TUSCON, AZ (WCMH) — Body camera video shows an Arizona police officer pushing an 86-year-old woman to the ground during a February immigration protest.
It happened during a protest on February 16, in Tuscon, Arizona, KVOA reported. Another woman, said she was pepper-sprayed as she tried to help the other woman up.
Organizers said the protest was in response to ICE raids across the country. Police said protesters were asked to leave the street, and a small group of people did not comply.
The Tuscon Police Chief wrote a letter to the community to explain what happened during the protest:
February 20, 2017Dear Tucson Residents:The Tucson Police Department has interacted extensively with members of the public engaged in protests, demonstrations, marches, and rallies related to a range of issues leading up to, as well as following, the election. Even when some of these events involved large numbers of people, or when the issues involved were quite controversial, the overwhelming feedback we received regarding our approach to these gatherings and about the conduct of our officers has been very positive. One reason for this has been our ongoing efforts to establish dialogue with the organizers of these demonstrations in advance of the events and plan with them to assure everyone’s safety while protecting First Amendment rights.The manner in which our officers have handled events as diverse as the Trump, Clinton, and Sanders campaign rallies, the Black Lives Matter Protest, the “Not My President” March, the Women’s March, and many other demonstrations have largely elicited praise and positive feedback, despite challenging circumstances. Many of these protests occurred in and around the downtown area where officers from the department’s Downtown District took a lead role in working with event organizers and interacting with those who participated in the various marches and gatherings.I mention this because the very same group of officers has been present for what have recently been weekly protests in front of the Federal Building on Congress Street. Many of these weekly protesters even know some of our officers by name, because the officers have been committed to making sure the protesters’ rights to assemble, express their views, and—on some occasions—march, are protected. When the protesters have chosen to “go mobile,” they’ve usually coordinated their plans with us, so we can provide additional personnel, ensure the safest route, and minimize the overall disruption to traffic in the area. During most of these past events, however, since the group protesting has simply wanted to show a presence around the Federal Building without moving, we’ve tried to keep our presence small and relatively low-key.On Thursday, February 16, 2017, the group of protesters in front of the Federal Building was larger than usual and there were some new faces in the crowd. Despite this, none of the organizers said anything to us about their plan to march or move out into the middle of Congress Street during rush-hour traffic. What had been a peaceful rally, suddenly became a safety and logistical challenge as a contingent of the group decided to move off the sidewalks and into the path of traffic. Our group of officers who had previously received kudos and praise on multiple occasions for handling much larger crowds and marches were now trying, with limited success, to get the protesters to leave the street and come back on to the sidewalks. Most of the crowd complied, but a very specific subgroup elected to remain in the road and challenge the directions they were given by the officers.One of the issues we intend to look at as part of our investigation and analysis of this incident is whether protesters should be allowed to assemble and remain on a busy roadway. TPD leadership will reevaluate how we want to direct staff to engage in these situations, with a goal of finding common ground when possible. We will explore this because we have allowed groups to march in the street on various occasions in the past. Some of the factors that weighed against allowing the group to remain in the road on February 16th were the number of officers available to assure the group’s safety, the lack of any prior communication or indication from the protesters that they were going to “take the street,” the lack of any permit for such a march, and the time of day (rush hour)—including the amount of traffic on the four lanes of east and westbound traffic. We will critically review this issue, and consider whether the decision to allow the group to remain in the street might have ultimately resulted in less confrontation between officers and the protesters—and a better outcome, even if the protesters and the general public could have been endangered in the process.It is too early in our investigative process and analysis of this incident to speak with sufficient clarity or confidence about all aspects of how our officers and protesters interacted in the street. There are, however, some things we know with certainty at this time:· The protesters in the street were given clear, lawful, and repeated directions by the officers that they were to leave the road and return to the sidewalks. Most of the crowd complied and returned to the sidewalks, but some of protesters did not follow the officers’ lawful directions, creating an extremely dangerous situation on a busy road.· There was only a small group of officers present for the first portion of the incident. They were overwhelmingly outnumbered by the crowd and the number of protesters who were disregarding, and in some cases, opposing the officers’ directions.