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Dallas police report says planning, communication lacking in response to protests

Dallas Police car. (Nine-Twenty/Flickr)

Police leaders struggled with operational plans, communication and keeping a unified command structure amid the ever-changing protests that happened in downtown Dallas in response to George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, according to a report the police department released Friday.

The report — released more than four hours after it was to be filed with the city manager — details the first four nights of protests that began on May 29. It also outlines changes the department plans to make in who can authorize the use of tear gas; how to coordinate with other law enforcement agencies when mass arrests are made; how to train for critical incidents and those involving mass arrests; and ensuring the use of body cameras.

The police department plans to receive 500 more body cameras for all officers who interact with the public, according to the report, allowing the department to better review and assess operations.

Ahead of the highly anticipated report’s release, Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall said in a meeting with The Dallas Morning News editorial board on Friday that the report would highlight mistakes the department made when trying to control the protests, which featured unprecedented use of tear gas and less-lethal ammunition on crowds.

“Whatever we do as a police department, we’ll acknowledge it, we’ll fix it, and move forward,” Hall said in the meeting. “The fact we have changed some general orders in line with our less-than-lethal force acknowledges we could have done something differently.”

Dallas City Council members are expected to ask more questions about the police response to the protests at a special meeting on Tuesday.

Mayor Pro Tem Adam McGough called for the meeting after a report in The News on Sunday detailed an incident in which police Sgt. Roger Rudloff, a 25-year veteran of the department, stormed and arrested protesters as well as the photographer who captured the incident, which occurred five days after Floyd’s death.

In a written statement after the report’s release, McGough said he would not comment on its findings until the public meeting.

Hall on Friday said that Rudloff was under investigation by the department’s internal affairs division.

“There was some information that came to us that he used unnecessary force with a resident,” Hall said.

Hall described the first four days of protests in late May and early June as fluid, saying the department’s final report on what happened will offer a “critical” analysis of its actions.

The report details that officers for the first two days of protests did not have clear rules of engagement, which are guidelines for how police and when to make arrests. The News spoke to protesters who were jailed on questionable rioting charges, which prompted the department to later drop the charges.

Images taken of events that weekend showed violent demonstrations resulting in chaos just hours after the peaceful protest began, including looting and “assaults on officers,” the report said. Those early protests — between May 29 and June 1 — were unlike any the city’s police force has ever seen, according to the report.

“Tensions escalated quickly, and the men and women of the Dallas Police Department overcame significant challenges and violence directed towards them in order to ensure the safety of event participants, uninvolved bystanders, and themselves.”

According to the report, the department is investigating about 50 use-of-force complaints during the four days and nights of civil unrest with help from the Office of Community Police Oversight.

Some of the violence in Dallas was incited by “external influencers” such as members of the Boogaloo Movement and ANTIFA sympathizers, the report said.

Both groups, while holding opposing ideologies, “promote change through anarchy and violent rhetoric,” the report said. And both attempt to “destabilize demonstrations and incite violence,” according to the report.

Talks between Dallas police and local event planners were “positive and constructive,” and there were no specific threats of violence, the report said.

During the four days of protests, two people and six officers reported serious injuries, the report said. A police horse was seriously injured. Three police vehicles were burned and many others were vandalized. Initial damage estimates to the central business district totaled $5 million, according to the report, and Dallas police incurred costs of about $3 million.

Hall, in her interview with The News, acknowledged that policy changes she made regarding an officer’s duty to intervene and the use of less-lethal ammunition to control crowds came as a result of reflection on the department’s response to protests.

In preparation for the protests, Hall said the department gathered intelligence about demonstrations around the country and made the call to add resources, such as SWAT officers, and to have other units on standby.

But the report addresses training shortcomings by commanders who struggled to make rapid decisions. It does not name the commanders who need this training.

“We made some mistakes throughout the (early) days of protests,” Hall said, adding that it is “expected when you have an ever-changing” situation.

“We assessed every day and made necessary changes, whether it was communication or whatever that was — we improvised at the time and adapted it the next day,” she said.

After the first night of protests on May 29, police reported that the situation escalated when protesters surrounded officers at the intersection of Young and Griffin streets downtown and threw bricks and rocks at them and their vehicles. Police said they responded by firing tear gas, pepper balls and foam bullets.

“We endured a lot of emotional stress as well as abuse,” Hall said. “They (officers) came to work every day, and they continued to do their job.”

The second day of protests on May 30 took place near City Hall’s plaza and in downtown Dallas and involved outside help from the Department of Public Safety as well as police from Irving and Garland. No details are given about how officers were supposed to engage with protesters.

The report also does not mention the incident involving Rudloff that same day near I-35 that became the subject of a Dallas Morning News investigation.

After the first nights of the protests, the city, on May 31, implemented a 7 p.m. curfew for downtown Dallas and surrounding areas in Deep Ellum, the Cedars and Uptown.

On June 1, demonstrators took to the Frank Crowley Courthouse, which was outside the curfew zone. Their march ended on the iconic Dallas landmark, the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. Those who attended described feeling trapped by law enforcement when officers boxed in and detained 674 protesters in the middle of the bridge.

Police officials have defended their actions that night, saying protesters broke the law when they marched on the bridge. In the report released Friday, police also said protesters threw water bottles at the officers. It’s unclear if anyone was injured.

Police also said they deployed tear gas, although council members Adam Bazaldua and Adam Medrano have said that they were with Hall near the bridge on June 1 and heard her give a direct order not to use it.

“The Chief called the Event Commander, and directed that C.S. gas was not to be deployed,” according to the report. “It was not until approximately four days later that it was determined that C.S. gas was used on the bridge. Each deployment of C.S. gas was made prior to directions being issued from the Chief.”

Police after June 1 changed their tactical strategy. In their report, they said a highly visible officer presence “incited emotions of the protests.” Commanders kept officers on standby in case of a needed response.

“This lessened the opportunities for protesters to confront officers and seemed to create a calmer environment among the groups,” the report said.

Hall also has made some policy changes since the protests.

She formalized a duty-to-intervene policy, which requires officers who witness misconduct to stop and report it.

In July, Hall issued a department order limiting the use of pepper-ball weapons and other less-lethal ammunition in crowd control. It came after a federal judge temporarily banned Dallas police from using such tactics on crowds after several injured protesters filed a lawsuit.

“Real change is hard — taking a look at what you do and how you can be better,” Hall told The News. “If you don’t acknowledge those things you don’t do well, you can never truly change the police department.”


© 2020 The Dallas Morning News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.