Olympia police face 5 claims

Four people who say they were victims of brutality by Olympia police officers during last year's protests at the Port of Olympia want the city to pay $13 million in damages.

Each of the five claims for damages filed Thursday by Olympia residents William Hamilton, Adam Kohut, Daisy Montague and Larry Mosqueda is for $2.6 million, a figure they say they chose because each dollar represents one Iraqi citizen killed or forced to flee the country during the U.S.-led occupation. Hamilton filed two claims for acts of police brutality that he alleged occurred on consecutive days.

All of the claimants except Mosqueda were arrested in November during several days of protests as demonstrators attempted to prevent military vehicle and equipment being unloaded at the Port of Olympia from returning to Fort Lewis. The cargo belonged to a Fort Lewis-based Stryker brigade that had served 15 months in Iraq.

Demonstrators stood or sat in the road to block the path of the vehicles. Police used batons or pepper spray or fired pepper-spray bullets to clear the road. In numerous cases, they dragged protesters from the street.

61 arrests

Sixty-one people were arrested between Nov. 8 and Nov. 15. Five, including Kohut, were arrested twice.

Each claimant suffered at least one unprovoked act of brutality by officers when they posed no threat, said Legrand Jones, a lawyer at The Evergreen Law Group, which is representing them.

"There was a level of frustration and tiredness among officers, and they went over the line," he said.

Police Chief Gary Michel declined to comment on the claims, but said the filings didn't surprise him. He said the department participated in an internal critique of its officers' performance and met with representatives of the military and port to receive feedback.

"I'm not going to say we're perfect by any means, but certainly the response of the officers in those difficult days was entirely professional and appropriate," he said.

But Montague, 24, said her experience Nov. 11 was an example of officers going too far.

She said she was lying in the road near Franklin and Market streets to block the path of military vehicles. She expected to be arrested but not to be pepper-sprayed in her eyes at close range with no warning.

"There was no need for them to use illegal weapons on us," she said. "If I was given the option, I wouldn't have stayed in the roadway."

She said the claim is a political stance opposing the war.

"For me personally, I don't care at all about the money," she said. "To me, it's about a stance. It is also about the police using the power they are given by the citizens of Olympia and using it to hurt people in a malicious way."

The claims are not lawsuits. But they could be a "precursor" to court action if an agreeable resolution isn't reached, Jones said.

The city will forward the claims to its insurer, the Washington Cities Insurance Authority, for its review and investigation, Assistant City Manager Subir Mukerjee said.

"It will take some time," he said.

He declined to comment on the claims, saying he hadn't had a chance to fully review them.

The police department received 15 formal complaints related to individual officers' actions during the protests, Michel said. The investigations of the complaints remain open, he said. Montague filed a complaint; none of the other claimants did.

Kalo Wilcox, an Olympia city prosecutor, said she is waiting for the police department to forward the arrest reports and other information so her office can review them and decide whether to prosecute those arrested. Michel said it was his understanding that information had been forwarded last week. The police chief acknowledged there was delay in compiling the information because of the numbers of people arrested and police officers involved.

Demonstrators have opposed using the publicly funded port to support what they say is an illegal and immoral war. Many blocked roads and ignored police requests to disperse. Some went further, with officers reporting they were spit on and hit by rocks. Some protesters threw garbage or rolled trash bins into military vehicles' paths.

The protests cost the city $112,168 in police overtime and equipment and to repair damage to a police car.

Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or chill@theolympian.com.