An internal investigation by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department found that the use of tear gas against protesters downtown on May 31 was within department policy. Lieutenant Harrison Daniel, commander of the Office of Professional Standards, which oversaw the investigation, delivered the verdict at a press conference Friday.
“Proven intelligence combined with the real time observations was consistent with protests in other cities that had turned violent and suggested the presence of extremists and agitators who intended to instigate violence,” Daniel said.
The Office of Professional Standards reports directly to Spruill and “investigates complaints of misconduct, reviews use-of-force incidents, reviews vehicle pursuits, and monitors for trends or patterns in policing activities,” according to its website.
The county instituted a 9 p.m. curfew around 9:45 p.m. Daniel said the protesters were made aware of the curfew through drones, social media and officers on the ground and were told they were violating Georgia law. He said this message was repeated about 12 times over the course of nearly 10 minutes.
ACC police deployed 13 canisters — 10 filled with tear gas, 3 filled with plain smoke — to disperse protesters on College Avenue and Broad Street around midnight the night of the protest. Eighteen people were arrested in the downtown area that night, Daniel said.
The ACCPD also showed video of the tear gas incident, showing protesters linking arms and refusing to move. Daniel said these actions lead to the determination that “chemical irritants were the most appropriate option to accomplish the goal of dispersing the unlawfully assembled crowd.”
Though the Office of Professional Standards found the use of tear gas reasonable, they found that the department lacked an adequately equipped or trained mobile field force capable of responding to incidents of mass civil unrest, which forced them to rely on state resources.
Without state resources, the department would not have had properly trained officers to safely disperse the crowd, Daniel said. The ACCPD also failed to establish a line of communication with the remaining protesters. The department had an inadequate after action response, which includes investigative follow-up, documentation and collection of evidence.