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How did APD Handle the Auburn Black Lives Matter Protest?


Though protests have largely tapered off throughout the nation, questions of how police engaged with protesters persist. Because each department, and demonstration, differ, no unitary trend of how police engaged with protests emerged.  The recent ‘BlueLeaks’ data dump of law enforcement materials* has inflamed questions regarding police tactics and use of force during recent protests. So, how does the Auburn Police Department compare to other agencies?

Auburn Police “coordinated with organizers on timelines and activities and also coordinated with appropriate City departments for resources and assistance to ensure the safety of the event participants,” said City of Auburn Director of Administration Dana Hinman.


Police Presence at the Auburn BLM Protest

Approximately 95 officers, including six command staff, worked the June 2 BLM ‘I Can’t Breathe’ protest** in Auburn. Officers from Kent, Port of Seattle, Renton, Tukwila, and the National Guard were present. Some of the officers present were a part of Valley SWAT and the Civil Disturbance Unit. Of those present, 53 were Auburn police, 17 were from valley agencies, and 25 were from the National Guard.

According to Auburn Police Chief Dan O’Neil, the primary function of the police officers present at the protest was to keep the peace and provide a safe environment for individuals to exercise their constitutional rights.

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The assistance of outside agencies was requested when the department recognized the size of the protest, stated Auburn Police Commander Mike Hirman. While the protest was described as peaceful, Hirman explained the number of officers present was to “make sure it remained peaceful. The last thing we wanted during this COVID business slowdown was damage to the businesses.”


According to Hirman, the presence of the National Guard was offered. He shared the department accepted “because we wanted to protect the hospital and police department.”

During the protest, approximately a third of the officers were in tactical riot gear. Hirman explained that “[officers] wore their appropriate uniform depending on their duty: SWAT [and] CDU consisted of 26 officers total. All others were in their regular police uniform.”

At one point during the protest, officers put on gas masks. Hirman explained that officers put their masks on when “the crowd appeared louder and started moving around the east side [of the Auburn Justice Center], [with] some slipping through the alley.”


Ultimately, “there were no actual threats [to officers],” said Hirman. Another outlet reported a bottle was thrown at police by protesters. Hirman confirmed nothing was thrown at the police.  

Why Was He Laughing?

Officers were not given instructions on engagement with the protesters, including regarding shows of support. According to Hirman, they were just instructed to act professionally.  

After the protest, questions circulated on social media as to why an officer would be smiling or laughing. One comment left on Mayor Nancy Backus’ Facebook page called the officer’s behavior uncalled for and included a video of an officer.


Courtesy, Facebook

Backus responded, “I cannot tell from [the] video if the officer is laughing, smiling, talking or something else, nor can I tell what agency the officer is from. Not an excuse, please understand, but I am challenged with seeing exactly what you’re seeing from the video and being able to respond appropriately.”

The officer in the video is Officer Wolcott from the Kent Police Department. He is a member of the Valley Civil Disturbance Unit.

“I don’t know what made him smile,” said City of Kent Communications Manager Bailey Stober in response to the video. “Knowing Officer Wolcott, I can assure you he is a generally happy person and is often smiling. In the video clip, there are dozens of voices yelling, which makes it impossible to hear exactly what he heard. I also am unaware if there was any radio traffic being broadcast that he was able to hear so I won’t speculate further.”

Wolcott later had this interaction with a protester.

“Having reviewed the video provided, it appears that Officer Wolcott engaged in a respectful, calm, and professional conversation with two of the protestors at the event. I believe he answered their questions to the best of his ability, provided a professional demeanor, and acted in accordance with the policies and expectations set out by the Kent Police Department. His professionalism, decorum, and humanity in this video clearly demonstrate what type of officer he is and how he conducts himself. Frankly, watching the interaction made me proud that Officer Wolcott is a Kent police officer and a member of the City of Kent family,” said Stober.

APD Takes a Knee

Not long before curfew, Auburn Police Commander Cristian Adams stepped forward, keeling with a protester, Nikki Trimble. “She needed a friend, she needed to know that someone cares,” said Adams.  

Adams shared that before he went out to Trimble, he looked to a fellow officer, “and he looked at me, and he knew. He smiled and said, ‘hurry up.’” That same officer was one of the first to join Adams in taking a knee.

Among those in the Auburn Police parking lot was Officer Kory Williams. Listening as protesters shared their experiences and called for police reform, he was moved to act. After peeling off his gear, Williams leaped over the fence around the lot and made his way to a protester, hugging her. What words were, or were not, exchanged remain between them.

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Auburn Police officer K Williams hugs a protester during the June 2 BLM Protest in Auburn | photo by April Duckworth

“I support all employees who positively interact with members of the community based on the event and circumstances at the time,” said O’Neil. 

The chief was in the command post at the time officers took a knee. Asked if he would take a knee, O’Neil said, “taking a knee has had mixed reviews. In some situations, law enforcement has been criticized by protestors for doing it. In other situations, they have been criticized for not doing it. I think it’s situational based on the crowd and circumstances at the time. I don’t think it’s a yes or no answer. It’s more situational dependent.”

The protester Williams hugged had been pleading for someone to answer how Auburn officers would hold other officers who abuse their power accountable.

“The Auburn Police Department is a professional organization. We believe in our core values, two of which are integrity and professionalism. When someone sees something that doesn’t look right, they say something, and it’s looked into,” responded O’Neil. “For example, in 2019, twelve of our eighteen internal investigations were generated complaints that came from within the organization.”

There were 18 internal investigations in 2019. Of the 18 investigations, 11 concluded with findings of misconduct. In addition to internal investigations, the department had 11 supervisory inquiries, six of which found the employee had an unacceptable performance.

“Whereas these things fall apart very quickly, the protest was well organized, including providing their own security,” said Hirman, reflecting on the protest as a whole. “No one was injured, and there was no damage. I would say that was a success.”

O’Neil agreed, echoing Hirman’s sentiment. “When the protest concluded, there was no reported damage, no reported injuries, and zero arrests. I think this is directly attributed to the professional men and women who serve with the Auburn Police Department and the organizers of the protest. The organizers showed great leadership to ensure that the protest remained positive and peaceful.”

Follow up: Bricks and Chains

In our previous article on the Auburn BLM protest, we provided information regarding bricks found in trash cans in downtown Auburn. We shared what information we had received at that time.

According to Hinman, city staff received information from other cities that had demonstrations that individuals with the intent to disrupt peaceful marches had been pre-staging items. “Once some things had been found, we did some examination of any footage we had. [We] did not see anything that would identify who may have done this,” said Hinman.

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Bricks found in a trashcan along the protest’s route | courtesy APD

Hinman confirmed it was only after the items were found, and footage was reviewed, that the city’s cameras were adjusted. 

We attempted to pull the video footage from June 1 and 2. The city clerk’s office responded to our request stating, “the city cameras footage is overwritten after seven days. If the footage is not pulled for a records request or some other reason, we no longer have it after those seven days. I have confirmed the footage is no longer available.” 

Auburn Police did no investigation into the placement of these items. When asked why there was no follow-up investigation, Assistant Chief Mark Caillier stated, “the PD has no further comment for this story.”

Protest organizer Dalayna Wallace has declined to comment on further coverage of the protest.

*Data from the Auburn Police Department was not included in BlueLeaks
**The June 2 I Can’t Breathe – Black Lives Matter Protest in Auburn, WA was not an official protest of the Seattle King County Black Lives Matter Chapter


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