SBI concludes independent review into CMPD tactics during Charlotte protests

Updated: Jun. 21, 2020 at 11:39 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation has finished its independent review of CMPD procedures after more than 50 complaints were filed against the department related to incidents during June 2 late-night protests in Charlotte.

CMPD released the SBI review Friday evening, hours after protesters sued the department over the tactics its officers used June 2 when hundreds of marchers were reportedly trapped on 4th Street, then hit with tear gas, pepper balls and other chemical munitions.

The complaint was filed by a group of Charlotte and out-of-state attorneys, who later successfully petitioned a Mecklenburg judge to issue a temporary restraining order restricting police from using similar tactics during Friday night’s scheduled Juneteenth demonstration in uptown. The order will be in place until a full hearing can be held.

Superior Court Judge Karen Eady-Williams issued the order after a three-hour emergency hearing at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse.

It bans the use of a controversial police crowd-control maneuver known as “kettling,” while requiring police to make “loud and continuous” dispersal orders before chemical agents are threatened or used. It further restricts the use of tear gas, pepper balls and other munitions unless police or the public “are faced with an imminent threat of physical harm,” or protesters are committing “threatening acts” that cannot be controlled by taking individual offenders into custody.

Further, the use of munitions against protesters must be approved by Police Chief Kerr Putney, future Chief Johnny Jennings or their designee as “the only reasonable alternative available.”

CMPD responded with a statement, before releasing the SBI review.

“This afternoon, Superior Court Judge Eady-Williams granted a temporary restraining order that limits the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s ability to deploy riot control agents to disperse crowds assembled during unlawful gatherings. Many of the restrictions referenced in the order are currently prohibited under CMPD policy. The order does however prevent the department from deploying riot control agents in gatherings that involve protesters who are damaging the property of others,” the CMPD statement read.

UPDATE: CMPD released a statement on Twitter on Sunday, saying that Eady-Williams clarified in writing that the order doesn’t prevent CMPD from deploying riot control agents in gatherings involving protesters damaging other people’s property.

The SBI review details the events of June 2, including radio communications of CMPD giving dispersal orders and saying that officers had been hit with items.

SBI says the review of the video footage from cameras showed Civil Emergency Unit officers deploying “riot control agents” into the intersection of 4th and College Streets from between Fleming’s and the Bank of America Plaza parking deck.

The review then states “it is clear in the video footage the intersection is clear and there are two options of escape.”

The SBI says CMPD staff advised multiple times there was no body-worn camera footage of the incident on June 2, around 9:30 p.m. on 4th Street between South College Street and South Tryon Street.

SBI also reviewed the Facebook Live video from Queen City Nerve, and say it shows “two clear areas behind the protesters for escape.” The review says one avenue to the protesters rear was available by traveling back east on East 4th Street, The other clear escape avenue, according to SBI, was for the protesters to travel south on South College Street to escape the “riot control agents.”

“Smoke was observed in both avenue of escape, but no officers are seen blocking protesters for either option,” the review states.

Charlotte City Council already passed several resolutions creating new oversight over CMPD, including banning the purchase of chemical agents such as tear gas for the next year.

A second independent review is still being conducted on the CMPD’s tactics that received backlash. The Office for Domestic Preparedness will provide feedback on what the department can do better moving forward.

“I’m talking about the ethical and moral standards we want to hold ourselves to,” Putney said. “We want feedback to get better tactically as a unit.”

On June 2, Queen City Nerve posted a video displaying officers cornering protesters in a corner and dispersing chemical ammunition.

CMPD’s chief clarified the department’s stance on how officers are ordered to de-escalate violent situations. Putney said that Tuesday’s incident was a mistake, and officers are working to continue to build trust.

“We own it, we can atone for it, we correct it and then we move forward. That’s how we build trust,” Putney said.

ODP’s independent review will show what officers did wrong and how they can correct the tactics.

“What I saw was young people taking it among themselves to do things within the boundary of the law but to also be loud in their demands for change,” Putney said. “They marched together to get their voices heard, to exercise their First Amendment. It was a great thing to see. We accommodated their ability to do so, as we always well. It is our mission.”

The police chief added language to the department’s current directive policy to address ‘Neglect of Duty.”

Putney said the added language says that “officers will take appropriate and immediate action in any situation in which they know or should have known their failure to act would result in an excessive response to resistance or egregious behavior which shocks the conscience.”

