The Dead Prez Riot Part 2
Revisiting the Controversial Story
BY JOSH WOLF
The Dead Prez riot has become commonly associated with The Evergreen State College. Yet, despite the number of students and police officers at the event, eyewitness reports are numerous and conflicting. Did Officer Meyers racially profile Kaylen Williams? Was dead prez to blame for inciting the riot? Did the police use excessive force? How did faculty and administration react to the riot and police investigation into students? Over the past six years, these questions have become obscured through rumor and hearsay. This is our investigation to review the causes and effects of the dead prez riot, and to illuminate new information that had yet to be collected. Olympia Police Spark Riot
The controversial arrest of Kaylen Williams started the protest. Williams, a black breakdancer, was invited to the dead prez show by the concert’s organizers and was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault, after an event-staff volunteer accused Williams of punching him in the face. Other witnesses said that the event staff volunteer was the aggressor, and that Williams was trying to break up the fight. The statements regarding Williams are contradictory, but eventually, all charges were dropped against Williams.
As Meyers arrested Williams and led him out of the concert, a group of people followed them out of Evergreen’s CRC and demanded an explanation for the arrest. Evergreen student at the time, Jonathan Steiner, was one of the people confronting Meyers about the arrest. “People were asking why she didn’t arrest anyone else. She said that if anyone had statements, they could file them later with the police. To us, it seemed like Kaylen – the only black person involved – wasn’t going to get fair treatment,” said Steiner.
By the time the concert ended, there were an estimated 75 people confronting Meyers while Williams was handcuffed in the back seat of her patrol car. Two Thurston County Sheriff’s Department [TCSD] Deputies were on the scene as well, and were called in to take statements from the crowd. As Meyers attempted to drive back to Police Services, people blocked her car in protest of Williams’ arrest.
The crowd surrounding Meyers’ car began to swell. Video footage (above) obtained from the Olympia Police Department [OPD], and filmed by students who were in charge of filming the concert, showed an estimated 200-300 people non-violently chanting “Let him go!” But at some point during the protest for Williams’ release, Meyers noticed the crowd becoming more aggressive. “My car was being pelted by bottles and other things. It sounded like a hailstorm on the roof of my car,” said Meyers. One of the TCSD Deputies described the escalating situation in a police report: “…we began to get items thrown at us. [We] had members of the crowd grab our guns and pull them from behind… A few jumped on the back of the car and got off again. [We] began to feel very unsafe.” Intimidated by the protesters, Meyers and the TCSD Deputies called for a “priority assist,” and the TCSD, OPD, Washington State Patrol, Tumwater Police Department, and Lacey Police Department responded to the trapped officers.
Looking for a way out, Meyers and the two TCSD Deputies decided to release Williams and contact him later, but before they released him, a group of six OPD officers charged into the crowd. Video footage shows the OPD pushing and pulling the protesters as they fought their way towards Meyers and the TCSD Deputies. In police reports, multiple officers admitted to using their flashlights and batons against the protesters “in a jabbing motion.”
Jonathan Steiner sustained painful injuries inflicted by the OPD. “It was one of the most painful things I’ve ever been through,” said Steiner. “[The cop] didn’t stop striking until someone was able to pull me out of the crowd… I could barely walk for about three days, and I walked with a limp for weeks.” The assault had a profound effect on Steiner. “Psychologically, fuck, I still have a hard time being around cops,” he said. “That feeling of knowing, deep down knowing, that these people could beat me, and jail me, they could kill me if they really wanted to, and nothing would really happen to them. They would be fired, at worst. I have a deep-seated understanding now that they have a violent power.”
A group of 55 Evergreen faculty members sent a letter to the Mayor and the City Council of Olympia asking for the OPD’s actions to be investigated by an “independent citizen task force.” The faculty members wrote, “it appears that members of the Olympia police force, without warning, assaulted our students and concert-goers while needlessly and randomly dispensing pepper spray.” Additionally, the faculty members argued that the OPD’s actions escalated the situation, and “disrupted a resolution that was in the process of being achieved.” The City of Olympia determined that any “additional reviews… are not required,” in a letter responding to the faculty members.
Police reports and video footage show the police using pepper spray against the protesters. After the police pepper sprayed the protesters, they gained control of Meyers’ car, but the protesters continued to harass the police by throwing objects and shouting at them.
Video footage shows that the protesters began to throw objects at the police immediately after the OPD engaged the protesters, although Meyers claimed that people were throwing objects at her car before the OPD came to assist. Video footage contradicts Meyers’ claim. Additionally, passive observers began yelling, “be peaceful,” and “fuck the police,” as they saw the police attack the protesters. The video footage shows that the protesters became noticeably louder and more aggressive right as the police attacked.
Once the police gained control of Meyers’ car, Kaylen Williams was released in an attempt to calm the protesters; however, Williams’ release went largely unnoticed, according to Meyers. From the video footage, Williams’ release did not calm the protesters in any noticeable way.
When the police used pepper spray to disperse the protesters, they accidentally sprayed Officer Meyers in the face. Because Meyers was incapacitated by the pepper spray, TCSD Deputy Jamie Gallagher began to drive Meyers’ car to safety. As the police retreated, and Gallagher slowly drove away, the protesters followed closely. In the video footage, you can hear glass breaking, as well as garbage cans and tree branches being thrown at the police.
