Huntsville leaders speak about independent review on 2020 protests

Update on HPCAC Review following Wednesday night's meeting

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Wednesday night Huntsville city leaders responded to the Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council’s independent review of the June 2020 protests.

City Administrator John Hamilton presented the City’s official response, and in his report, he noted several topics in the independent review conducted on behalf of HPCAC that the city disagreed with.

Some of these are listed below.

  1. Rubber bullets - The HPCAC report stated, “The evidence related to the use of force that is of perhaps the greatest concern to the public—the firing of rubber bullets—is not entirely clear. MCSO used them; HPD may or may not have used them.” City leaders said a lone officer, who is no longer employed by HPD, did deploy five rubber-tipped finned projectiles. These snub-nosed projectiles differ from rubber bullets deployed by other law enforcement agencies because they are not designed to pierce the skin or cause serious or fatal injury. HPD officers did not fire traditional rubber bullets at protesters.
  2. Chemical agents - The report stated, “there were individual instances when HPD officers used pepper spray in a manner that was, at a minimum, unprofessional and on multiple occasions in violation of HPD policy.” The city responded to this and said chemical irritants were only used on protesters who refused to leave.
  3. Communication between attorneys making the review and HPD - The report states, “The CAC and Independent Counsel were unable to interview a key group of witnesses—Huntsville police officers.” It goes on further to show that officers weren’t compelled to talk to the independent attorneys. The city’s response to this was that officers weren’t compelled to interview and that the city administrator is not aware of any attempt to prevent officers from speaking.
  4. Transparency - The report states HPD did not provide the independent attorneys any training records. The city’s response, training records were available in electronic form. The city just couldn’t easily print pages on every officer when each record could be as long as 500 pages.
Additional update from Wednesday's meeting on HPCAC review

“The expectation that we can print 30,000 something pages of documents and they would have the ability to review those and find what’s relevant is not in our opinion reasonable. That’s why they had the opportunity to review those in their current form which is electronic,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said from the perspective of the police, the protests went from peaceful to unlawful.

“The decisions to declare it unlawful. The decision to deploy ROT. The decision to deploy smoke, the decision to deploy irritants, all the way up the end, the decision to arrest people who refused to get out of the road. All those were decisions based on what was happening right before their eyes,” Hamilton said.

Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray said the review showed him communication was an issue during those protests. He said the end goal though is the same for both protesters and police alike.

“We all want to work together. These protesters want a better police department. We want a better police department. Social justice is something we put our lives on the line for every day so we certainly want social justice. These are things we can work together through. Now that we have a framework of ideas we have a way to go forward,” Chief McMurray said.

According to city leaders, the report will not mean immediate policy changes, but rather help with changes in the future.

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