After Body Cam Video Released, Questions About CMPD Actions Linger
On Wednesday, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department released footage from body-worn cameras from an incident that occurred on June 2 when officers fired tear gas at marchers protesting in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
In one of the videos, a sergeant with a bike squad is heard explaining to another officer the plan to tear gas protesters.
"Rory's got a platoon on Tryon, out of sight," the officer said. "Dance's platoon is staged now on College, out of sight. We're gonna push their ass straight up Fourth. As soon as they get up on Fourth, we got 'em bottlenecked now, Rory's squad is gonna step up and hammer their ass."
Facebook Live video from Queen City Nerve shows marchers apparently boxed in as the tear gas was fired.
WFAE’s Sarah Delia joins WFAE's "All Things Considered" host Gwendolyn Glenn for reaction.
Gwendolyn Glenn: So, Sarah, CMPD has said the sergeant in this footage has been disciplined. What do we know about this officer and the action taken?
Sarah Delia: Chief Johnny Jennings in a press conference Wednesday said the officer received a two-week suspension and was relieved of a specialized assignment as well as the privileges to train. Jennings added the officer will not be eligible for promotions for at least two years. CMPD says it will not be releasing the officer’s name.
Robert Dawkins, of ACTION NC says he thinks the name of the officer should be released and has questions around the disciplinary actions taken.
Dawkins: "Two weeks' suspension is nothing. And this other piece that they throw in, 'Oh you can’t be promoted for two years?' How do we know this person wanted to be promoted? How do we know he just didn’t get promoted two days ago? It’s just, 'Let’s do this to appease the public that we did something,' and it still amounts to nothing."
Delia: Dawkins is disappointed but not surprised by what he heard on the footage. He says City Council needs to lead systematic change. He also said there needs to be additional consequences for this officer, and wants to know more about how the order came down in the first place to deploy the tear gas.
Dawkins describes the sergeant as sounding "giddy" at one point in the video. Just before tear gas is fired he says, ‘Wave goodbye. They're about to get gassed,’ as protesters march by.
Dawkins: "He didn’t think all this up riding on his bicycle to get there. Someone told him to do it. And they are going to go unpunished and the system is going to go on and repeat itself and more than likely the City Council is going to give you another flowery community letter and nothing is going to change."
Glenn: Well, what was City Council’s rection to all of this?
Delia: I spoke with Republican City Council member Ed Driggs, who represents south Charlotte. He said it was important to recognize that covering protests can be difficult and include long shifts. He also pointed out that CMPD Chief Jennings acknowledged the incident was regrettable and that new policy changes have been put in place since June 2. That includes changing how to give dispersal orders during protests — dispersal orders and exit routes will now be communicated repeatedly and loudly to the crowd.
Driggs: "You get people who want to protest peacefully, you get among them some troublemakers, you have officers that are trying to make a distinction between the two and not allow property damage to occur or anyone to get hurt. It’s not going to be a happy situation, at best. I’d like to see us maintain a balance of holding the police department to a high standard and making unreasonable demands of these guys under difficult decisions."
Glenn: Are there any big-picture takeaways from this footage?
Delia: I spoke to retired special agent Terry Thomas who was with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for 43 years. He looked at the video with the sergeant. He said crowd control is tough and comes with long, intense shifts. But, he says, police have to keep a level head and the fact that this officer was a sergeant should mean he’s received a certain level of training. Chief Jennings described the officer’s comments as insensitive, and Thomas agrees.
Thomas: "Emotions run high on both sides of the equation when you're confronted by those type of situations, but your job as a trained professional is that you’re supposed to above the fray. To say, 'We’re here to watch the show,' like this is some kind of gladiator thing, it’s wrong. You need to be concentrating on deescalating the situation not escalating it."
Delia: Thomas added that the disciplinary action taken against the sergeant shows the department is taking it seriously. He also said calmer heads need to prevail in these situations and that law enforcement needs to be the ones who take that lead.
Glenn: WFAE’s Sarah Delia. Thanks.
Delia: Thanks, Gwen.
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