A report published by city officials in Santa Rosa, California found police officers were negligent in adhering to department policy and injured Black Lives Matter protesters while trying to disperse crowds during mostly peaceful George Floyd protests last summer.
The report was conducted by the law enforcement oversight organization OIR Group, which was brought on to evaluate the Santa Rosa Police Department’s controversial implementation of less-lethal munitions and tear gas last May, The Press Democrat reports.
It was discovered that police fired four unauthorized, tactical projectiles designed to penetrate windows and walls at demonstrators, one of which struck and severely injured a man. The 23-page report indicated that officers also used rubber bullets to deter people from protesting.
The police oversight group concluded that the deployment of projectiles and tear gas triggered “a confrontational exercise of state authority” that further fanned hostilities and enraged protesters against the police.
“If we’re going to rebuild trust with our community we need to have an honest conversation about what happened,” Mayor Chris Rogers said on Thursday. “We have got to be better, period.”
In total, the SRPD fired 120 rounds of numerous less-lethal rounds from 40 mm launchers and used 30 canisters of tear gas against protesters last summer, according to the OIR Group’s report.
The firm's investigators were baffled about why 50 rounds designed for use against physical barriers were deployed in the field during protests.
At least seven demonstrators who were seriously harmed by police munitions have since filed legal action against the city. A person documented for being hit by one of the rounds suffered a serious groin injury. Police stopped using the remaining 46 rounds after they realized the first four had been mistakenly deployed.
Argelio Giron, who lives in Healdsburg, was paid $200,000 in a settlement last year for an injury he sustained to his groin from a police projectile during a protest in late May. The Press Democrat reports that Giron lost a testicle due to the severity of the wound. He was not named in the OIR report.
“The harm caused by the deficient handling of these dangerous rounds was severe — and could easily have been worse,” the report read.
The Santa Rosa review uncovered “operational shortcomings that were systemic in nature” in the SRPD, notably that the agency wasn’t able to effectively manage daily reviews of officers’ use-of-force incidents. As protests continued, many of these reports landed on the desk of one sergeant. On top of being overwhelmed by the number of use-of-force reports, the sergeant himself was reprimanded for his actions during last summer’s protests.
There were at least four instances in which officers were formally disciplined for their actions, the report detailed. Two officers were disciplined for firing the barricade rounds, as well as the one who fired the shot that hit a protester.
A sergeant was written up for being warned about the unauthorized rounds by another officer, but failed to ensure that the rounds were not deployed, the report indicated.
Another member of the department was disciplined after hitting a person with a baton as they were being arrested, which was later deemed appropriate by the SRPD. According to the report, the officer in question didn’t hand his body camera over to the department in a timely manner and uttered a “contemptuous” statement at the person in custody.
Requests regarding the total number of officers disciplined in connection to the summer protests have yet to be answered by law enforcement officials, per The Democrat.
In its recommendation, the OIR Group advised that Santa Rosa “should convene a broader discussion about whether and how less-lethal munitions should be deployed in the First Amendment assembly context.”
Jerry Threet, the city council’s human rights commission chair, expressed that there are plenty of options on the table when it comes to addressing police brutality at local protests moving forward.
“There are a lot of policy proposals that should be under consideration and the City Council does have the authority to set policy for the police department,” Threet said. “I would hope they start having a public process so they can consider what should be their policy around protest policing.”
The OIR evaluation is one of three reports concentrated on police response to the summer protests that will be discussed next week by the Santa Rosa City Council.