CMPD launches second investigation into clash with protesters

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is launching its second investigation into a confrontation with protesters during a march Tuesday night in uptown Charlotte.

CMPD Chief Kerr Putney announced Friday that the department is launching an external review into the tactics the department uses during protests. The review will come from the Center for Domestic Preparedness, which is a federal agency that creates training programs for first responders.

The investigation comes days after video appears to show officers boxing in hundreds of protesters on Fourth Street before bombarding them with tear gas and flash bangs.

According to Putney, the agency will sort through the details about the chemical munitions used on protesters and will help determine if things should be done differently.

The investigation is expected to take a couple weeks.

The chief said although there was “forethought” in the strategy that was used to control the crowd, it’s not what they wanted to see.

He did however defend the department’s use of tear gas during protest -- saying if they can’t use gas -- they would have to use physical force, which he doesn’t want to do.

According to Putney, chemical munitions can only be aimed at flat surfaces, like the ground or wall. He said they cannot be aimed at people and they were not aimed at the protesters.

This is the second ongoing investigation surrounding the incident. City leaders announced Wednesday that the State Bureau of Investigations is launching a criminal investigation into what happened.

Putney said he will immediately petition the courts to have body camera videos released at the conclusion of that investigation.

City leaders said they are dedicated to working toward a common ground.

They were set to talk to protesters Friday evening after a community conversation on Wednesday seemed to make progress on both sides, but the event was cancelled due to the threat of storms.

Since the first community conversation, protests held in the Queen City have been passionate, and largely peaceful -- with the chief referring to them as textbook.

Putney said it was important to him to make a change after hearing from protesters and he regrets that Tuesday’s confrontation is overshadowing the good work that is happening in the city.

“What you see today is a result of demands to get better,” he said.

Some people said they still don’t believe the chief is doing enough.

Pastor John Cleghorn of Caldwell Presbyterian is one of a number of pastors who have walked with protesters, not to take sides but to keep the peace.

They said they had an agreement with the city and feel like it was broken, such as during times, “when the police used highly militarized aggressive tactics,” Cleghorn said.

Cleghorn and other clergies said they would like to see chemical munition no longer used, and for the police to manage protesters in a better way.

One of the reasons police departments started using chemical agents for crowd control is because of what happened in Chicago in 1968, when police used a nightstick to beat protesters into submission. That was a tactic that wasn’t considered lethal at the time.

“That’s sort of why we moved away from using sticks as a primary mechanism for non-lethal force because in some cases they become lethal," said Dr. Joseph Kuhns, a policing expert with UNCC’s criminal justice department.

Police said that when bricks, rocks and water bottles are thrown their way or when looting or vandalism takes place, they will respond. While the Fraternal Order of Police is willing to listen, they believe the alternative to chemicals is worse.

“To lose this type of less-lethal option, it doesn’t leave any options left and that is the question. What is the alternative?” said Chris Kopp with the FOP.

Channel 9′s Ken Lemon talked to the president of the Charlotte chapter of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People Corine Mack, who said officers still aren’t being held accountable.

“I know that if we didn’t have someone video taping everything that was going on they never would have addressed us at all,” Mack said.

Mack said the city has to invest in reforming the justice system. She said the community conversations are a good opportunity for city officials to listen, but they can’t stop there.

"It’s important that we have accountability. That power has to be changed immediately. The way that we have to police not only in this city but in this country has to stop,” she said.

But with several nights of peaceful protests, many are hoping real progress can be made.

It’s unclear when the second community conversation will be rescheduled.