Man files suit against city over injury suffered during Seattle May Day protests

Sam Levine said a piece of a shrapnel from a blast ball pierced through his left cheek while he was shooting video of May Day protests on May 1, 2016. (KOMO)

SEATTLE -- A citizen journalist hit by a piece of shrapnel from a blast ball during May Day protests in Seattle filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday against the City of Seattle and several members of the Seattle Police Department.

Several videos showed a blast ball, which was thrown underhanded by an officer, land right next to Sam Levine. Levine was trying to shoot video of the May 1st protests for his blog when a piece of shrapnel from the blast ball pierced his left cheek, he said.

"I looked down and I didn’t even have time to process it. I just saw it and then it went off. I was blinded. I went down. I couldn’t feel the left half of my face," Levine said. "I did not expect that I would be lying on the ground from a grenade in my own pool of blood. And that's hard to deal with."

Now more than three months after the protests, the swelling has subsided and most of the pain from Levine's injury has gone away, he said. But he's a changed man. He uses his beard to cover the scar left behind.

Levine has already had one surgery to remove some scar tissue from his face.

"My face is never going to be symmetrical again. My smile isn’t gonna be perfect. And over the years, it will slowly become better and better. But it’s never going to be what it was," Levine said. "I still have all of my eyes, so I’m really lucky."

Levine decided to file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Tuesday after taking time to process what happened to him and investigate how police are trained to respond to protests. He hopes the lawsuit will lead to compensation for his injury, but he also wants to help force change in Seattle policy to protect peaceful protesters and journalists.

Levine questions why a blast ball was used when it was during the protests on May 1.

"I see police departments around the country, Seattle among them, reaching for force in escalation where it's not necessary. Where attempting to de-escalate situations could have made things better, but they take bad situations and make them worse," Levine said.

That's a question that came up Tuesday when members of the Seattle City Council grilled police leaders on their use of certain types of weapons and force during major protests, including May Day protests.

Seattle police said blast ball use is a tactic that creates space between police and protesters. Using blast balls is a decision officers never take lightly, they added.

"If we can create space and never come into contact with violent protesters that it's safer for not only the protesters, safer for us but also the citizens involved," said Seattle Police Lt. Marc Garth-Green.

Police department leaders told the Council they couldn't talk about strategies or tactics from this year's May Day protests because of pending litigation.

A spokeswoman for the Seattle City Attorney's Office told KOMO News on Tuesday that she hadn't yet seen Levine's lawsuit and could not comment on the matter.

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