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 protestors 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.
Bloody Thursday refers to July 5, 1934, which is credited as the birth of the modern-day longshore union after violent alterations between protesters and police in San Francisco left two men dead. The anniversary is commemorated each year by union members and is a de facto union rallying cry.
Law enforcement officials said they had no choice but to plan a large police response.
"In essence, the decision was to be better prepared and to not be outnumbered by protesters," Duscha wrote in his affidavit filed Wednesday. "This was the right preparation for the situation as forecast."
"I am being accused of not guessing correctly which criminal event would be the one I would need a large number of crowd control officers and equipment," Nelson wrote. He said the larger police response was planned "for the safety of the officers, protesters and citizens," after police had been outnumbered and nearly overrun during previous protests.
The court papers also state that union officials were invited to a July 25 meeting Nelson held with EGT and Port of Longview officials and to discuss security during protests. In its recall petition, the union cited meeting without union members present as one of Nelson's offenses.
According to court records, though, the union failed to show at the meeting after saying someone would attend. After delaying the meeting for awhile, the rest of the parties continued, according to court documents.
"It should be noted that the morning of this meeting, a disturbance was reported at the EGT gate involving union protesters. Seven union protesters were arrested," Nelson wrote.
Union officials had no comment Friday afternoon about either the 1,000-person prediction or the July 25 meeting. Recent protests against the grain terminal have been peaceful.
More than 200 protesters have been arrested since July after alleged incidents of vandalism, intimidation and disruption at the EGT grain terminal at the Port of Longview. The union and the port contend that EGT is bound by a port lease to hire ILWU workers. EGT disagrees and has hired union operating engineers based in Oregon with jurisdiction in Southwest Washington.