Restraining order limits CMPD crowd-control tactics

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A North Carolina judge has granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting Charlotte-Mecklenburg police from taking certain measures against people protesting in the street.

The judge issued the order Friday just hours after the ACLU, NAACP and other groups filed a lawsuit over actions taken by police in North Carolina’s largest city during a June 2 protest over the death of George Floyd.

The restraining order prohibits police from boxing in or “kettling” peaceful protesters. It also requires police to give “clear, loud, continuous and provable orders of dispersal” before threatening to use chemical or other munitions.

The order came after several civil rights groups sued the city of Charlotte and the police department for violent attacks on protesters.

The lawsuit said Charlotte-Mecklenburg police arranged a violent attack on peaceful protesters earlier this month, which included trapping them in a tactic called “kettling” and assaulting them with rubber bullets, tear gas and flash-bang grenades.

The lawsuit sought a temporary restraining order to stop those practices and for the city not to violate the rights of protesters.

“People who were marching peacefully to protest police violence were violently attacked by the police without provocation or legal cause,” said Kristi Graunke, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “The violence perpetrated by CMPD was a brazen violation of protesters’ constitutional rights that injured peaceful demonstrators and terrorized the community. We’re suing to halt these dangerous practices and defend people’s fundamental right to make their voices heard.”

A video capturing the incident during that night of protests drew a lot of attention.

It was streamed live from local alternative newspaper Queen City Nerve and showed officers boxing in hundreds of protesters on Fourth Street and firing tear gas and pepper bullets at them.

CMPD Chief Kerr Putney announced after the incident that the department was launching an external review into the tactics the department uses during protests. The city was also conducting an internal review of those actions taken by police, and the State Bureau of Investigation is also investigating the incident.

The department said the order prevents them from stopping protesters who are damaging property.

An attorney for the NAACP said that is not the case.

“The TRO does not restrict the CMPD’s use of force for riots or criminal activity,” attorney Alex Heroy said. “It restricts their use of force against peaceful protest, boxed them in and smoke (them.) Prohibits use of force through chemical munitions without warning. We talk a lot about the dispersal order, but the TRO requires CMPD to do a better job at telling people and giving warning.”

The SBI report lays out a timeline from that night based on radio traffic and surveillance video.

It said protesters were throwing items at officers around 9:26 p.m.

Four minutes later, officers used a loudspeaker to order protesters to leave.

A couple minutes after that, officers started using the chemical agents.

The department said that kittling was never intentional.

“Now we’re not perfect,” CMPD Deputy Chief Estes said. “We are made up of human beings, as well. We review our tactics every day, and the tactics we used then. The tactics we used on the night of the 2nd, where people were dosed with chemical munitions from the back, won’t be repeated again. We want to get better.”

An internal investigation is ongoing.

In a complaint filed in Superior Court Friday, the lawsuit said that Putney oversaw a plan called “Operation Anvil” as a deliberate show of force against protesters.

“CMPD’s premeditated and violent attack on people protesting police violence was a chilling reminder of the racism and brutality that pervades the institution of policing,” said Dawn Blagrove, executive director of Emancipate NC. “Clearly, CMPD has no intention of respecting the rights of protesters unless they are compelled by the court to do so. We’re asking the court to intervene to prevent CMPD from continuing to brutalize peaceful protesters who have a right to speak out and demand justice.”

The ACLU of North Carolina, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Emancipate NC, along with several Charlotte-based attorneys, filed the lawsuit on behalf of NAACP, Charlotte Uprising, ACLU of North Carolina, Team TruBlue, Southeast Asian Coalition (SEAC), and four Charlotte residents.