The Latest: Police department in Charlotte under criticism

Jun 3, 2020

The police department in North Carolina’s largest city is coming under criticism after a video posted to social media appeared to show officers using chemical agents on demonstrators who were boxed in while protesting the death of George Floyd

The Latest on the May 25 death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who pleaded for air as a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck:

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— Police department in Charlotte under criticism.

— Suspect fatally shot by officers in San Francisco Bay area.

— National response team investigating more than 100 fires in Minneapolis area.

— Thousands march again near White House to protest George Floyd's death.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The police department in North Carolina’s largest city is coming under criticism after a video posted to social media appeared to show officers using chemical agents on demonstrators who were boxed in while protesting the death of George Floyd.

The video was recorded Tuesday night by Justin LaFrancois, co-founder and publisher of the alternative Charlotte newspaper Queen City Nerve. He said officers fired tear gas and flash-bangs from behind the protesters, and in front of them as well. He also said officers perched on top of buildings were firing pepper balls down on the crowd.

“We were completely trapped,” LaFrancois said. “There was one way to get out, and half of the group did go out that way through the tear gas and through the pepper balls. But for the rest of us, the only route of escape ... was to pull up a gate on the parking structure that we were pressed up against.”

LaFrancois said people tried to squeeze under the 6-inch opening in the gate and find safety. But as those people looked for an exit from the parking deck, he said officers began firing pepper balls after they entered the deck from the other side.

“They were relentless in not allowing us to leave the area that they were trying to get us to leave,” LaFrancois said. “It was the most extreme action that I had seen taken. It was the first time that I was actually in fear for my life.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said on Twitter they are looking into the incident.

“We are internally reviewing the circumstances that developed this evening on 4th Street to ensure policy and protocol were followed,” the police department tweeted Tuesday.

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SAN FRANCISCO — A man suspected of robbing a pharmacy in the San Francisco Bay area was fatally shot by officers who thought a hammer he was carrying in his waistband was a firearm, police said Wednesday.

Details of the shooting were revealed even as some California counties and cities began plans to end curfews after days of largely peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

Sean Monterrosa, 22, of San Francisco is the first confirmed death at the hands of law enforcement related to smash-and-grabs and protests in California since Floyd’s death. Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams said officers were responding to calls of looting at a Walgreens early Tuesday when the shooting occurred.

Officers said Monterrosa began running toward a car when he suddenly stopped, got on his knees and placed his hands above his waist, revealing what appeared to be the butt of a firearm in his waistband. An officer shot five times through a car window, striking him once.

“The intent was to stop the looting and arrest any perpetrators if necessary. The officers reacted to a perceived threat,” Williams said.

John Burris, an attorney for the family, said he is appalled police would shoot at a person who was on his knees with his hands raised.

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CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro railed against President Donald Trump while expressing solidarity with the family of George Floyd, whose death in Minneapolis has sparked protests and street violence across the United States.

Maduro on Wednesday accused Trump of turning the U.S. military against his own people. He spoke on state TV at a ceremony decorating Venezuelan soldiers credited with fending off a recent attack that the socialist leader blames on Trump.

Maduro also extended Venezuela’s solidarity with blacks and young people in the U.S. He says they are taking to the streets demanding an end to racism and police violence.

The White House has launched a campaign to oust Maduro. The U.S. and other nations as well as human rights groups condemn Maduro for employing brutal force and torture to silence Venezuelans who oppose the socialist government.

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MINNEAPOLIS — The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has sent a national response team to Minneapolis and St. Paul to help investigate fires set during unrest following the death of George Floyd.

Local and state authorities requested the team’s help in investigating about 100 business fires in Minneapolis and about 35 in St. Paul.

Special Agent in Charge William Henderson of the ATF’s St. Paul Field Division said in a statement Wednesday “the cause of these fires is quite obvious. The task at hand now is to determine who is responsible.”

The team arrived earlier this week.

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SEATTLE — A sea of protesters packed streets in Seattle on Wednesday in a sixth straight day of demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd.

By mid-afternoon thousands had descended upon City Hall, where police holding batons formed lines behind metal barricades. The demonstrators carried “Black Lives Matter” signs and called for cutting the police department’s budget and shifting the money to social programs. They chanted for officers to remove their riot gear and knelt or sat together as they surrounded the building.

There’s been increasing criticism of the repeated use of tear gas and flash-bangs by Seattle police to disperse mostly peaceful crowds.

Mayor Jenny Durkan met with protest leaders in City Hall before meeting with demonstrators outside for a second straight day. City Attorney Peter Holmes noted that citizens had filed some 12,000 complaints over the police department’s handling of the protests.

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WASHINGTON — Thousands of protesters are marching in the nation’s capital, unswayed by the additional charges lodged against Minneapolis police officers in connection with the death of George Floyd.

They passed block after block of storefronts covered in plywood and side streets blocked by police, soldiers and federal agents. As they marched, protesters chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets,” and “No justice, no peace.”

People ferried supplies of water and free snacks to demonstrators, who included people with young kids in strollers but were mostly young adults.

Some tried to engage troops blocking the streets around the White House, calling out to them and telling them to quit their jobs. The troops stayed silent.

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PARIS, Texas — A member of a Texas city council has resigned under fire over a social media response he made to a protest of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody.

