‘A radical failure of leadership’: Ex-Seattle police chief condemns Denver tactics during 2020 protests | Colorado Politics
A former Seattle police chief says the police tactics used during the 2020 racial justice protests in Denver resulted from a “radical failure of leadership” in training, educating and holding officers on the job. ground.
Norman Stamper, who led the Seattle Police Department for six years until 1999, spoke on Wednesday and Thursday as an expert on police crowd control tactics in the ongoing lawsuit challenging police management from Denver of the 2020 protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“It appears that line officers were allowed to choose whatever weapon or tool they wanted and use it against protesters,” Stamper said.
“I concluded that the training of these officers was woefully inadequate. I saw them as essentially unruly and using techniques and methods that I was unaware of from any other police service.
Lawyers questioned Stamper for the better part of two days. Federal excessive force lawsuit seeks to prove Denver failed to properly train officers to respond to protests, leading to what plaintiffs say dangerous and indiscriminate use of less-lethal ammunition to control crowds of protesters .
The dozen protesters filing the lawsuit include Elisabeth Epps, Amanda Blasingame, Zachary Packard, Claire Sannier, Hollis Lyman, Maya Rothlein, Stanford Smith, Ashlee Wedgeworth, Joe Deras, Sara Fitouri, Jackie Parkins and Elle Taylor.
Lawyers reviewed dozens of video clips and images that Stamper said showed officers using chemical weapons against everyone in a particular crowd while only a few showed physical aggression toward police and protesters. screaming but breaking no laws.
Stamper called the officers’ use of less-lethal ammunition ‘indiscriminate and inappropriate’, and he said he had ‘rarely’ seen police give dispersal orders before shooting protesters in his review of footage video of events.
He was shown a clip of a woman holding a sign being pepper sprayed while doing nothing “but be there,” as Stamper described the incident, and two officers who appear to be sergeants based on their uniforms spray her a second time as she walks away in response to their orders to “move forward”.
“And when you see a supervising officer like a sergeant, engaging in what we just saw, is there a message that gets sent to his subordinates?” asked Ed Aro, attorney for Arnold & Porter, which represents the group of protesters.
“Yes,” Stamper replied.
“What is this message? »
“That message is that I give you permission to do what I do,” Stamper said.
In contrast, when shown a few examples captured on video of people throwing rocks and bottles at officers, Stamper said he didn’t see police arresting them.
But under cross-examination, Stamper acknowledged that police can have difficulty at protests distinguishing between those who are there peacefully and those who cause destruction or act aggressively toward officers.
“You will agree that sometimes in the context of protest, people who are bent on aggression and agitation mask their participation in such things by being in the midst of a crowd… which might otherwise be peaceful ?” asked Hall & Evans attorney Andrew Ringel, who serves as outside counsel for Denver.
“I would say generally, yes,” Stamper replied.
“Do you understand that more than 70 officers have been injured in the response to the protests?” Ringel asked later.
“I do, and my heart goes out to them,” Stamper said.
“And you understand that they were hurt because of the violent acts of other people, in general?”
“I would describe this as a direct cause. But I also have to say that the provocation on the part of the Denver Police Department helped create the conditions in which they were injured,” Stamper replied.
The Seattle Police Department has come under fire for its handling of protests at the 1999 World Trade Organization ministerial conference under Stamper’s command. The protests have drawn tens of thousands to the streets and have been dubbed the “Battle of Seattle”.
Stamper resigned as a result, and in the years since has expressed regret over police decisions made during the protests, including the excessive use of chemical weapons against protesters who he says were there peacefully and making arrests described as “symbolic” for the police. Prove a point.
Stamper, in his experience, said the use of chemical agents “often backfires” because it incites anger and can escalate violence.
“And did this decision to deploy tear gas lead to preventable violence? Aro asked him.
“Absolutely,” Stamper replied.
Stamper also said that insufficient training in the use of less lethal ammunition can lead to serious damage. But Ringel specifically questioned Stamper’s view that the police used the pepperballs inappropriately, as his analysis did not include forming an opinion on whether the Denver Police Department had adequate training in the use of ammunition.
“You don’t have an accurate assessment of what pepper ball training was and what went wrong. Right?” Ringel asked.
“That’s right,” Stamper said.
The Denver Independent Comptroller’s Office, the city’s police oversight agency, released a report in the fall of 2020 calling the police department’s use of less-lethal ammunition “extremely troubling.”
The report revealed that the police used force against people who protested only verbally; fired ammunition at people’s heads, faces and groins; and continued to deploy chemicals and gas after the crowds dispersed. He also found that officers often did not prepare use-of-force reports until weeks after the conduct, the department did not keep lists of officers assigned to protests for the first few days, and they did not wear or often turned on their body-worn cameras.
Former monitor Nick Mitchell, who led the city’s police monitoring agency until the end of 2020, is among the witnesses who are expected to testify.
Stamper sought to cast doubt on statements by Denver police leaders that they hadn’t had time to prepare to respond to the Floyd protests because they had swelled so quickly. During questioning of Aro, Stamper said he believed the police department should have anticipated the possibility of unrest following Floyd’s death, especially given the protests that erupted over the killing of Floyd. other people by the police in recent years.
Leaders should have viewed the protests as inevitable, he said.
“I think it was entirely foreseeable and negligent on the part of the heads of the police department that they failed to prepare for these eventualities.”