Police feared larger protest in WA labor dispute

LONGVIEW, Wash. (AP) — After several volatile longshore union protests this summer, Cowlitz County law enforcement officials feared an even larger event of more than 1,000 people and a repeat of the deadly 1934 “Bloody Thursday” protest as the conflict escalated, according to recently filed court documents.

The documents, filed to help Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson fight off a union recall attempt, give insights into how police planned for and responded to a summer of International Longshore and Warehouse Union protests of the EGT grain terminal.

“I received intelligence and reports that the number of protesters expected at the incident would be larger than the protest on Sept. 7 (that had several hundred protesters), and could easily be over a thousand people,” Nelson wrote in a legal declaration filed Wednesday. “I was told by (ILWU Local 21 President Dan) Coffman himself that we could see thousands of union supporters here and he didn’t know when.”

“Never in all my years of law enforcement have I dealt with something of this magnitude,” Nelson wrote.

Declarations were filed by Nelson, Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha, Kelso Police Chief Andy Hamilton, Clark County Sheriff Garry Lucas and Capt. Ronald Rupke of the Washington State Patrol. All discuss their department’s actions during this summer’s longshore protests and all rejected the union’s claims that police used excessive and needless force against protesters. Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning Friday rejected the union’s recall petition.

The most startling parts of the documents, though, are about the Sept. 21 protest, when nine women and three men — including Coffman — were arrested after allegedly trying to halt trains bound for the EGT terminal. Police and deputies responded to the scene in riot gear and also called in an armored vehicle called the “Peacemaker.” In addition, officers also blocked roads leading to the protest site.

Union officials said the response was overblown, unnecessarily harsh and led to two more arrests as two union members “defended” the women being arrested.

According to the court documents, though, police feared a much larger crowd that day.

Police also heard the protest could be far more violent than previous ones — which had included rocks being thrown at police and protesters carrying picket signs taped to baseball bats and axe handles.

“From information we received, longshoremen made reference to this being like Bloody Thursday and not only spoke about it but had printed shirts made to depict it,” Hamilton wrote in his declaration filed Thursday.


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