During their retreat, the police had to move one of their patrol cars that had been parked in the mud and became stuck.
A different police car had bigger problems. TCSD Deputy Jamie Gallagher’s car would not start. Under attack from the protesters, the police determined it was too dangerous for them to stay in the area, so they abandoned the car and retreated to safety.
With the police gone, protesters threw bricks through the abandoned squad car’s windows, painted it in graffiti, and flipped it on its back. The protesters also looted the car, stealing a computer, radar gun, personal items, and the car’s backseat.
Once the police had regrouped, a squad of approximately 24 officers, dressed in riot gear, marched back to the destroyed car. By that point almost all of the protesters had fled except for a small group of students filming. The cops towed their car away while the students awaited the retribution of law.
Evergreen and The Police
“Our campus community is shocked and concerned by the violence that occurred following the Dead Prez concert,” read a press release by The Evergreen State College (TESC) that was published the day after the riot. “We have launched a police investigation to determine the facts and hold responsible parties accountable.” At the end of the press release there was a statement in bold requesting people to contact Police Services if they had any information “that would help our investigation.”
Evergreen President Les Purce said that TESC would pay for the damages done during the riot.
During a community forum that was held after the riot, Purse emphasized the college’s intention to prosecute crimes. “Based on the evidence, we will hold the people involved in the violence and destruction of property accountable for their actions,” said Purse. In response to the arrest of four students in connection with the riot, former Vice President of Student Affairs, Art Costantino, expressed his thoughts: “I’m conflicted. As an educator, no one likes to see students arrested. At the same time, I recognize that students are not exempt from being accountable for their actions.”
According to documents gathered from a public records request through the TCSD, Detective Louise Adams led an investigation of students regarding the riot. Adams documented that the Dean of Library and Media Services at Evergreen told her about two students who had filmed the concert. Adams reported that Costantino “had become aware of the video tape’s existence and requested that” the video be obtained for the TCSD. At first, the student filmers were “hesitant to hand over the tapes, [but] after some discussion with school officials” the students relinquished the tapes to school authorities. In an interview conducted by Detective Adams, an unidentified Evergreen employee involved in the media department told the students that they could voluntarily “comply,” or else a search warrant would be issued. Afterwards, Costantino gave the tapes to Police Services, who handed them to TCSD.
TCSD applied for, and received, multiple subpoenas during their investigation. One such subpoena allowed the police to “obtain identifying information from The Evergreen State College student information system.” This information included “access to The Evergreen State College student photo identification data base to include visual images, complete names, dates of birth, addresses and any contact telephone numbers for the purpose of investigating felony crimes.” The subpoena was issued to TESC, but specifically addressed the college’s Registrar, Andrea Coker-Anderson. Additionally, Coker-Anderson was forbidden to talk about the existence of the subpoena for 90 days. A final command was written in the subpoena: “HEREIN FAIL NOT AT YOUR PERIL” – meaning if Coker-Anderson did not cooperate, she could be held in contempt by the court.
During a Special Faculty Meeting held two weeks after the riot, senior faculty, deans, and other Evergreen administrators discussed their obligations to disclose or protect the video footage of the concert. Maryam Jacobs, a former Evergreen public records officer argued that “the Federal Right to Privacy Act does not apply to images, so arguing that the college should not release the video recording of the images is unlikely to succeed.” If the college had refused to cooperate with law enforcement’s investigation, then Evergreen may have faced grave repercussions.
Although the administration thoroughly cooperated with TCSD, there was a group of students and faculty who opposed cooperation with the police and suggested that the riot should be dealt with internally at Evergreen. During a forum held after the riot, Professor Peter Bohmer urged people “not to cooperate with campus police and administration.” Bohmer said that he didn’t particularly support the riot, but believes “it should have been handled internally at Evergreen, rather than involving the police for possible felony charges.” Bohmer said that Evergreen’s Police Services were coercing students into informing on their classmates. “A student of mine was caught drinking underage on campus,” said Bohmer. “The police said they wouldn’t charge her if she gave them names of the people involved in the riot.” Bohmer said that “it was a totally punitive law and order response by the administration.”
According to additional files acquired from a TCSD public records request, information that was subpoenaed from TESC contributed to the investigation of 16 students. 13 people in total were prosecuted by TCSD. One student was charged with “suspicion of riot while armed with a deadly weapon and first-degree malicious mischief,” which carries a fine of 10 years in prison, and $20,000 in fines. The Olympian later pointed out that the deadly weapon was a stick, according to the student’s lawyer.
The Olympian, reported that seven people, including six students, were charged with felonies in relation to the riot and “paid the college nearly $45,000 in restitution” for damages. The students also entered into a diversion program through Olympia’s Friendship Diversion Services, in which they most likely completed community service hours. “Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney Ed Holm signed off on allowing the defendants to avoid felony convictions and plead guilty to misdemeanors after completing diversion and paying restitution,” wrote Jeremy Pawloski of The Olympian. “Holm said …that he didn’t want to ruin their lives with the stigma of a felony conviction.”
Click here for part three, the final installment.