THROUGH THE NIGHT came the tired and hungry remnants of D Platoon. A "soft" riot unit in police parlance—regular uniforms and helmets, carrying gas masks, but wearing no extra protective padding—the squad had been engaging the enemy for most of 12 hours. It was near 9pm on Wednesday, December 1, 1999, the second day of World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. At Broadway and Pine on Capitol Hill, all was momentarily calm. The bloody, gas-choked downtown confrontations earlier in the day—the day of Bill Clinton's arrival and the beginning of the police backlash—had moved up the hill, to the East Precinct, then apparently dissipated. "Captain Oliver told me to take the officers to the Kingdome," the platoon's commander, Seattle Police Lt. Kennedy Condor would later recall. "Once there he would meet with me and most likely send us home."
Within moments, Condor feared for his life. A sudden clash erupted that investigators now think sparked the wider, controversial battles among police and Capitol Hill demonstrators and residents.
Condor's platoon had been activated Sunday and deployed into the midst of the rioting that began Tuesday. Comprised of five 10-officer squads, D Platoon joined other units clearing Union Street for WTO dignitaries, carving out pathways among some of the 45,000 protesters. As the crowd surged and street fighting erupted, D Platoon was overwhelmed. "One suspect attempted to take an officer's pistol from the officer's holster," Condor would write in a report afterward. As reinforcements arrived, they "were fending off punches and kicks and fighting off grabbing hands and tripping legs." Some demonstrators spit on him, others tried to kick him in the groin, says Condor. He was hit in the thigh by a tear gas grenade tossed back into the police lines. For hours, his officers were bombarded with bolts, bottles, rocks, open knives, wrenches, and plastic bottles filled with urine. They were losing.
Then came Wednesday: CS canisters, a no-protest zone, and police retaliation. That night, protesters were driven up Capitol Hill where some of the more enduring images of an unforgettable week would unfold. Demonstrators were beaten and gassed by cops without ID tags. Some uninvolved bystanders were pepper-sprayed and clubbed. A TV video captured an unresisting man being shot by a cop with a bean-bag gun, then kicked in the groin. It would, to some, become a police conspiracy, the plotted cop assault on a hill where police and residents have clashed before and share an uneasy peace.
NOT CAPTURED AMONG those WTO images that night, however, is what city investigators say was a withering assault on Lt. Condor and his troops. His story picks up at 8:55pm, after protesters were repelled by police defending the East Precinct from a perceived attack, but prior to the wider brutal confrontations that included National Guard and county and suburban officers.
"As we inched closer I could see that there were people standing on the [Seattle Central] college campus throwing things at the officers I had left at Harvard and Pine," Condor recalled in his report. "I tell the driver of our Explorer to engage the emergency lights and siren and continue to inch through the intersection in an attempt to get to the suspects. As we move through the intersection a man lies in front of our vehicle.
"I jump from the car. As I do so, I note that other demonstrators are grabbing at me and the car. They are yelling 'Kill 'em,' 'Let's get 'em,' 'Kill the cops,' 'Fuck the pigs,' and other menacing words. Given the number of demonstrators, their violent demeanor, and no apparent leader I felt fear for my life and for the lives of my driver and passenger officer.
"The crowd is swarming over the car as I pull the prone demonstrator from in front of the car. As I do I feel my lower back begin to spasm. The crowd is hammering on the car's windows, roof and hood. They have grabbed the light bar and are rocking it violently. People in the crowd continue to yell threats about killing us.
"I walk around the slowly rolling car, pulling and pushing people off the car so that we can escape from what now appears to be a mob. I see a demonstrator throw a smoking object to the east. I look in that direction and see Sgt. Coomes' van. He too is being attacked. I hear some explosions and see demonstrators leaving the high ground. . . ."
In a few minutes, Condor manages to join other officers, including a sheriff's department contingent, who are being pelted by flying objects. He recalls tossing a stun grenade at a masked demonstrator who is sneaking behind police lines with a lighted Molotov cocktail. Soup cans, potted plants, and potatoes fill the air, pelting the officers. A group of demonstrators comes from the backside, and Condor readies another stun grenade. It goes off in his hand as he heaves it. He's hustled off to the police vehicle.
"We weave our way out of the Broadway area attempting to avoid rock-throwing suspects," he concludes, "as we proceed to the emergency room." There he is treated for a back injury and severe burn to his hand.
By 10:45pm, police dispatchers were warning of "hostile crowds . . . at Pine and Broadway." All officers were told in a radio broadcast to fear for their safety. That may have helped set the stage further. Instead of going home, Condor's unit and the others were battling—and sometimes beating—protesters into the next morning.
Condor's dramatic account has been persuasive to some members of the citizen review panels who are winding up their final reports this month as part of the City Council's WTO review. Some feel it offsets prevailing accusations that Capitol Hill violence was one-sided and initiated only by police and will help reviewers produce a more balanced finding.
"There's a 'reality gap' among both sides," says a review committee staffer. "No one agrees on what happened. But it seems unlikely that after 12 hours on the streets, Condor would stop to pick a fight with a mob and turn this into what it became. In retrospect, it seems there's more than enough blame to go around."