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SBI Report: Tactics Used Against Protesters Shows Little Warning Given, Escape Routes Through Smoke

Jesse Steinmetz
A cloud of tear gas, or another chemical agent, used to disperse protesters Saturday, May 30, can be seen here.

A State Bureau of Investigation review of tactics used to disperse protesters in uptown Charlotte on June 2 shows that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police gave one order for dispersal about 25 minutes before deploying tear gas five blocks away – and another a minute after tear gas already had been fired. The SBI also concluded through video footage that protesters had two avenues of escape from officers -- that would have required traveling through smoke.

Credit CMPD
Deputy Chief Jeff Estes speaks at a virtual press conference Friday.

In a virtual press conference Friday evening, CMPD Deputy Chief Jeff Estes said the SBI found no officers at fault in the tactics, but that an internal CMPD investigation still is ongoing.

“Now, we’re not perfect, we’re made up of human beings, as well,” Estes said. “And we review our tactics every day and of course we’re reviewing the tactics we used then. The tactics we used the night of the 2nd up on 4th Street where the folks were doused with chemical munitions from the back end won’t be repeated again.”

CMPD released the findings on the day that a North Carolina Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order against CMPD’s use of riot control agents such as tear gas and pepper balls. That order was given following a hearing held after a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups on behalf of protesters.

“We are prohibited from using riot control agents to stop the damage of property,” Estes said. “That’s basically what it does. We have no control over the TRO but of course we’ll abide by it.”

The SBI report says that no officers were wearing body cameras, and its review was done by examining traffic and building camera footage, along with a Facebook Live video from alt-weekly Queen City Nerve that first brought attention to the incident.

Radio communications show that a dispersal order was given at 5th and McDowell streets at 9:04 p.m., after an officer was hit on the head with a rock and at about the same time a squad reported being sprayed with some kind of chemical agent.

At 9:30 p.m., a group of officers is seen deploying tear gas at 4th and College streets. A minute later, another dispersal order was given at that intersection. Over the next five minutes, officers released tear gas and pepper balls – including some that were fired from an upper floor of the Bank of America parking deck.

The SBI review says Queen City Nerve’s video shows exits available by traveling east on 4th Street or south on College Street. “Smoke is observed in both avenues of escape, but no officers are seen blocking protesters for either option,” the report says.

“It would not be in my nature to purposefully, harmfully use riot control agents against people who had no avenue of escape,” Estes said. “That was never the intent. We’ll get better. We’re trying to get better. We wish the events on the night of the 2nd went differently.

“When we have a way that we can improve tactically and we can make sure that we can don’t repeat any errors of tactics, then we do so. And that’s currently what we’re doing.”

SBI Review of June 2 incident by WFAE on Scribd

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Jodie Valade has been a Digital News and Engagement Editor for WFAE since 2019. Since moving to Charlotte in 2015, she has worked as a digital content producer for NASCAR.com and a freelance writer for publications ranging from Charlotte magazine to The Athletic to The Washington Post and New York Times. Before that, Jodie was an award-winning sports features and enterprise reporter at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. She also worked at The Dallas Morning News covering the Dallas Mavericks — where she became Mark Cuban's lifelong email pen pal — and at The Kansas City Star. She has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University and a Master of Education from John Carroll University. She is originally from Rochester Hills, Michigan.