Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Police screw up at DNC gets thumbs-up

Bucking a raft of complaints from activists and the ACLU of Colorado about police conduct at the Democratic National Convention, Denver Independent Monitor Richard A. Rosenthal has given thumbs-up to a mass arrest of protesters on the first day of the political gathering and dismissed concerns about police conduct contributing to tensions on the scene.

Rosenthal, who works for the office of Mayor John Hickenlooper, denied that a staged confrontation between undercover officers and police on the scene was responsible for instigating a larger confrontation.

There was no screaming, fighting or any other attempt to incite the crowd or police. In fact, the "struggle" consisted of nothing more than the mere act of pulling away slightly. It would be reasonable to expect the undercover officer to put up at least small struggle in order to avoid his identity being disclosed to the protesters watching his arrest.

The incident Rosenthal dismissed was described by Sgt. Rob Williams in an official Denver Police Department use of force report (PDF):

Deputies from the Jeffco response team (JR60) had deployed in a skirmish line for a large disturbance. Deputies were assisting Commander Kroncke in removing undercover D.P.D. detectives from the crowd. Deputies on the line had not received information that the people being removed were undercover detectives. In order not to be recognized as undercover detectives, some of the detectives put up a struggle with Commander Kroncke. As a result, Deputy Shousse thought that Commander Kroncke was being attacked and he therefore deployed the issued OC fogger. Commander Kroncke and the undercover detective were sprayed.

Understandably, in a November 6 letter (PDF) to Rosenthal, Taylor Pendergrass, staff attorney for the ACLU of Colorado, objected, "The actions of the undercover detectives on August 25, 2008, may have had the effect of exacerbating an already 'tense situation'..."

It's hard to reconcile Rosenthal's characterization of a minor "pulling away" incident with Sgt. Williams' description of a confused free-for-all in which police officers were hosed down with pepper spray. While police seemingly intended to minimize conflict, it's easy to see how missed signals and the whiff of OC in the air could have exacerbated the confrontation between police and protesters. Police screwed up and created chaos.

After that point, the arrest of an 80-year-old innocent bystander who was returning from a trip to the library (which Rosenthal also defends) and the mass round-up of protesters makes a sort of horrible sense.



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