HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Ten months of investigation ended with a nearly 300 page report on protests held in Huntsville last summer.
Those protests ended with tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets.
The report was crafted by an independent council and was presented to the Huntsville City Council at a public meeting Thursday night.
“We’re in an environment of social unrest related to this issue and it’s not going away. So this report will hopefully guide the city to knowing how to handle these situations in the future,” Liz Huntley, attorney representing the police advisory council said.
Over 300 hours of video footage from police and witness accounts is what the independent council had available for this review.
Huntley says what they didn’t have, was context.
“There was no ability to get context from HPD, even if there is good context for something like that. There’s no real accountability here,” a member of Citizens Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform (CCJR), Chad Chavez said.
The report states Huntsville Police Department and the city attorney refused to require officers to give interviews to the council.
It says in part: “This lack of transparency was and remains troubling; is based on an unwise policy and questionable legal analysis by the City and HPD.”
The report goes on to say the officers would have been protected under federal and state law.
Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray did interview with the council, but none of the officers who were contacted by the council responded.
”The policy is to not shoot someone in the face with a bean bag and yet there was a body camera footage of an officer acknowledging that someone was shot in the face with a bean bag. Obviously, we didn’t get to interview that officer to know the extent of what was going on in those circumstances, but it’s clearly a violation of their own policy,” Huntley said.
The report highlights four main concerns: poor communication, lack of self-awareness, lack of control over use of force policy and lack of cooperation.
It also details multiple other concerns, including officers ignoring protesters’ need for medical help.
”You have people fainting in front of the police and the police refusing to administer aid. You have police officers mocking protesters who are actively being treated for wounds,” Chavez said.
It says in part, “a protester limping with his friend asked an officer where to go. The officer said, “To your car.” The protester told the officer his friend rolled his ankle. The officer did not offer medical attention and told the protesters to keep walking.”
The report also gives many recommendations on how HPD can improve, including better training and communication, and creating a memorandum of understanding with the other local agencies.
“When agencies are working together there should be a clear understanding or an agreement as to the types of methods that would be used to disperse a crowd in this particular situation and that didn’t exist,” Huntley said.
Dr. Chris Brown, another member of CCJR, says Chief Mark McMurray has a lot of work to do.
“The intel gathering was a failure of leadership. The lack of control over the scene and the other agencies supporting the scene was a failure of leadership. Officers were heard on their body camera footage saying we were not trained for this. And inadequate training is also a failure of leadership,” Brown said.
The city council will address the public on the report at a work session next Wednesday, April 28.
“Actions will speak louder than words. All I can do is assure you we are taking it very seriously,” councilwoman Frances Ackridge said.
We requested follow-up interviews on Friday with Madison police, Madison County Sheriff’s Office and Huntsville Police Department. They all declined.