CMPD won’t use tear gas to disperse crowds during protests, but pepper spray’s still OK

Updated: Sep. 29, 2020 at 11:15 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Charlotte Observer) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police will no longer use tear gas or “CS gas” during protests, and also will discontinue the use of no-knock warrants during investigations.

“We have pulled the chemical agent when it comes to riot control and dispersal of crowds,” CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings said Tuesday during a City Council committee meeting.

Tear gas, or 2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, is an aerosol that has a stronger effect and a wider dispersal area than pepper spray, or oleoresin capsaicin spray, which will continue to be used, Jennings said.

Jennings said police policy would be amended to reflect the ban on using tear gas during crowd control.

He said while CMPD does not use no-knock warrants frequently, the policy also has been rewritten to discontinue their use.

Larken Egleston, chair of the Safe Communities Committee, praised Jennings for making the change voluntarily.

“It certainly gives me a great deal of trust and hope that we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

The decision to stop using tear gas comes three months after an incident on Fourth Street, where witnesses and protesters said they suffered injuries and were trapped by tear gas that was deployed in both directions.

The June 2 incident, which was captured on Facebook Live and came during the fifth night of protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, drew widespread criticism from the mayor, city officials and the public.

The incident was reviewed by the State Bureau of Investigation, which did not specifically exonerate police or conclude they had adhered to department policies. The report did say there were exits that were not blocked by police officers but those pathways were covered in gas.

Following the review, CMPD released hours of video footage from that night that revealed police intentionally cornered nearly 200 protesters before firing tear gas from at least two directions on the trapped crowd.

In the video, an officer was also heard saying, “Wave goodbye, they’re all about to be gassed,” and that the demonstrators were about to be “hammered” by police.

A sergeant was suspended and disciplined for making the “insensitive” comments, Jennings said last month.

No-knock warrants have been controversial in police work in recent years, heightened by the fatal shooting in March of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, during a drug investigation.