday began after about 8:45 a.m., when protesters began marching back and forth across Franklin Street at the Market Street intersection. As 18-wheelers towing cargo began rolling down Market Street about five minutes later, two protesters lay down in the road, creating a human blockade. Police officers sprayed both with pepper spray.

Another caravan of vehicles began leaving the port about 9:45 a.m., prompting protesters to run out ahead of the vehicles. Police arrested at least one man who witnesses said was in the road and later arrested two others.

Those arrested on suspicion of violating the city's pedestrian interference ordinance were Joshua Elliott, Montgomery Gondolfi and Luke Noble, according to Olympia City Jail.

"It got a little dicey right off the bat," Bjornstad said. "Once that settled down, it hasn't been that bad the rest of the day."

Protesters' stories

Elliott attended Sunday night's forum and said he was jabbed by the end of policeman's baton, sprayed with pepper spray at close range and tackled to the ground.

"It's disgusting," he said of the way he was treated by police. "Something needs to be done about it."

Larry Mosqueda, a faculty member at The Evergreen State College, said he plans to sue the city because of the way he says he was sprayed with pepper spray. He said he was trying to help a fellow protester get back on her feet when he was sprayed.

Iraq War protesters and military supporters traded barbs with each other throughout Sunday, yelling at each other from the opposite sides of Market Street. The most heated exchanges came when demonstrators from the opposing camps walked onto each other's corners to wave signs or shout from bullhorns.

Iraq War protester Nicole Miller, 25, of Olympia said she decided to walk over to the corner where the military supporters were standing because she thought police were giving them more leeway in their demonstration.

"I was making a point about constitutional rights," said Miller, who stayed at the intersection overnight Saturday.

"When the shipments first arrived, that's when the war came home to my community," she added, explaining her involvement in the protest.

Shipment supporters

Jeff Brigham, 51, of Tumwater, served in the Army for 20 years. He carried a sign that read "God Bless Israeli bulldozers." The sign refers to the death of Olympia resident Rachel Corrie, who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while attempting to block the destruction of a Gaza home. Brigham, who told protesters that he disapproved of Corrie defending Palestinians, said he came to the port Sunday to support the military.

"I feel it's important to make the point that the military is welcome in our port," he said.

Brigham said he didn't think police officers had acted inappropriately in the way they handled the protesters.

"They always tell the people to leave the road several times before they use force," he said. "As long as people didn't break the law, no one got any force used on them."