Friday, October 30, 2020
Oct. 30, 2020

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Protester hit by police flash-bang faced possibility of ‘life-threatening deterioration,’ medical records say

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The moments before Aubreanna Inda lost her pulse were captured on video the Sunday night before last.

The video shows Inda, 26, standing between a crowd of protesters and police in riot gear when she’s hit with a type of flash-bang device in the chest. She staggers before collapsing in the street.

In the seconds before, “we moved back as [police] started to move forward,” Inda said. Next to her, a handful of other protesters started to lower to their knees.

She was hit in the eyes with a painful spray.

“And then all of the sudden the grenades started going off,” she said.

Seattle police have described the use of “less-lethal” tools to disperse protest crowds, but flash-bang devices have been reported to have seriously hurt and even killed people over the past two decades. In Inda’s case, a doctor who treated her attested in her medical records that Inda had a “high probability of imminent or life-threatening deterioration” because of her injuries.

On the night of Sunday, June 7, police reported that they used pepper spray and blast balls, a variety of flash-bang device, in an attempt to push back the crowd at 11th Avenue and Pine Street in Capitol Hill. Police said some in the crowd had thrown rocks, bottles and incendiary devices at officers.

Police also used tear gas on protesters that night, despite a ban that went into effect two days earlier. The ban contained a loophole, however: SWAT could use tear gas if police determined there was a “life safety” issue. In a Monday news conference, chief Carmen Best said rocks, lasers and the presence of a man with a gun in the area contributed to the decision.

Five days later, on Friday afternoon, a federal judge temporarily barred Seattle police from using pepper spray, tear gas, blast balls, flash-bangs or other projectiles against protesters, finding “that on some occasions the SPD has in fact used less-lethal weapons disproportionately and without provocation.”

Inda provided a declaration in the case, filed by Black Lives Matter Seattle — King County against the police and city.

“[A doctor] told me that I went into cardiac arrest on the street and that if the volunteer medics had not provided on-site chest compressions, I might have died,” her declaration read. “I also went into cardiac arrest at the hospital two additional times, for a total of three times that night. In other words, I ‘died’ three times that night.”

While police have said that crowd-control grenades such as blast balls and flash-bangs are not intended to hurt protesters, use of them has maimed and killed people over the years. In 2016 the city’s Community Police Commission recommended that the department suspend its use of crowd-control grenades until they could be further studied, but Seattle police continued to use them.

“I remember coming in and out of whatever was going on with me,” Inda said, recalling the moments after she was hit. “I know that one of the medics was performing CPR, and they told me they were unable to get an ambulance to come out to us.”

A friend drove her to the hospital, where a code blue was called for cardiac or respiratory arrest. Health care workers intubated her.

The Office of Police Accountability (OPA) is investigating a complaint related to Inda’s injuries. According to Inda, one of the protest medics who treated her in the field reported that police threw flash-bangs at the area where medics were treating her.

Seattle police did not respond to requests for comment about Inda’s case over the weekend. A spokesperson from the Mayor’s Office said in a statement that Mayor Jenny Durkan believed the court, in issuing its temporary ban, “struck the right balance to protect the fundamental Constitutional right to exercise protest, with the need to ensure public safety.”

Earlier in the month, Durkan met with OPA and the Office of Inspector General (IG) “to confirm the accountability partners were reviewing SPD’s actions and to ensure they had resources they needed to do so,” the Mayor’s Office said. “In addition, Mayor Durkan requested a review of SPD’s Court approved crowd management policies.”

The mayor also asked several oversight bodies “to determine what innovative techniques, or combination of techniques, can provide a greater ability to de-escalate situations that occur with mass protests, so that the use of force can be greatly minimized and avoided.”

Inda left the hospital Tuesday. Doctors told her to be careful – they didn’t want her to get another blow to the chest. She’s still reeling: Her chest is in pain, she has vertigo and feels like she can’t breathe well.

But Inda, a criminal-justice student at Shoreline Community College, says she’s going to continue to show up to protests as she’s able. Days after she was hospitalized, she was back out in the streets around 11th and Pine, which had been transformed into the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP, after police withdrew from the East Precinct.

“They can stop my heart from beating once, but it’s not going to stop for this cause at all,” Inda said.

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