Convoys exit port amid violent confrontation

Demonstrators gathered at the Port of Olympia’s main gate Tuesday night to block military shipments from the port to Fort Lewis, but the Army outflanked them and moved several convoys out another gate.

• Photos: Port of Olympia Protest Nov. 13, 2007

Reader network: Community weighs in on port protests

Share your Port of Olympia protest photos & videos with us!

Olympia police in riot gear wore gas masks as they prepared to remove protesters from the main entrance about 11 p.m. At the same time, military convoys left for Fort Lewis from the port exit to Marine Drive.

Protesters ran to the Marine Drive location and attempted to block the convoy, and police responded to protesters blocking Stryker vehicles by shooting pepper-spray bullets and pepper spray into the crowd. About 50 people were arrested Tuesday night, police said. A witness said police also threw two concussion grenades into the crowd.

Convoys continued after midnight, and Olympia Police Lt. Jim Costa said, “We’re going to keep moving equipment as long as we can.”

People arrested were held in an Intercity Transit bus that was guarded by police, Costa said. They were to be held throughout the night so they couldn’t rejoin the protests, he said.

About 30 protesters and six counterdemonstrators remained at the port entrance at 1:15 a.m.

Costa said one police car had its windows broken out by a thrown rock, and an officer was hit in the knee.

The buildup to the confrontation started about 9 p.m., as police lined up to face a group of about 30 female protesters sitting across the road. Behind them stood the rest of the estimated 150 protesters at the port entrance.

Police gave five warnings that they would use force and pepper spray on the protesters, then began arresting the women in the road about 10 p.m. After that, police fanned out toward the protesters, waiting in a line for about an hour before putting on gas masks in anticipation of making more arrests.

After the convoys left, the unrest moved downtown about midnight. Windows at U.S. Bank on Capitol Way were broken out, and Olympia police officer Chuck Gassett said his car was hit by a rock and dented.

The protests started Nov. 5, after the USNS Brittin docked at the Port of Olympia and began unloading equipment used by the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) during its 15 months in Iraq.

On Tuesday, it was clear that Fort Lewis was preparing to haul a large amount of equipment from the port. Four or five busloads of military personnel arrived at the port Tuesday night to drive the military vehicles out.

Protesters were met Tuesday night by 30 to 40 counterdemonstrators who said the protesters were a disgrace to the troops, who should be welcomed home, not denied their equipment.

“The Stryker brigade is coming home,” Vietnam veteran Gary Heathan said. “I want to show my support and say ‘Thank you very much.’ I don’t want what happened to me when I came back to happen to them.”

This is the version of the story that published in the Wednesday November 14th edition of The Olympian. A different version with some information that didn't make the print deadline is available here.