Phoenix police to probe use of force on protesters

By Andrew V. Pestano and Danielle Haynes   |   Aug. 23, 2017 at 8:01 AM
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Aug. 23 (UPI) -- The Phoenix Police Department is investigating its officers' use of force against a crowd of demonstrators protesting in the streets after President Donald Trump's campaign-style rally, the police chief said Wednesday.

Chief Jeri Williams said that though she stands by her officers' actions, the department would investigate the use of pepper spray, gas and flash-bang grenades to disperse the crowd Tuesday night.

During a news conference after the events Tuesday, Williams said tens of thousands of people downtown peacefully practiced their First Amendment rights, but "a very small number of people chose criminal conduct."

"These individual began to break down the fencing, and at one point disperse past into and at the police officers, so officers were forced then at that time to really protect themselves, to protect the community, to protect property, and they did so successfully and professionally," she said.

Williams said officers made four arrests -- two for aggravated assault on a police officer, one arrest for criminal damage and one arrest for an unrelated warrant. Two officers were treated for heat exhaustion.

"I will say all in all, we had a successful celebration, and quite frankly our community members went home safely as well as our law enforcement officers went home safely," the police chief added.

The protests remained mostly calm and police kept those supporting Trump and those opposing him separated to avoid potential escalation.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery issued a statement Wednesday also saying the crowd control was a success.

"Coverage of the actions of the different groups engaged in the activities last night in our downtown area make clear that the Phoenix Police Department exercised appropriate restraint and resolve in controlling a difficult situation," he said. "While we wait to see the outcome of their after action review, I want to express the respect I have for the way they swiftly and decisively dealt with small fractions of individuals who attempted isolated acts of violence.

"For those who were law abiding, free speech was protected. For those who sought to use or promote violence, public safety was protected."

Police said violence began when anti-Trump protesters started throwing rocks and water bottles at officers. Some eyewitnesses, though, told The Arizona Republic that the water bottles were empty -- and others said the protesters threw nothing.

During his campaign-style rally, Trump spent the majority of his time criticizing the media -- particularly in relation to the fallout he received for his response to the violent Charlottesville, Va., protests earlier this month that killed a 32-year-old woman.

Trump also made reference to the removal of Confederate statues and monuments from public spaces, after several cities nationwide quickly removed such effigies of the Confederate legacy last week.

"It's time to expose the crooked media deceptions, and to challenge the media for their role in fomenting divisions and yes, by the way -- and yes, by the way, they are trying to take away our history and our heritage," Trump said.

In response to criticism that he didn't say enough to condemn racism and bigotry, Trump fired back, arguing he called out several white supremacist groups.

"I hit them with 'neo-Nazi,' I hit them with everything. KKK? We have 'KKK.' I got them all," he added. "What happened in Charlottesville strikes at the core of America. And tonight, this entire arena stands united against the thugs who perpetrate hatred and violence."

To defend his response, Trump on Tuesday read part of an earlier speech but omitted parts for which he was criticized -- including his placing the blame on "many sides."

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