Seattle teacher suing city after being pepper sprayed at MLK rally

SEATTLE -- A high school teacher and activist is suing the city of Seattle, claiming police officers unlawfully pepper sprayed him as he left a peaceful rally on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Jesse Hagopian, a history teacher at Garfield High School, spoke during an MLK rally in Seattle and says he was on the phone while leaving the January 19th event. As Hagopian, a father of two, was walking to meet family, he says he was pepper sprayed by a Seattle police officer.

The incident was captured on video and uploaded to YouTube Wednesday, the same day Hagopian's attorney filed a claim against the city.

"I felt the piercing pain shoot through my eye, my ear drum and my nostril, all over my cheek and face," Hagopian said, recalling the incident. "I yelled out. My mom was in distress as she heard me yell."

Seattle Police spokesman Patrick Michaud said he hadn't seen the video as of Wednesday afternoon and couldn't comment. Michaud said the video was not taken by SPD staff.

"(Jesse) was pepper sprayed irrationally by a police officer - no provocation and no reason," said Hagopian's attorney, James Bible. "We view this as a challenge to free speech."

Bible, who is president of the local chapter of the NAACP, joined other community advocates in the lobby of city hall Monday. Many say the police have been heavy-handed at recent rallies, despite being under federal orders to improve training, supervision, and accountability.

"We have worked to create and implement a comprehensive and transparent police accountability system that will be the most robust in the nation," said Mayor Ed Murray, in an emailed statement. "Under the accountability system that we've set up, the uses of force that occurred during the MLK protests are currently under review and being investigated."

"Any justice for Jesse I hope will amount for justice for every single person who has exercised their First Amendment right to remind this country that black lives matter," added Nikkita Oliver, a community activist. "We are watching you and no longer accept the attack on black and brown peoples."

Bible's office released the 15-second clip of the incident Wednesday and was working to make a longer segment available to the public.

"The pain that shot through my face only lasted so long," Hagopian added, "but the painful memory is something that I don't know when will leave me or my family."