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Marcela Taracena; 602-773-6004; 

January 29, 2018

Phoenix Police lacks adequate system for tracking use of less-lethal weapons

PHOENIX—The Phoenix Police Department today released an internal “after action” report about its officers’ indiscriminate use of chemical irritants and other forms of excessive force on peaceful protesters who were gathered in opposition to a rally held by President Trump.

The report comes more than five months after the August 22, 2017 protest and explicitly counters Chief Williams’s early claims that the department was “textbook perfect” and “communicated constantly with members of the public using every method possible.” In addition to the hundreds of videos and photos submitted to the ACLU of Arizona, the report confirms that the department failed to provide adequate warning to peaceful protesters, leaving them startled and injured before abruptly releasing “pepper balls,” which release a gaseous irritant, deploying pepper spray, tear gas, and firing foam batons into the crowds.

After evasive answers to the question of whether rubber bullets were deployed, the report reveals that officers fired direct impact munitions, such as foam batons, into the crowd.

In response to the department’s report, ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Kathy Brody issued the following statement:

“The Phoenix Police Department did not protect the First Amendment rights of protesters and caused many people to go home with cuts, bruises, and other injuries. There are many videos of officers attacking protesters with pepper spray and projectiles at dangerously close range. It is shocking and disheartening that the department determined this excessive use of force was justified.

“There are many questions that still need to be answered about officers’ aggressive, indiscriminate use of force. Most importantly, how can the public be assured that the police violence we saw at this event will not be repeated?

“Considering the police department had amplification equipment on hand, why didn’t they give adequate dispersal orders before using chemical irritants? Why did the department deny using foam batons even though they were not certain whether these projectiles had been used on protesters? Why did it take so long for the department to assemble this report? Is the department doing anything to re-train officers or hold them accountable, like the officer captured on videotape hoping to use a less-lethal weapon and calling it a 'toy?'

“Chief Williams has said that her officers made sure everyone went home safely. But the truth is many peaceful protesters went home with injuries caused by her officers. The police are supposed to ensure people can fully exercise their First Amendment rights. On this occasion, the Phoenix Police failed to do that.”

The ACLU of Arizona filed a lawsuit against the Phoenix Police Department in November because of the agency’s refusal to release public records concerning the protests. Although the department has started to release requested records, the litigation is currently ongoing.