Unrest Even At The Top During Riots

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT was trapped - and angry. Janet Reno was calling. The State Patrol leader saw trouble brewing at Starbucks. The Secret Service threatened to cancel the president's visit. It all came down to Mayor Paul Schell.

In the early morning chill of Tuesday, Nov. 30 - hours before the first rocks were thrown through storefronts in protest of the World Trade Organization - nearly nine months of security planning by Mayor Paul Schell and the Seattle Police Department had already disintegrated into crisis.

Thousands of raucous protesters were clogging downtown streets, chaining themselves in human blockades and preventing delegates from getting to the trade meeting. The 400 Seattle police officers on the street were clearly outmanned. Events were turning chaotic, evolving into a weeklong drama that played out on national television.

But another drama was unfolding outside of public view, culminating in a tense meeting among federal, state and city officials that afternoon in a command center at Seattle police headquarters.

The decisions made in that meeting were key to much of what happened on Seattle streets over the next few days: the creation of a "no protest" zone and downtown curfew, the tough police tactics to enforce those rules, the roving police-demonstrator clashes.

The mayor and his aides have declined to talk in detail about the behind-the-scenes decision-making that day. But through interviews with other participants, key events of the day have been pieced together.

Beginning early, local, state and federal officials - including Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Attorney General Janet Reno - began pressuring reluctant Seattle officials to crack down on the protests.

Albright fumed in a phone call to Gov. Gary Locke's staff that she was trapped in her hotel and demanded that police regain control. As early as 11 a.m., a Seattle assistant police chief urged his colleagues to declare an emergency, which could have forced the cancellation of a noontime union march.

Reno phoned Locke to insist he call out the National Guard - a decision he had already made. And the Secret Service threatened to recommend that President Clinton cancel his visit to Seattle.

But many of those involved say Schell and Seattle police officials were hesitant to admit they had lost control of the streets, until the mayor declared an emergency at 3:25 p.m. and about 200 National Guard troops and another 300 State Patrol troopers were called out.

Stamper a late arrival

And there were questions of leadership. Chief Norm Stamper had delegated control of WTO to Assistant Chief Ed Joiner - and Stamper did not arrive at the meeting until later.

"One of the things that precipitated this was the question of leadership - of who was in control or whether Joiner, as an assistant chief, had the horsepower to tell the mayor he wasn't getting the support he needed," said one federal official.

Six days later, in a letter to Schell, Stamper announced he was retiring, effective in March. He said the decision was made, in part, so he could more freely participate in the investigations into how the WTO planning and crowd control was handled.

Questions about how those decisions were made - and who made them, including Stamper's role - will almost certainly be the focus of City Council investigations and an ACLU lawsuit challenging the city's power to do what it did to return peace to Seattle streets.

City plan allowed protests

In the weeks leading up to the WTO, law-enforcement officials say the city was questioned by others about whether its plan to allow demonstrators so close to WTO venues was ill-conceived. The Police Department responded that it could handle any situation that arose.

The city "had a plan," said Ronald Legan, the special agent in charge of the Seattle office of the Secret Service. "The failing came somewhere in the execution of it or the mindset that preceded it."

Schell has acknowledged that the decision to scrap his original plans - aimed at ensuring both a successful trade conference and protesters' right to march - in favor of an emergency declaration was painful.

A former anti-war protester, the mayor has said the last thing he wanted to do was preside over a city with riot troops and tear gas in the streets.

Some involved in the debate that Tuesday over how to regain control of the city believe Schell's concern over that legacy contributed to delays in calling out reinforcements and added to the mayhem during the first days of the WTO conference.

Joiner, the Seattle assistant chief and WTO police security commander, said the department was simply overwhelmed Tuesday morning by the numbers of protesters and their tactics.

Consideration for AFL-CIO

Joiner said he overruled a recommendation by Assistant Chief John Pirak to declare a state of emergency Tuesday about 11 a.m., an hour after the first tear gas was lobbed into the crowds and more than five hours before the declaration was ultimately made.

The veto, Joiner said, was made in consideration of plans for a peaceful protest march by as many as 20,000 AFL-CIO union members through downtown. The march symbolized Schell's desire to allow protesters their say.

"I felt declaring a state of emergency at that time, before the march ever got under way, was going to send a very strong public message that we already had major difficulties as a city," Joiner said.

Those difficulties were already evident to others.

