Thomas Olson.

Thomas Olson.

Port Townsend chief discusses police response to protest

All seven officers at rally had to manage crowd of 300, he says

PORT TOWNSEND — Police Chief Thomas Olson responded to criticism last week, saying that the Port Townsend Police Department lacked sufficient notice to prepare for the Aug. 15 protest in the downtown.

Olson said all seven of the department’s officers were at the rally, including himself, and that police were faced with attempting to manage a crowd he estimated at about 300 people.

Protesters came out in force on the evening when the Port Townsend City Council issued a proclamation welcoming transgender people to the city.

The proclamation followed an incident at the Mountain View Pool on July 26.

Julie Jaman, 80, was permanently banned by the Olympic Peninsula YMCA from the city-owned pool after she confronted a transgender woman in the women’s locker room.

Jaman said she heard a man’s voice and saw a person in a bathing suit watching a group of young girls. She said she asked the person, “Do you have a penis?”

The transgender woman, a staff member of the YMCA, was accompanying the girls to the bathroom, said YMCA spokesperson Erin Hawkins.

At Monday’s protest, scuffles broke out between some pro-trans activists and supporters of Jaman. Jaman and her supporters eventually left with police standing between them and a larger group of transgender supporters.

Protesters booed, chanted and rang bike bells as Jaman and her supporters tried to speak. Some tried to disable the microphone and speaker being used for speeches.

Olson said before the event he’d spoken to Amy Sousa, a Port Townsend activist who organized the rally supporting Jaman, and that she hadn’t requested police staffing for the event.

Sousa’s permit was submitted in the week before the event, and that was not enough time for his department to fully plan and accommodate for it, Olson said. The permit said the rally was to be open to the public.

Olson said there were rumors circulating that outside groups would be coming to Port Townsend, and he communicated to Sousa his department didn’t have the capacity to manage such a large event on such short notice.

“Every protest or rally that has counter-protests,” Olson said.

“That’s open to the public. That’s intermingling with each other. You can anticipate that’s going to happen.

“I kind of feel like agenda was put ahead of safety.”

Olson said police saw information urging Jaman’s supporters to bring umbrellas to block protesters, an indication it was known there would be confrontations. Olson said he met with Sousa’s security advisor before the event started Monday, and police assistance wasn’t requested.

“It’s unfortunate that PTPD has become a scapegoat for a situation that would have been clearly avoidable with good communication and relaying of information,” Olson said.

In an email, Sousa said she had several conversations with Olson prior to the event and told him there would be elderly women at the event and she feared for their safety.

“I asked him what his plan was to ensure the safety of our participants,” Sousa said.

”He told me he had spoken to those who planned to protest our event. He assured me that they also wanted to focus on themselves. I asked him multiple times what he would do to keep our groups separate,” Sousa said.

“On the morning of the event, I spoke with him again, and again reminded him that we had elderly people coming and that I worried for their safety.”

One arrest for investigation of assault was made during the protests. Olson said police are now investigating roughly five allegations, mostly of assault and robbery of cell phones and protest signs.

Olson said some protesters were dressed all in black with their faces covered and carrying police batons, and at least one person was suspected to have a concealed firearm, though officers were unable to confirm that.

“Our primary focus and goal at an event like this is life, safety and property. We can’t do that when my officers are intermingling in a crowd,” Olson said.

“There’s always outliers,” Olson said. “Those that pick one side or the other, their whole intent is to disrupt and cause havoc, and there were a few of those and that were going amongst the crowd and pushing themselves around.”

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at psegall@soundpublishing.com.

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