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'Extreme and outrageous conduct': Father files federal lawsuit for pepper-spraying of son during 2020 Seattle protest

Armand Avery's civil rights lawsuit alleges assault and negligence against the involved Seattle police officers.

SEATTLE — Editor's note: The above video originally aired September 18, 2020.

A Pierce County man and father of a child who was pepper-sprayed during a 2020 anti-racism protest filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Tuesday against the city of Seattle and the Seattle police officers involved.

Avery and his son, seven years old at the time, identified as J.A., "decided to participate in a peaceful rally and protest" in downtown Seattle on May 30, 2020, five days after the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd.

The rally, located near the Westlake Mall, was an authorized demonstration by the city of Seattle, according to Avery's complaint.

The lawsuit said Avery and his son were joined at the rally by other family members and church members.

A "significant" police presence with officers in full riot gear was also at the rally. The document said the officers were assigned to protect people at the rally and the surrounding property.

At approximately 3 p.m., officers began to push into the crowd of people attending the rally after there was a verbal exchange between demonstrators and police, according to the suit. At that time Avery and his son were pepper-sprayed and J.A. "immediately felt like his face was on fire" and "was having difficulty breathing."

Avery and his son went to the hospital and were diagnosed with chemical burns.

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The incident prompted 13,000 complaints to the Seattle Police Department's Office of Police Accountability. 

In September 2020, the Office of Police Accountability said that body-worn video showed that the officer who used the pepper spray was targeting a woman who had grabbed another officer’s baton. When the woman ducked, some of the spray hit Avery and J.A.

"While the impact to the boy was an unfortunate result, he was not visible on the video at the time of the pepper-spraying and therefore could not have been seen by the supervisor," the office wrote in a press release.

The office found the use of pepper spray was in line with the police department's policy.

Avery's suit claims the city and the officers discriminated against Avery and his son because they are black and attended the rally.

"The use of noxious gases against individuals exercising their constitutional right to speak out about issues of inequity in support of members of a protected class constitutes a violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination," the complaint stated.

The suit also alleges outrage and negligence by the officers, stating the officers pepper-sprayed J.A. "either intentionally or recklessly."

"Spraying a peaceful seven-year-old child in the face with a noxious gas is extreme and outrageous conduct," the complaint said.

The suit alleges officers were negligent when they "unjustifiably sprayed them with pepper spray" when they were meant to be protecting the demonstrators.

    

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