Washington State Patrol Chief Annette Sandberg said she was concerned about the situation on the street as early as Monday night. The FBI had already provided Seattle police with intelligence about the movements of anarchists and their plans to shut down the city. Anarchist bands were blamed on Tuesday for smashing windows at NikeTown, Old Navy and other downtown stores.

Sandberg's concerns deepened when she left the Vance Hotel at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning for coffee at a nearby Starbucks - a shop that would be vandalized that evening. She saw demonstrators moving into strategic positions before any police had arrived.

In the command center

Sandberg went to the Multi-Agency Command Center in the Public Safety Building. Police were monitoring the Department of Transportation's closed-circuit traffic cameras along Interstate 5 that had been turned to give a view of downtown. They also were watching television news broadcasts.

By 9:10 a.m., Sandberg said, police "crowd-control efforts were encountering difficulty." She placed troopers throughout Western Washington on alert.

Meanwhile, Legan, the Secret Service's agent in charge, was trying to find a way to move U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and the president of Fiji, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, to the Paramount Theatre, where opening ceremonies were to be held.

"I was familiar with all of the chutes," he said, referring to the planned corridors for safe passage. "They were gone. It hadn't taken long for things not to be working very well."

Albright and others under federal protection were getting restless because they couldn't leave their hotel rooms. Even a deputy director of the Secret Service was trapped in the Roosevelt Hotel, Legan said.

`Running the show'

Schell, Joiner and others have said every agency involved in the nine-month WTO planning process - including the Secret Service, the FBI, the State Patrol and others - had signed off on the plan deployed that day.

But Legan, King County Sheriff Dave Reichert and others point out that the Seattle Police Department was in charge.

"This was not an integrated command structure," Reichert said. "While everybody was at the table, it was made clear that the rest of us were relegated to supporting roles. Seattle was running the show."

Legan added, "This was their plan, and they insisted it would work out. I went along with it."

Throughout the WTO planning, Schell had made it clear he wanted to accomplish several things, not all of them easily compatible. He wanted to allow protesters to get close to the WTO venues, ensure the safe passage of delegates between hotels and the conference, and not adversely impact businesses.

Legan said he and others expressed concern that the city hadn't dedicated enough resources to accomplishing those goals.

The city had 400 officers on the streets the first morning of the trade talks and virtually none in reserve.

Legan said scenarios played out by the participants in the months before the conference showed the city was optimistic to think those numbers, without adequate backup, could contain widespread civil disruption.

"There was discussion about bringing the National Guard in ahead of time," but that was rejected by SPD planners, Legan said.

In addition, many suburban police departments say they weren't included in the WTO planning process and that they had been repeatedly assured by Seattle police that their help wouldn't be needed.

Bainbridge Island Police Chief Bill Cooper said he received a letter from Schell last May asking if his officers would be available on standby. He called Schell's office at least twice to respond and left messages, but he never received a reply.

Tuesday morning, Seattle police did call. About 20 Bainbridge Island officers, as well as officers from at least a dozen departments, were pressed into service.

Why reinforcements delayed

That morning, SPD's resources were stretched thin as soon as the protests began.

Reichert recalled getting a telephone call at 8 a.m. from a county detective under siege at the Sheraton Hotel. "He said, `Sheriff, we're trapped. . . . We have no backup,' " Reichert recalled.

Nonsense, was Reichert's first reaction. So the sheriff called the Multi-Agency Command Center (MACC) and was told the same thing.

"I had officers barricaded in the hotel with a mob literally pounding on the glass, and there was nobody to help them. Nobody," Reichert recalled.

As the morning progressed, things got worse.

About 11 a.m., SPD Assistant Chief Pirak - watching events unfold from the city's emergency operation center - called Joiner at the MACC and "asked whether we wanted to ask the mayor if we wanted to declare a state of emergency," Joiner said.

Despite the fact "we were getting hit with much larger numbers of protesters than we had anticipated," Joiner refused.

Instead, he opted to let the AFL-CIO march proceed, a move that aimed as many as 20,000 more people toward downtown as skirmishes between police, demonstrators and anarchist vandals were escalating.

Joiner believed the march would actually work in favor of his stretched police lines. The strategy, he said, was for the peaceful march to sweep the other demonstrators into its ranks and deposit them several blocks away.

The march was supposed to wheel away from the Washington State Convention and Trade Center at Fourth Avenue and Pine Street and turn north and west toward a "dispersal point" near Republican Avenue. The police intended to move in behind the demonstrators and expand the perimeter around the hotels and convention center.