City leaders questioned CMPD’s actions during a June 2 incident caught on video by a local alternative newspaper during uptown Charlotte protests. Since Friday, police say CMPD’s Internal Affairs has received 50 complaints on officers, 49 of which were received on June 3.

The department tweeted saying Putney would “immediately” petition the courts for the release of videos associated with Tuesday night’s 4th Street incident at the conclusion of the SBI’s review.

Charlotte City Councilmember At-Large Braxton Winston tweeted a video, captured by Queen City Nerve, a Charlotte alternative newspaper, showing the incident in question.

“The deployment of chemical agents in Charlotte needs to end tonight,” Winston tweeted.

CMPD gave their account of the incident on June 3.

“Just before 9:30 p.m., a group of several hundred protesters who were given several orders to disperse because of the violent criminal activity they were engaging in throughout the night marched up 4th street. A coordinated operation involving riot control agents to disperse the crowd was undertaken,” CMPD said on Wednesday.

CMPD said they had requested the SBI independent review of the incident to “ensure there is an objective set of eyes to determine if CMPD actions were lawful.”

Chaz Beasley, the state representative for North Carolina House District 92, expressed his anger over the video clip on Twitter.

“I am absolutely FURIOUS with @cmpd right now. This video shows @cmpd firing upon peaceful protestors with tear gas, flash bangs, and pepper balls from THREE sides. Trapped against a bldg w/ nowhere to go. I refuse to stand for my constituents being attacked like this,” Rep. Beasley said.

Two-term Charlotte city councilwoman Dimple Ajmera said she talked to City Manager Marcus Jones and he said the incident will be investigated.

Charlotte City Council Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt responded to the video.

“It’s not ok. And we need answers,” Eiselt said.

Another video also surfaced from Instagram users, @unclejut and @sp1vey, in a post that said a group was “strategically trapped and ambushed by CMPD last night.”

UNC Charlotte student who survived the April 30 shooting on campus, Drew Pescaro, responded to the incident on Twitter Wednesday.

“You saved my life and I will forever be thankful and in debt for that. But the actions that you used tonight were unjust and should be reviewed by a third party to ensure fairness. You cornered and attacked citizens at will. You’re better than this,” Pescaro said.

After all of the responses and questions about the video circulating on social media, CMPD issued a statement via Twitter saying the incident is under internal review.

“We are internally reviewing the circumstances that developed this evening on 4th Street to ensure policy and protocol were followed,” CMPD tweeted.

This was before their announcement of an independent review from the SBI.

The Fraternal Order of Police issued a statement Wednesday, saying they “support the CMPD response to resistance being used against protestors displaying active aggression.”

“The City of Charlotte is once again at the center of civil unrest. The Fraternal Order of Police supports peaceful protests to stop social injustice. Unfortunately, peaceful protests have turned into violence towards innocent citizens, property owners, and law enforcement officers. The FOP supports the CMPD response to resistance being used against protestors displaying active aggression. Our officers have had rocks, bricks, commercial fireworks, and glass bottles thrown at them. Officers only deployed less lethal options after these types of assaults occurred on officers. Councilman Braxton Winston wants CMPD to stop the use of chemical munitions. This decision is not up to CMPD. This decision is up to those individuals assaulting our officers and our citizens. Officers are sworn to protect people and preserve order. We will not accept members of this community who assault others and cause anarchy. Councilman Winston was seen on social media with those throwing rocks and bricks at officers. The majority of head leadership positions in Charlotte are held by minorities. Councilman Winston has the perfect opportunity to use his position to address social injustice and be a role model for other cities. However, Councilman Winston continues to disrespect his position by standing alongside those criminals trying to burn down the city. There have been several officers injured during this protest already. Thank you to all the citizens who continue to show support for law enforcement. We will stand strong and support the actions needed to protect this community,” the statement read.

CMPD’s statement continued, with police expressing their feelings that there was no “intentional abuse on the part of our officers.”

“There is nothing to indicate whatsoever that there was intentional abuse on the part of our officers. In the interest of accountability, It is regrettable, and something we take seriously. We have an enormous responsibility to ensure all of our operations are carried out with precision. We as an organization need to learn from this incident, and redouble our efforts to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to keep the community, protesters and officers safe. We are a learning organization and always working to identify opportunities to serve our community better,” the CMPD statement read.

There are currently no officers on administrative leave in reference to protest-related incidents. City Manager Marcus Jones says regardless of the outcome of the SBI investigation, CMPD will review their policies.

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