The Dallas County District Attorney wants answers about police arrests and use of force during protests back in May and June.
DA John Creuzot spoke with NBC 5 Thursday afternoon about his probe. He said he became concerned and wanted to reach out to protesters personally after seeing videos and images of what looked like mostly peaceful demonstrations, followed by allegations they were met with overly aggressive law enforcement.
Dallas police said they've launched an internal investigation after claims peaceful protesters were arrested and officers used unnecessary force in dealing with the demonstrators. Chief Renee Hall already admits mistakes were made as her team looks into the events.
Creuzot explained why he's planning to take a closer look of his own. Reports of what happened following the death of George Floyd were difficult to ignore. In Dallas, like so many other cities across the world, protesters mobilized calling for change. It’s how those demonstrations were handled that caught the attention of Cruezot.
“When the allegation is made that peaceful protesters are shot and taken down by various means, obviously that’s concerning to me and I think that needs to be investigated, and investigated to its fullest,” said Creuzot.
The image of a woman being shot in the chest with pepper balls and detained by an officer convinced him to take a closer look. The photographer who captured the moment said law enforcement overreacted that day.
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“All she was doing was trying to have a conversation with them and that’s when they got angry with her and grabbed her and shot her,” said Chris Rusanowsky, a Zuma Press Photographer. “I was kind of in shock, I never thought I’d be in this situation. I just kept my head down and wait to see what was going to happen.”
Civil rights attorney David Henderson represents several protesters. He said his clients will now take steps to file formal complaints with Dallas Police, albeit with hesitancy.
“It’s reasonable for the police department to understand they’re understandably uncomfortable speaking to police officers because police officers are the ones who violated their rights,” said Henderson. “Our clients are not opposed to speaking with the police department. The challenge they face is how do you call 911 on the police?”
Yolanda McGriff is a client of Henderson. She recalls the day, May 29th, when she and her 16-year-old daughter decided join a Dallas march in protest of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
It was near I-35 where things turned chaotic.
“You could tell the police officers were very hostile," McGriff said. "They were shooting and aiming those rubber bullet guns at us as though they were AK rifles.”
McGriff said she wasn’t doing anything illegal but was still arrested for obstructing traffic.
It’s stories like hers and many others that made Creuzot decide to open his own investigation into possible wrongful arrest and use of excessive force.
“Now months and months later for them to try and investigate I think it’s a little bit too late," McGriff said.
Although McGriff wishes it would have happened sooner, she's glad what happened to her and others is still being investigated.
“I think it’s a great start to something that happened to us that in my opinion was terrifying,” McGriff said.
Creuzot said his probe speaks to a larger issue of training and accountability. He said citizens should be encouraged to protest and communicate to elected officials.
“It’s a broader case than just an individual assault or an individual perhaps wrongful arrest. It really speaks to our qualities as citizens, what we enjoy as citizens not only in this state but in this country,” he said.
Creuzot said he will wait for the Dallas Police Department to complete its own investigation into protester claims before he does any further investigating of his own.
“The Dallas Police Department as access to the police officers, to the police reports and any body camera video, if there is any,” he said. “So, it really is the appropriate thing for them to start the investigation and we will take it from them.”
Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall released a statement about the investigation Thursday evening, saying: "Of course, the Dallas Police Department welcomes and fully expected the District Attorney’s examination of the events in late May and early June. We will provide the After Action Report and the supporting documentation to his office and look forward to answering their questions.” “As of today, Officer Rudloff has been placed on Restricted Duty. His actions and use of force are still under investigation by the Public Integrity Unit. We hope to conclude that inquiry soon, but to maintain the integrity of the investigation, there’s nothing else we can say on this issue until the completion of that work. Concurrently, the monitor of the Office of Community Police Oversight is aware and working alongside of DPD regarding this matter.”
Creuzot said he does not have a specific time limit in mind for when a Dallas Police investigation should be complete but would be concerned if it took longer than a month.