CMPD Chief Kerr Putney held a virtual press conference on Friday, stating that the federal Domestic Preparedness Office will investigate an incident that occurred on Tuesday night and was filmed by Queen City Nerve publisher Justin LaFrancois, sparking outrage among residents. The video shows Civil Emergency Unit (CEU) officers in riot gear using tear gas and flashbang grenades to trap hundreds of protesters between two buildings on East Fourth Street, while other CEU officers shot pepper balls down at the crowd from the second floor of a parking garage.
Charlotte city council member Braxton Winston, who was arrested on Beatties Ford Road during the first night of protests on May 29, launched a campaign to defund chemical agents for the use of crowd control and dispersal on Friday morning in the lead-up to Monday night’s city council vote on the police budget.
”I am making a substitute motion to direct the administration not to spend money to acquire new or maintain existing stocks of chemical agents used for crowd control and dispersal in Fiscal year 2021,” Winston wrote on the PowerxVote campaign website. “Since there does not appear to be a specific budgetary line (these chemical agents are aggregated under ‘equipment’) we are directing the city manager to work with City Council and CMPD to create a City Council oversight committee and process that scrutinizes and adjusts police spending and policy.”
Use of tear gas to continue, Putney says
In the meantime, however, Putney stated that the department has no intentions of discontinuing the use of tear gas and other munitions to disperse crowds, stating that he fears that doing such would lead to more physical confrontations between police officers and protesters.
“Without the ability to disperse an angry crowd or violent crowd that is damaging property or assaulting people with chemical munitions, we’re going to harken back to what we experienced in the ’50s and ’60s of physical force which is absolutely unacceptable to me,” Putney said on Friday. “I think we’re better than that as an organization and we definitely should be better than that as a city.”
Scholars in this Saint Louis University public law review disagree.
The only real change in policy that Putney mentioned during Friday’s press conference was a vague mention that the department will be looking at changes to how it issues dispersal orders. He said that, up to now, once a dispersal order was issued, it remained in effect for everyone in the area wherever they went in the vicinity if they continued to protest. The department wants to “slow it down as long as there is no imminent danger,” being sure to re-issue dispersal orders before deploying munitions in a new area.
The department has maintained that a dispersal order was in effect during Tuesday’s incident, though neither LaFrancois nor any protesters who were at the scene whom we have spoken to heard one.
The Fourth Street ambush
The incident — which begins around the 1-hour-and-forty-minute mark here — occurred around 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2, as protesters marched along East Fourth Street between South Tryon and South College streets. LaFrancois was recording a live-stream leading up to the event and up until it ended.
About 20 minutes earlier, protesters and police had their first run-in of the night, with officers blocking access to Independence Avenue at East Fifth and North McDowell streets and throwing flashbang grenades to disperse the crowd. Following that, protesters had been marching peacefully, and were heading back into the city on East 4th Street when they were suddenly cut off at the front by Civil Emergency Unit officers (the ones that wear the riot gear).
Those officers shot tear gas at the protesters, who turned around to find that another group of CEU officers were firing tear gas from behind them on South College Street.
“We’re trapped here. We’re trapped. They’re shooting pepper balls at us,” LaFrancois says, his voice steadily rising in a panic. “They’ve thrown out tear gas, flashbangs, smoke … There’s a line of riot police up there. There’s a line of riot police back there. We’re trapped here.”
LaFrancois then points his phone’s camera at the BB&T Center parking garage and realizes that CEU officers are on the second floor shooting pepper balls down on the crowd as they’re trapped. With the air becoming increasingly difficult to breathe, LaFrancois and other scramble under a closed gate in the Bank of America Plaza parking garage across the street from the one officers were firing from.
Putney denies officers fired from above despite video evidence
In Friday’s press conference, Putney stated that policy allows officers in an elevated position to fire pepper balls at flat surfaces and walls, but claimed he has seen no evidence that officers were firing at people during Tuesday’s ambush. Queen City Nerve has spoken with multiple people who were struck by pepper balls during the incident, including Kristie Puckett-Williams, who described her experience on our latest episode of the Nooze Hounds podcast.
LaFrancois also spoke with a man on video directly after the incident who said he was shot six times, including in the face.
Fact Check: This man said he was shot six times during the incident, including multiple times in the face. He has the marks to prove it. pic.twitter.com/jBPBNNPBcA
— Queen City Nerve (@queencitynerve) June 5, 2020
Before Putney’s press conference on Friday, city council member Larken Eggleston tweeted that city council will be voting on Monday to adopt a resolution supporting the #8CantWait campaign, which advocates for eight short-term resolutions to police violence, including requiring de-escalation, a warning and exhausting all other options before any shots are fired.
Some of the resolutions, such as the banning of chokeholds and strangleholds by police, are already part of CMPD policy. One resolution, the duty to intervene policy, was announced as a new policy yesterday by CMPD. That policy aims to hold officers accountable if they witness abuse by fellow officers and do not intervene.