Seattle Teacher Pepper-Sprayed by Police to Donate $100K Settlement to Social Justice Causes

Desiree Griffiths holds up a sign saying "Black Lives Matter", with the names of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two black men recently killed by police, during a protest , in Miami, Florida, Dec. 5, 2014. Photo by The Associated Press.

Desiree Griffiths holds up a sign saying “Black Lives Matter,” with the names of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two Black men recently killed by police, during a protest, in Miami, Florida, Dec. 5, 2014. Photo by The Associated Press.

A high school teacher in Seattle, Washington plans to donate the $100,000 settlement he received from the city after being wrongfully pepper-sprayed in the face by police in January 2015.

Jesse Hagopian had just finished delivering a speech at Seattle’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally and march when the incident occurred. According to The Seattle Times, the history teacher was walking on the sidewalk and talking to his mother on his cell phone when a female police officer pepper-sprayed him.

The entire ordeal was caught on video and shows Seattle police officer Sandra Delafuente unleashing a stream of pepper spray on a group of protesters attempting to breach a line of officers. In the footage, Hagopian appears to be a passerby, not a demonstrator.

“I was hit in the face with pepper spray — burning my ear, my mouth, and my eyes,” Hagopian explained at press conference attended by representatives of the King County NAACP. “The pain was excruciating.”

The Garfield High School educator later filed a $500,000 claim against the city for the “anxiety and stress” he suffered after being sprayed, The Seattle Times reports. But his case was thrown out by Seattle’s U.S. District Court after Hagopian and the city agreed upon a $100,000 settlement.

The history teacher says he won’t be keeping the money, however. Instead, Hagopian plans to donate the $100,000 lump sum to a number of social justice causes and movements, according to MyNorthwest.com.

“While that money isn’t justice, that money is going to help the movement for justice,” Hagopian said. “I want to announce today [Tuesday] that I am using the money to help fund an initiative in our city called ‘Black Education Matters,’ a student activist award. And I am going to use the money for community organizations who are in the pursuit of racial justice, to support Black Lives Matter initiatives, and social justice initiatives in our city that can help in the fight for real justice.”

While Seattle agreed to pay for what happened to Hagopian that day, there was no admission of liability on the city’s part nor additional payment for the educator’s legal team, The Seattle Times reports.

To make matters worse, Delafuente, the officer who sprayed Hagopian, got a slap on the wrist for her misconduct. According to the publication, the officer initially received a verbal reprimand for the incident, but was later disciplined with a one-day suspension following a review by the police department’s Office of Professional Accountability.

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole stood by the OPA’s less than stiff punishment, citing that officer Delafuente “has a great reputation” and is highly regarded by her colleagues.

“This woman is a wonderful role model,” O’Toole said. “It would be an injustice if she was misportrayed in this instance. She made a mistake. She owned up to it.”

Hagopian seems to think otherwise.

“Here is somebody that assaults me on the street — Officer Sandra Delafuente assaults me on the street — with no provocation, sprays me in the face with pepper spray,” the history teacher said. “And the harsh recommendation is one day of suspension … even that was too much justice for the chief of police because she intervened to say that Officer Delafuente would receive only a verbal warning that wouldn’t even stay in a file. That is the great liberal reformer police chief we have in Seattle. It’s really an outrage.”

According to The Seattle Times, Hagopian’s attorney, James Bible,  says he and his client are “at peace” with the monetary award and are now working toward police accountability, especially when it comes to citizen marches and protests.

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