PHOENIX — Phoenix police on Thursday gave a detailed account of how a largely peaceful protest turned chaotic last week after President Donald Trump’s rally downtown, prompting criticism from protesters who say officers used excessive force.
Video that was compiled and edited by police shows what appear to be the first instances of members of the far-left militant group known as antifa throwing gas canisters at officers. Police then threw pepper balls at the ground near those protesters to try to disperse them but escalation continued as masked people dressed in black threw water bottles and other projectiles at police.
Dozens of protesters angry with police response denounced their actions at a city council meeting for several hours on Wednesday.
The meeting grew tumultuous after Democratic Mayor Greg Stanton told the many people who had signed up to speak that they would have to wait until the council went over other agenda items. Protesters took over the meeting and angrily yelled at Stanton and other council members, who at one point left the room.
They said over the course of five hours of testimony that police used unnecessary force and injured peaceful protesters. Protesters also opposed a proposed independent review of police actions, saying the organization that was selected was biased. The city abandoned plans for that review on Wednesday night but a department one is ongoing.
Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Jonathan Howard said during a news conference on Thursday that officers only aimed to disrupt the small group of agitators who were throwing items at police.
Video showed many others at the protest repeatedly telling the antifa group to stop throwing things at police.
The video Phoenix police showed Thursday was compiled from various sources, including hand-held police cameras and online content. Howard said detectives are still reviewing video from police-worn cameras.
Police used pepper balls, smoke, foam projectiles and tear gas in their efforts to control and disperse the large crowd, Howard said. He said the few protesters who threw items at officers were met with a “calm, controlled response from police.”
Police Chief Jeri Williams has also defender her officers, saying they used appropriate force and acted professionally.
But many protesters say they didn’t get enough notice from police that they should disperse before they were struck by tear gas and other police items.
“What you have here is a community that was afraid. We were there peacefully for hours not disturbing anybody whatsoever. Without a warning, the police department opened fire to elderly people,” Jessica Adame said during the city council meeting.
Asked why police didn’t just arrest the small group of agitators, Howard said it was logistically difficult because of the pedestrian barriers that had been set up to keep protesters and counter-protesters from clashing.
“It is way more challenging than one would think,” Howard said.
Police arrested about five people, but Howard said detectives are still sorting through video and could potentially make more arrests.