Police: Rioters threw flares at Seattle officers

By Gene Johnson
Seattle, Washington (AP) March 2011

Demonstrators clad in black threw flares and a large firework at police during a melee that began where an officer shot to death a homeless woodcarver last summer, authorities said last week.

An officer transporting a prisoner first noticed the gathering  and reported that the group discharged a fire extinguisher at his patrol car as he drove by. Other officers responded and found that the group had painted anti-police obscenities on the street and a nearby building.

The group also placed makeshift tire-flattening spikes in an intersection, the police department said in a news release. Many wore black, covered their faces with bandanas and carried signs advocating violence against police.

The havoc began near the intersection where Native American woodcarver John T. Williams was shot and killed last August, just a few seconds after Officer Ian Birk ordered him to drop his small knife. The shooting has been ruled unjustified, but prosecutors recently announced they would not file criminal charges. Birk has resigned from the department.

Last week, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced that he was declaring Sunday John T. Williams Day. Williams had had dozens of run-ins with police and threatened to kill officers just a week before he was shot.

The protesters walked away from the intersection when police showed up, leaving behind paint cans and rollers as well as light bulbs filled with paint. Investigators speculated that they had planned to throw the bulbs at officers or buildings.

Reconvening nearby in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, they threw a large firework that bounced of a cruiser before exploding – an explosion that could have injured officers or passersby, the department said. Some tossed newspaper boxes and trash cans into the street and sprayed fire extinguishers into traffic.

The group did not have a parade or demonstration permit, police said. As the demonstrators dispersed, three were arrested for investigation of rioting, pedestrian interference and obstructing.