Paris City Council member Benny Plata submitted his resignation at a special meeting Tuesday.

Mayor Steve Clifford called the meeting to censure Plata after the council member messaged a protester, “Why don’t you leave America if it’s so bad,” The Paris News reported.

Plata said he really cares about the city and was responding to one person berating America.

Paris is a city of about 25,000 residents about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northeast of Dallas.

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PHILADELPHIA — Explosions have hit 50 cash machines in and near Philadelphia since the weekend in a coordinated effort to steal them or take the money inside, authorities said Wednesday.

A 25-year-old who’s accused of selling homemade dynamite on the streets with instructions on how to use it on ATMs has been arrested, though authorities aren’t yet sure whether the man is connected to the coordinated effort, the state attorney general said.

One theft resulted in the death of a 24-year-old man hours after he tried to break into an ATM early Tuesday, authorities said.

More than a thousand people demonstrated peacefully for several hours on Tuesday night in Philadelphia to protest the killing of George Floyd. Cash machines in other cities also have been stolen from or damaged since civil unrest struck the nation after Floyd died on Memorial Day.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday thanked the people of his state for holding peaceful demonstrations in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, avoiding the violence and property damage seen in other parts of the country.

Edwards said “almost without exception, every single person who’s shown up to protest and demonstrated has done so in a way that is an appropriate expression of their concerns about this.”

The Democratic governor said he doesn’t expect to use the Louisiana National Guard to assist local and state police in their response to the future Floyd protests.

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BLACKDUCK, Minn. — The mayor of a small northern Minnesota town has resigned after a Facebook post appearing to support running over protesters.

The Star Tribune reports Blackduck, Minnesota, Mayor Rudy Patch resigned Monday and deleted his post.

Patch had shared a meme showing an apparently bloody Jeep with the caption, “I don’t know what you mean by protesters on the freeway. I came through no problem.”

Patch said in his resignation letter he was making a misguided attempt to show how dangerous protesting on a highway could be. He wrote it was never his intention to support running over protesters.

A tanker truck drove into a large crowd of marchers protesting the death of George Floyd near downtown Minneapolis on Sunday night. Nobody was seriously injured and the driver was not charged.

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WASHINGTON -- Thousands of protesters in the nation’s capital knelt and sang “Amazing Grace” on Wednesday, the sixth night of protests over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

“We are not going anywhere,” the protesters chanted.

As the protesters sang and chanted, law enforcement officers in riot gear stood watching over the crowd, which stretched down 16th Street near the White House.

The crowd knelt silently as the time neared for a virtual town hall by former President Barack Obama to discuss Floyd’s death, policing and the protests that have engulfed the country.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser imposed an 11 p.m. curfew after a peaceful night of protests. The curfew then had been 7 p.m.

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RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to announce plans for the removal of an iconic statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond’s prominent Monument Avenue, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

The governor will direct the statue to be moved off its pedestal and put into storage while his administration seeks input on a new location, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak before the governor’s announcement.

The announcement is expected Thursday and comes amid turmoil worldwide over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes, even after he stopped moving.

Floyd’s death has sparked outrage over issues of racism and police brutality and prompted a new wave of Confederate memorial removals.

The Lee statue is one of five Confederate monuments along Monument Avenue in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy. It's been the target of vandalism during protests in recent days over Floyd’s death.

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NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says the city has taken a “step forward” in restoring order with the help of an early curfew.

There was much less widespread plundering of stores Tuesday night amid a huge police presence. The citywide curfew continues from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. this week, imposed to prevent the nighttime chaos and destruction that followed peaceful protests for several days in a row.

De Blasio condemned police for roughing up journalists covering the protests, including two from The Associated Press. Police say they arrested about 280 people on protest-related charges Tuesday, compared with 700 the previous night.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was critical of the prior police response, says the city was “much better” and officers were better equipped to keep the peace.

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ATLANTA — Former President Jimmy Carter called Wednesday for Americans in positions of power and influence to fight racial injustice, saying “silence can be as deadly as violence.”

The 95-year-old former president issued a statement through the Atlanta-based Carter Center to address the angry and sometimes violent protests that have roiled the nation in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He said his decades working to improve human rights worldwide have taught him that people of influence can’t remain silent.

Carter made no direct mention of President Donald Trump’s handling of the protests and the racial unrest that has fueled them. But he said: “We need a government as good as its people, and we are better than this.”

Carter noted he had declared “the time for racial discrimination is over” during his 1971 inauguration speech as Georgia’s governor, and bemoaned that he’s repeating those words almost 50 years later.

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OMAHA, Neb. — A Nebraska prosecutor who declined to bring felony charges against a white business owner for fatally shooting an unarmed black man during recent civil unrest in downtown Omaha has decided to call for a grand jury review of the case.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said in a news conference Wednesday that he’ll petition the court to call a grand jury to determine whether bar owner Jake Gardner should face felony charges in the Saturday night shooting death of 22-year-old James Scurlock. Kleine said he would also turn the case over to a special prosecutor.

On Monday, Kleine announced he would not charge Gardner with a felony in the case after reviewing video of and witness statements regarding the altercation, saying he believed Gardner acted in self-defense.

Kleine said his call for a grand jury was made in the interest of transparency after meeting with community leaders.