Over the past few days, we’ve received a lot of inquiries over the events that transpired during a demonstration that shut down Interstate 5 near Bellingham on February 11, 2017. The WSP wants to address all the questions residents may have over the incident.
Around 12:25 p.m., on Saturday February 11, 2016, five cars stopped and blocked the northbound lanes of I5 at milepost 253 for a demonstration. This hour-long event caused a four mile-long back-up along the two lane highway. 911 calls came into our communication center shortly after the protest began. Within 10 minutes after the initial call, an officer was on scene. Within 20 minutes, another officer arrived. At that point, there were about 100 demonstrators and just two troopers. Protesters used chains and pipes to bind themselves together along the highway. The two troopers assessed the situation and decided to make a call to other local law enforcement agencies for additional support.
The two troopers did not have the resources to effectively arrest nearly 100 protesters. The two troopers remained on-scene and on stand-by to ensure two things: The demonstrators were not in danger of being injured by other vehicles and to ensure protesters did not become destructive. By the time additional officers from other agencies arrived, the demonstrators had dispersed and the roadway was back open. The entire event lasted about an hour.
The priority for the agency was to safely reopen the freeway to traffic. Making arrests was a secondary priority. In addition, troopers did not make arrests on-scene because they did not have the needed personnel to effectively make arrests. The troopers on-scene assessed the situation and based on safety considerations, made the call to wait for back-up to arrive. While they waited for reinforcement, the two troopers were focused on keeping everyone in the area safe. When the crowd dispersed, troopers were able to gather the names of the people from the five cars who initiated the demonstration. Washington State Patrol investigators are currently consulting with Whatcom County prosecutors about possible infractions or criminal charges. Blocking a freeway is a gross misdemeanor (RCW 46.61.570).
When traffic started to flow following the demonstration, troopers responded to a five-car rollover collision about three miles south of mile post 253. One person was taken to the hospital with minor injuries in that collision. No other people were reported injured during this incident.