Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall gave herself a C- grade Tuesday under intense questioning by city council members over her department’s handling of police reform demonstrations this year.
The chief and her command staff delivered an ‘after-action’ report to the Dallas City Council Public Safety Committee on the demonstrations that occurred from Friday, May 29 through Monday, June 1.
Council members expressed concerns about what was included in the report and what was left out.
“Over and over the evidence shows an unacceptable lack of strategy and planning. It shows misplaced trust and lack of clarity for our officers and for our protestors,” Committee Chairman Adam McGough said.
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Hall said she believes the report shows the department is ready to take criticism but that it was necessary to respond with more force when looting and rioting broke out.
“We are serious about change and making sure that our police department is 21st century policing. In fact, we are making the necessary changes to be that premier agency,” Hall said.
Major Jim Lewis who presented much of the findings to council members said nearly a third of the city’s 3,100 police officers were involved in the demonstrations. They recorded 1,700 body camera videos, with 175 hours of video to review. The department received damage to 58 squad cars including three that were burned.
Lewis said he was to blame for an error about who announced a curfew during the protests. The document said Mayor Eric Johnson did not warn the police Media Relations Unit about the curfew and that officers were caught unaware of the new rules because of it. In fact, it was Hall who held a press conference about the curfew on the afternoon of Sunday, May 31.
The report mentions changes the police department has already made since the demonstrations, to require that officers intervene if they witness excessive force and limiting the use of non-lethal weapons like tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protesters.
Hall said 50 excessive force complaints are being investigated as a result of the demonstrations.
Councilman Adam Bazaldua said the number of officers facing potential discipline would be much higher had the stronger duty to intervene directive been in place earlier. He said the report does not present enough information about how officers treated demonstrators.
“This report is something that paints a very biased picture to the public, a picture that is a narrative that is absolutely disingenuous and not fair,” Bazaldua said.
One incident not included in the report is the arrest of demonstrators that happened Saturday near Stemmons Freeway.
Photographer Chris Rusanowsky who was working for the Zuma News service took a picture of a woman being shot point-blank by Sgt. Roger Rudloff with pepper balls from a paintball gun.
“It wasn't like she was trying to push them away or anything. 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,” Rusanowsky said.
The woman was taken to jail, but the photographer was, too.
“I was kind of in shock. I never thought I'd be in this situation,” he said.
From what he saw, Rusanowsky said it appeared that police overreacted to peaceful protestors.
“I felt like it was just rouge officers running around making their own judgments about how to handle things,” Rusanowsky said.
A police spokesman confirmed that Rudloff is under investigation for his conduct but that he remains on duty.
Council members had many questions about command decisions about the detention of more than 600 demonstrators on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge Monday, June 1.
Earlier this year, Hall told council members that tear gas had not been used on the bridge, but the ‘after-action’ report said that tear gas was used.
It was a question from Councilman Adam Medrano to which Hall gave herself a C- grade for that weekend.
Medrano said he was on the street for many of the events and the report does not represent what he saw.
“I felt there were cover-ups. I’m very disappointed in those parts of the report. I was there. I know what I saw,” Medrano said. “Other council members have said the same thing. I’m in that same boat. The trust was lost forever with this report.”
Protester Michael Adedire said the first time he’d ever been on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas was the night of June 1st.
“We were out there protesting to express our voice about things needing to change,” he said.
It’s the night he found himself on the ground with hundreds of other people, choking on pepper balls and watching people dodge rubber bullets.
“I remember walking onto the bridge and being trapped,” said Adedire. “It was pretty scary. All you see is light, just lights in your face. And instructions from there and instructions from there.”
City Councilman Adam Bazaldua, a participant and eye witness to the protests, said the report is misleading, omits details, and diminishes trust in the department.
“I wanted to see for myself what was going on and that’s when I walked up onto the bridge myself. And I saw sights that I hope to never see again in our city,” said Bazaldua.
While Chief Hall points to the fact that that policy changes have been made since the demonstrations, Adedire feels it’s a little too late.
“We are counting on them to be right the first time. Not to make mistakes and then come back and tell us ‘we messed up,’” he said.
Bazaldua echoed similar sentiments in Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee Meeting.
“Had the duty to intervene been in place over the weekend of our protests, with the amount of excessive force that was used on protesters, we probably would’ve had a lot of Dallas Police officers that would be in violation of that order,” said Bazaldua.
Councilman McGough said he hopes to see additional answers from Hall to the questions raised Tuesday about discipline, communication and training.