Santa Rosa police fired unauthorized rounds at Black Lives Matter protesters, new report shows
Santa Rosa police officers fired four tactical projectiles designed to penetrate windows and walls at demonstrators during largely peaceful protests in the city in the wake of the police killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd last summer, according to a new report published by City Hall.
One of those so-called barricade rounds struck and severely injured a demonstrator, investigators hired by the city found, while officers targeted people in the crowd with rubber bullets and other munitions.
The deployment of projectiles and tear gas amounted to “a confrontational exercise of state authority” that further fueled the protests and stoked hostility toward police from those in the crowd, investigators concluded in the new 23-page report, commissioned last year by the city.
At least seven demonstrators seriously injured by police munitions have since filed legal claims against Santa Rosa. One of them is a man who was struck in the groin by a barricade round and grievously injured.
“If we’re going to rebuild trust with our community we need to have an honest conversation about what happened,” Mayor Chris Rogers said in an interview Thursday. “We have got to be better, period.”
The long-awaited report was carried out by the Los Angeles-based OIR Group, which specializes in law enforcement oversight. It was hired by the city to examine the Santa Rosa Police Department’s controversial handling of last summer’s street protests, including the extraordinary deployment of less-lethal munitions and tear gas in downtown during several nights in late May and early June when unrest convulsed the city.
Multiple departments, including the California Highway Patrol and Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, dispatched personnel to assist Santa Rosa with crowd control and street closures. Police made dozens of nighttime arrests for curfew violations and unlawful assembly and vandals broke windows on some downtown buildings and tagged others with graffiti.
All told, police fired 120 rounds of various less-lethal munitions from 40 mm launchers and used 30 canisters of tear gas against the demonstrators, according to the OIR Group report.
For still unknown reasons, the outside investigators said, 50 of the rounds designed for use on physical barriers, not people, were deployed in the field during the protests. The lone person known to have been struck by one of the four barricade rounds that were fired was severely injured in his groin, the report disclosed. The remaining 46 rounds were not fired, after police realized they had been deployed in error.
Healdsburg resident Argelio Giron, who was not named in the report, was paid $200,000 in a settlement last year for the injury to his groin from a police projectile fired during a May 31 protest. Giron lost a testicle because of the severity of the wound.
“The harm caused by the deficient handling of these dangerous rounds was severe — and could easily have been worse,” the report concluded.
The OIR Group faulted some police tactics while condoning others. The firm’s report was aimed most closely at how the police department reviewed and investigated officers’ use of force during the protests. The consultants were meant to be embedded in that review, according to a copy of the contract between the city and firm.
The contract maxed out at $50,000. A final cost was not available Thursday.
The report is one of three focused on police response to the summer protests that will be discussed Tuesday by the Santa Rosa City Council. The others include a more critical assessment from the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights and a previous report by a different outside firm on police tactics.
“There are a lot of policy proposals that should be under consideration and the City Council does have the authority to set policy for the police department,” said Jerry Threet, the human rights commission chair. “I would hope they start having a public process so they can consider what should be their policy around protest policing.”
The review found “operational shortcomings that were systemic in nature” in the Santa Rosa Police Department, including an agency ill-equipped for daily reviews of officers’ use-of-force incidents. Reports were not made quickly or piled up as the protests wore on, in many cases landing on the desk of a single sergeant, the report showed. That sergeant, in turn, was also faulted for a field action involving use of force during the protests, the report showed.