· One of the officers working to get a protester back to the sidewalk was assaulted by that protester. When the officer went to arrest this subject and place him in a patrol car for transport, he and the other officers who were assisting him were quickly surrounded by members of the crowd. Some of the crowd interfered or attempted to interfere with the officers’ lawful arrest process. This included attempting to come between the officers and the arrestee, getting too close to the officers so as to compromise the safety of the officers and the protesters, attempting to open doors of the patrol car, locking their arms to the front of the patrol car, and blocking it from leaving the scene.· Additional officers were called and began to arrive on scene. The scene became increasingly chaotic and tensions between protesters and the officers significantly increased.We understand and appreciate that people observe and perceive things differently. This is true for the members of the public who were present during this incident, as well as for the police officers who were involved. For example, there are protesters who are absolutely certain that they observed officers pushing people to the ground, striking protesters, and engaging in provocative, disrespectful conduct. Likewise, some of the police officers who were present state that they were pushed and struck by protesters, illegally obstructed as they enforced the law, and repeatedly provoked—including having obscenities screamed at them and being threatened.We are aware that many people at the scene recorded video of this incident using their cellphones, that members of the news media were filming, that some officers had body-cameras, and that there may be CCTV footage available. We intend to examine and analyze as much of this video footage as possible, but we also realize such video has its strengths and limitations. For example:· Cellphone video recordings and news cameras are activated at different times during incidents of this type, which means some of the footage may be more complete than others. Not all of the video may fully reflect the events and/or actions that precipitated the conduct and reactions of the officers or the protesters.· Video taken from different angles and proximities may enhance or obstruct some, or even much, of what actually took place. As a result, what may appear clear or “obvious” in some footage, may look very different from another angle or distance.· Without state of the art analysis, it is not always evident to the person looking at video footage if the video was condensed, spliced, or otherwise manipulated to present a distorted impression of what actually took place.We encourage members of the public who have video of the February 16th protest/police response to share it with us so we can utilize it as part of our fact-finding and analysis associated with this incident.It is very unusual for our officers to utilize pepper-spray (OC) in dealing with protests or similar situations, but there are circumstances when the use of such spray is lawful and appropriate. Officers have to make difficult, sometimes quick, decisions about whether or not the use of OC spray is necessary or the best way to deal with persons who are obstructing them in their duties. Although painful, the effect of Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) exposure is temporary and is far less likely to cause injury than other methods of gaining compliance.We have received complaints about the use of pepper-spray on certain individuals during the February 16th incident. If a protester involved in this incident has a specific complaint about how our officers used pepper spray or any other type of force on them, we want to receive and investigate those complaints. Complaints of this nature may be lodged with our Office of Professional Standards (https://www.tucsonaz.gov/police/internal-affairs). We accept such complaints at Police Headquarters, over the phone, or through e-mail. Complaints may also be received by the Independent Police Auditor’s OfficeWe understand that emotions run high following incidents of this kind and that people have very strong feelings about what took place. Our department has a Critical Incident Review Board (CIRB) process to investigate and analyze events/incidents of this kind so we can learn from them and continuously improve how we do our work. The CIRB looks at circumstances leading up to an incident; actions of the involved officers; the involved officers’ compliance with department General Orders (G.O.s) and other rules/expectations; training needs; equipment issues; supervision concerns; staffing considerations; and the adequacy of department policy.If the actions of our personnel violated either the law or our General Orders, those personnel may receive training, discipline, or both. Police officers, like other government employees, are entitled to due process—which includes being given the opportunity to present “their side” of what happened during an incident, as well as getting the chance to explain why they did what they did. We do not simply “discipline or fire” police officers because a group of people demand that we do so. This would go against basic principles of fairness in addition to violating the rights these employees have with the City of Tucson through their Labor Agreement, Civil Service Rules, and under state law.My entire management team and I are very committed to transparency and accountability associated with our work as members of the Tucson Police Department. I also appreciate that our primary role is to provide the public with high quality, professional service. We derive our authority to enforce the law and carry out our duties based on the public’s trust. Our officers have a challenging job, so I appreciate your willingness to keep an open mind and extend to us your patience as we evaluate the February 16th incident. We welcome your continued feedback as we move forward and we will keep you informed about the outcome(s) of our investigation.Sincerely,Chief Chris MagnusTucson Police Department