In George Floyd protest report, San Jose police concede training gaps but stand by the response
SAN JOSE — A new report states that officers’ inexperience with large protest crowds led to issues with the San Jose Police Department’s chaotic response to demonstrators protesting the police killing of George Floyd this summer — a response that drew widespread criticism over the department’s use of rubber bullets, tear gas and other munitions to disperse unarmed and nonviolent civilians protesting the disproportionate use of force against Black men and women by police.
The “after action” report produced by SJPD was provided to the City Council ahead of a Tuesday meeting in which the department’s tactics and disclosure of body-camera videos are expected to receive more scrutiny from local lawmakers. On Friday, the department released officer-recorded footage of three high-profile police encounters stemming from the demonstrations between May 29 and June 7, though any revelations contained in those videos were minimal, since civilian videos of those incidents have circulated widely for months.
In the SJPD report, the department made some concessions to complaints about violent acts against nonviolent protesters. But the report largely repeated previous statements about the department’s rationale for using force during the protests, and maintained that officers were responding to “continuous violent confrontations with officers, rampant destruction of property, arson, and looting.”
Protesters and activists have firmly refuted that account, asserting that police officers escalated encounters against demonstrators practicing nonviolent civil disobedience.
“Tensions rose only in the presence of police, and, in particular, when police decided to take control of certain public spaces and prevent the movement of protesters in certain directions,” said Sharat G. Lin, a longtime South Bay peace activist. “Once police declare a peaceful assembly that is constitutionally protected to be ‘illegal,’ it is unequivocally a provocation.”
Lin was arrested June 5 after police alleged he was shining a laser pointer at a police helicopter, when he says he was just shining a light on a wall at City Hall as part of a musical light show. His arrest was detailed in the report.
In explaining their response, SJPD said the department was surprised by how large and boisterous the crowds grew in the late afternoon of May 29, leaving commanders to rapidly call in officers and improvise a plan to corral demonstrators, who numbered over a thousand and had temporarily forced the shutdown of Highway 101.
The department acknowledged in the report that it was not a familiar scenario for the majority of officers dispatched to form skirmish lines near and around City Hall, stating that most had “never experienced civil unrest of this type” and that commanders “lacked the sufficient training and experience” in crowd control. The training was “minimal and infrequent,” the department wrote, because of depleted and overstretched staffing.
Throughout the report, SJPD puts the onus on agitators within groups of protesters for why innocent people might have been the targets of force or police projectiles; just 10 civilian injuries were officially reported to or by police — a portrayal that frustrated local activists.
“The SJPD can’t PR spin this away from the truth that hundreds of people not only saw but experienced,” said Raj Jayadev, co-founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug. “It was mainly youth of color out there, that’s one important feature to distinguish. It was teachers. I saw reverends out there, and I saw people who wanted protest a racist system.
“For them to mischaracterize who was there and why they were there, it’s literally adding insult to injury.”
The report also waded into how rubber and foam bullets, pepper spray rounds, tear-gas canisters and stun grenades were lobbed into crowds that refused to disperse. According to police, more than 500 rounds were used in the first day of protests May 29: “By the end of the first day, most of the Department’s less lethal munitions and chemical agents were exhausted, requiring an improvised emergency purchase,” the report states.
As to an exact number, the report found “the number of less lethal rounds was difficult to quantify as many officers simply documented they fired ‘multiple’ rounds. The unprecedented nature of this event does not justify the lack of accurate documentation and need to track the use of less lethal responses.”
The department banned bullets from crowd-control uses after the George Floyd protests. SJPD also backed off the use of tear-gas and similar agents after health experts decried their respiratory effects amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Without naming the officer, the report also addresses Officer Jared Yuen’s profane comments toward protesters that garnered international attention during the May and June protests. The department affirmed Yuen is now on a “non-enforcement assignment” pending an internal affairs investigation. Yuen accounted for 1,079 of 1,247 protest-related police complaints received by the department, according to the report.
The report notes officer injuries — including an officer who was knocked unconscious by a man’s punch — and related attacks, including 181 instances of them being hit by objects like frozen water bottles or being fired at with a potato gun in one instance. But while the document also addresses injuries to protesters, the language is general and sticks closely to what has already been reported by media or disclosed in eyewitness videos.
Those injured in the incidents include community activist and former police bias trainer Derrick Sanderlin, who was shot in the groin with a police rubber bullet while trying to de-escalate a standoff between protesters and police; Tim Harper, a citizen who helped carry an injured officer to safety then was later hit in the stomach with a police projectile; and David Baca, who was hit in the Adam’s apple by an officer’s baton when he approached a skirmish line with the aim of taking down an officer’s name and badge number.
The primary solutions offered by SJPD involve improving training of crowd control tactics and use-of-force documentation at all levels of the force. The report also makes a plea for ready access to a fixed-wing plane for overhead surveillance of large crowds, and states that the department wants the authority to “fully implement” its unmanned aerial system, which has been mostly grounded since 2014 amid privacy concerns from city residents.