Some Oakland police officers have been disciplined in response to the excessive use of tear gas during last year’s protests over the death of George Floyd, the city’s police chief said.
Oakland police officers “were not authorized to deploy tear gas in the manner they did” during the height of protests, Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said at a press conference Wednesday, stating the department reported more than 33 instances of excessive use of force with tear gas.
“Officers have been held accountable from written reprimand up to several suspensions,” Armstrong said. The police chief did not say how many officers were disciplined.
Floyd’s death during an arrest on May 25, 2020, sparked a national reckoning over race for months to follow. Protests – many peaceful and some turning chaotic and violent – stretched from Floyd’s home state of Minnesota to the streets of New York City and Oakland, California.
Four independent investigations were conducted to analyze officers’ conduct during the four-day period of May 29, 2020, through June 1, 2020. They concluded there were 33 violations of department policy on June 1 after officers excessively deployed tear gas,
The investigations also concluded 33 first responders and 21 officers sustained injuries during the four-day period.
The investigations were completed by Oakland Police Department’s internal affairs division, the city’s community police review agency, an independent contractor, and the police department’s force review board. The groups overseeing the investigations reviewed more than 300 use of force complaints from protesters and they determined no significant injuries to community members occurred, Armstrong said.
“The City of Oakland faced four days of gatherings, most of which were peaceful, but we had protests that became violent, that became challenging for the department and the city,” Armstrong said.
On May 29, officers deployed tear gas at protestors who they say were throwing bricks and vandalizing local property. The levels of force used by officers on this day were found to be mostly in compliance with department policy, Armstrong said. Six officers and seven civilians were injured in the protests, a statement from the department told CNN at the time.
Minimal force was used the following day on May 30.
Officers did use force on May 31, when a caravan of vehicles traveled into Oakland with the intention of looting businesses throughout the city, Armstrong said. Calling it “one of the most violent days,” Armstrong said the armed protestors looted and vandalized a Walgreens, various other pharmacies, medical marijuana dispensaries, and several small businesses in the city’s most marginalized communities, like the Fruitvale area.
The 33 instances of excessive force came from June 1, Armstrong said. A protest near the area of 8th Street and Broadway Street became violent as bottles were thrown at officers, he said. The police officers deployed tear gas in response. That afternoon began with peaceful demonstrations, but several dozen protesters were taken into custody after being on the streets past curfew, CNN reported.
The officers deployed tear gas after feeling limited by the lack of law enforcement personnel and resources, Armstrong said.
“In order to use that level of force, there must be imminent danger to the officer or community [and] during these investigative processes, they determined that did not exist,” Armstrong said.
The department said there will be stricter requirements for officers to deploy tear gas in the future and it will no longer be carried into protests without command approval, Armstrong said. Rubber bullets are not part of the department’s inventory and were not used during the incident, Armstrong added.
“It’s my effort to ensure the community as they come to Oakland that they can peacefully assemble and if they march or protest in our city, they don’t have to worry about deployments outside of policy,” Armstrong said. “Clear accountability will happen to those that violate policy.”
Officers who were reprimanded are permitted to appeal any disciplinary action taken against them, Armstrong said.