Inauguration Day protests spur call to study police actions
Among the concerns were issues with arrest procedures and the use of non-lethal weapons
By Jessica Gresko
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia's police department should appoint an independent consultant to examine the actions of police on Inauguration Day, when more than 200 people were arrested and charged with rioting, the city's Police Complaints Board said in a report Monday.
The recommendation was included in one of two reports released by the office that oversees police complaints and monitors police interaction with protesters. The first report covered Inauguration Day, when self-described anti-capitalists broke windows and set fire to a limousine, while the second report covered the Women's March on Washington, the day after the inauguration.
The report on Inauguration Day concludes that in many instances Metropolitan Police Department officers "conducted activities in a constitutional manner," but says several instances "cause concern and raise questions." Among the concerns were issues with arrest procedures and the use of non-lethal weapons like pepper spray and "sting balls."
The report says that when protests turn violent, standard operating procedure requires police to give warnings for people to disperse before arrests begin. The report says there's no indication any warnings were given before police corralled a large group that was later arrested.
The report also says that under standard operating procedure, police must have probable cause to believe those arrested participated in violations of the law.
It notes that many who committed acts of vandalism and violence were dressed primarily in black, but other arrestees wore items clearly showing they weren't associated with the protests. Prosecutors have so far dropped charges against 16 people, including some journalists who were arrested that day.
Finally, the report says that "less than lethal weapons were used indiscriminately and without adequate warnings in certain instances." Police generally must give a warning before using pepper spray and must not use it to disperse a crowd, but the report says pepper spray "was deployed to move the crowd, without warnings, and in many instances it was used on people who were simply standing in the wrong place."
The reports only cover the actions of Metropolitan Police Department officers, though other law enforcement agencies including Secret Service and U.S. Park Police were involved on both days.
"The Metropolitan Police Department stands by its assertion that our officers acted responsibly and professionally during Inauguration Day. In response to the riots, the men and women of MPD made reasonable decisions during extremely volatile circumstances," police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said in an email, adding that the department will take the report's "suggestions into account."
Mark Goldstone, an attorney who represents more than 30 people charged in the Inauguration Day protests, said in an email he agrees "that an independent monitor is needed to review whether there were violations at the inaugural march."
The report on the Women's March on Washington noted two areas of concern. It says police had little presence in certain areas and that multiple intersections became dangerous for pedestrians. In addition, the report says "several uniformed officers assigned to monitor the march" were seen wearing pink hats which were also being worn by marchers.
"As the pink hats are likely viewed as support for the Women's March and its political message, officers in uniform wearing the hats give the impression to the public of political support while on duty," the report said, adding that police aren't supposed to engage in political activity while on duty.