A Zillah police officer is on administrative leave following videos of a confrontation between him and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement in Selah.
Zillah police Chief Tim Quantrell said Matt Steadman, a former Yakima County sheriff’s deputy, is on leave while the incident is being investigated by the police department.
Videos recorded July 25 outside the home of Gabriel Fabian in Selah show Steadman, wearing a T-shirt, cargo shorts and a holstered gun on his hip, confront Fabian and others who were drawing pro-Black Lives Matter chalk art on the street in front of Fabian’s Lacey Avenue home.
In one video, Steadman comes right up to Fabian, who is recording, and uses an obscenity as he calls him a punk. Steadman then, in the video, talks to a Selah police officer sitting in a patrol vehicle and then shuts the door on the officer before walking off, muttering an obscenity.
Finally, as Steadman walks down the street toward his house, another protester, Jose Rocha, yells out a U.S. Marine Corps greeting to Steadman and asks if Steadman remembers his Marine Corps oath to defend the Constitution.
“I’m a Marine, just like you, brother,” Rocha said.
“You ain’t my brother, punk,” Steadman replies.
Attempts to contact Steadman for this story were not successful. He did not return messages left on his personal and department-issued cellphones.
Joseph Cutler, an attorney who has represented Fabian’s family in past disputes over chalk art, said he found the videos troubling, especially with Steadman appearing to demand police take action against the chalk artists and then storming off when nothing happens after appearing to slam a police vehicle’s door on the officer.
“This is exactly what we warned (the city) about, that the police wouldn’t protect (protesters) when they speak out,” Cutler said. “This is an example of the chilling effect and vigilantism we have warned about.”
The city has been erasing Black Lives Matter chalk art from the street in front of Fabian’s home, inspiring a wave of protests using chalk art in the city.
It was not Steadman’s first time complaining about the chalk art. A Selah police report shows Steadman called police “concerned about seeing ‘racist graffiti’ on the street” June 18. When asked to describe the graffiti, Steadman said it was “Black Lives Matter.” The report indicated that city crews had removed the chalk drawing.