CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department released body camera footage Wednesday from a Black Lives Matter protest in uptown Charlotte on June 2. A Facebook Live video streamed that night showed protesters becoming trapped by officers deploying tear gas.
The footage is the first time the public is seeing or hearing the prospective of the officers from the night of the protest, where crowds had gathered again to protest the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
"We're going to push their ass straight up 4th," an unidentified law enforcement official can be heard in one of the videos. "As soon as they get up on 4th —because we have them bottlenecked now — Rory's squad is going to step out and hammer their ass. When they start running down, Dancer squad is going to hammer their ass with gas."
The official goes on to say, "Wave goodbye. They're all about to gas gassed."
CMPD said Wednesday one of their officers was disciplined for "insensitive" comments but has not yet confirmed if that officer was the one heard here, on a clip CMPD labeled as "Clip #34."
CMPD received sharp criticism after using a "coordinated operation involving riot control agents" to disperse the crowd, who were protesting the death of George Floyd on 4th Street in uptown Charlotte. A lawsuit filed shortly thereafter was meant to limit their ability to use "riot control agents" such as tear gas and smoke.
"The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department proactively petitioned the court asking for the authorization to release all videos associated with the June 2, 2020," the department said in a news release Wednesday.
While some of the recordings simple showed officers waiting in vehicles or at foot posts around the city, a selection of the videos showed officers actively engaging with protesters.
WCNC Charlotte is continuing to review all of the videos and are adding videos that show the June 2 incident in Charlotte to this YouTube playlist.
The incident happened on the fifth consecutive day of protests in uptown Charlotte over the death of George Floyd. Just before 9:30 p.m. that evening, CMPD said a group of several hundred protesters had been given multiple dispersal orders due to "violent criminal activity."
CMPD says the group marched up 4th Street and a "coordinated operation involving riot control agents" was used to disperse the crowd. Protesters, however, have said they were acting peacefully during a march when CMPD officers trapped them in a parking garage on 4th Street, using pepper spray and tear gas on the crowd.
The incident put the department under fire, and civil rights groups sued the department. Chief of Police Johnny Jennings previously said he's open to having tough conversations about policing, and the department is listening to the community.
"It feels really really good today for their own words to indict them," Kristie Puckett Williams told WCNC Charlotte.
Williams, a protester with the ACLU, was gassed that night —trapped on 4th street between College and Tryon.
"It is disgusting behavior and I'm glad that the whole world is getting to see what all of us who were there on June 2nd got to experience," Williams said.
During a press conference Wednesday, CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings said following an internal review there was one supervisor who made unprofessional, insensitive and unacceptable comments during the protests. Jennings said that Police Sergeant has been disciplined per department policy.
Chief Jennings also said the actions by CMPD the night of June 2 may have been within policy at the time, however, the department has made some changes and improvements since the incident.
Even though CMPD Chief Jennings said the actions were within department policy at the time, the department has made changes to its Civil Emergency Unit, de-escalation, and body-worn camera policies.
These changes include: giving additional dispersal orders if a dispersed crowd assembles at another location; communicating dispersal orders and exit routes loudly and repeatedly; not intentionally blocking exit routes by riot control agents, officers, or physical obstructions; and not using riot control agents to intentionally contain crowds.
A video posted by Queen City Nerve reportedly showed the moment protesters say CMPD attacked them. Justin LaFrancois recorded the video for Queen City Nerve, an alternative newspaper. He was streaming live on Facebook when protesters were confronted by the chemical agents on June 2.
"It’s suffocating, you feel like you're going to die, it's like you're swallowing bleach,” LaFrancois told WCNC Charlotte in June. “What happened was essentially inhumane, unethical, treatment of protesters exercising their First Amendment rights.”
In early August, CMPD announced the department was revising the use of chemical agents, like tear gas, requiring officers to now give additional dispersal orders before they are used.
WCNC Charlotte reached out to CMPD to clarify if body cameras were incompatible with gear that tactical officers were wearing on June 2, as the gear required a special mount that CMPD says had not yet arrived at the department.
CMPD confirmed this was the case, saying the majority of their Civil Emergency Unit (CEU) officers didn't have the mounts to use bodycams along with protective gear, though some were equipped with them on June 2.
Now, CMPD said all CEU officers in the department are equipped with the mount needed to wear body cameras with protective gear and are required to wear those body cameras.