Instead, thousands of the demonstrators turned into town and chaos ensued.

"I still believe we could have controlled what we were dealing with at that time had the march turned," Joiner said. "It was not going to be clean. It would have been messy. But I think we would have been able to open a corridor to get delegates in and out."

Secret Service perspective

Joiner's optimism wasn't widely shared.

"I would never have brought 50,000 protesters within a block of my venue," said Legan, who has overseen security measures at international conferences in Europe. "There were some people naive as to what that would look like."

What it ended up looking like was chaos.

"Schell is going to have to fall on that one. I would never have allowed it. You can't control it," Legan said.

Legan said Seattle police officials and WTO planners had observed the 50th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization last April in Washington, D.C. At that event, perimeters were set eight blocks back from the venues - a far greater distance than in Seattle.

By the end of the labor march, with demonstrators face-to-face with police and the officers with their backs to the convention center, the plan to let more demonstrators downtown seemed questionable to some.

"We all were looking at one another and saying, `Is that the plan to get us out of this?' " recalled another law-enforcement official in the MACC at the time. "It was denying that more resources were needed. People were shaking their heads and wondering how could anybody believe that would happen based on what had happened so far."

Locke's unilateral action

Even before the march got under way, other law-enforcement officials were moving, too.

At 11:20 a.m., just minutes after Joiner rejected Pirak's suggestion, Sandberg ordered State Patrol troopers in Eastern Washington on higher alert. Twenty minutes later, she ordered a 22-member Civil Disturbance Team from Spokane to drive to Seattle, according to a log kept by state officials.

At 12:45 p.m., the governor told his chief of staff to begin preparing to call up the National Guard. Not long after, he had his first discussion with Schell. Locke declined to discuss that conversation.

About 1 p.m., the telephone at Locke's Olympia office rang. The staffer who picked up the line was confronted by a furious Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She insisted steps be taken so the trade meetings could proceed.

From about noon on, the MACC began filling with top-ranking officials from government and law enforcement. Federal officials were speaking loudly about the ramifications if the streets were not controlled. Sandberg characterized the federal officials as in a "kind of panicky mode."

Locke arrived at the MACC at 2:50 p.m., according to a chronology compiled by his staff counsel, Everett Billingslea.

"Almost immediately upon arriving at the command center, there was no doubt in my mind that we needed to call up the National Guard," Locke said in a recent interview. Five minutes after his arrival, he told Sandberg the "situation is out of control."

Enter the mayor

Schell, who had been waiting for the now-canceled WTO opening ceremonies, arrived about this time. Officials from the SPD, Secret Service, FBI, State Patrol, Department of Justice, State Department, King County, the governor's office and the White House moved into a back room, where they spread out city maps and engaged in a heated discussion.

For federal officers, the top priority was the safety of President Clinton, who was due to arrive about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning. Legan and a deputy Secret Service director from Washington, D.C., were blunt.

"I remember saying that unless we get control of the streets, we would recommend that he not come," Legan said. "Now the problem there is that, with this president, he sets his own agenda and goes where he wants. And we did not want to have to battle a 30-car motorcade in and out of Seattle."

Joiner said he would not characterize the discussion with Secret Service officials as "threatening . . . but it was clear that if the situation was going to be the following day what it was then, there was no way you could bring the president of the United States into Seattle."

The curfew falls

At least three participants said Schell was reluctant to admit the city had lost control of the streets.

During this time, Reno - who had been watching events unfold on national television and had been briefed by the FBI and others in the Justice Department - called the governor to insist the National Guard be called up.

Even before that conversation - and his subsequent talks with Schell - Locke said he had already decided the National Guard was needed.

After huddling with the governor, Schell talked with Assistant Police Chiefs Joiner and Pirak. "By that time, we had a chance to look at what was happening. The mayor immediately agreed and authorized (the emergency declaration)," said Joiner. "There was never any hesitation."

At 3:24 p.m., the mayor issued an emergency declaration - the trigger allowing him to request National Guard assistance, ban protests and the use of gas masks, and set a curfew.

The state of emergency was in effect for three days. The fallout is only beginning.

Seattle Times staff reporters Steve Miletich, Susan Gilmore and James Grimaldi contributed to this report.

Mike Carter's phone: 206-464-3706. E-mail: mcarter@seattletimes.com

David Postman's phone: 360-943-9882. E-mail: dpostman@seattletimes.com