Mpls. police chief orders protest probe amid reports of child hurt

Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau
Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau spoke to reporters at City Hall, Thursday, May 14, 2015. She has promised an investigation after protesters say police on May 13, 2015, sprayed a chemical irritant on a group of demonstrators, including a child.
Brandt Williams | MPR News

Updated 4:48 p.m. | Posted 2:24 a.m.

Minneapolis officials are promising a thorough investigation after protesters say police on Wednesday night sprayed a chemical irritant on a group of demonstrators, including a child.

The incident occurred as dozens of protesters marched down 7th Street in downtown Minneapolis to protest that a white Madison, Wis., officer would not be charged in the killing of a 19-year-old biracial man.

The march was largely peaceful until one officer jumped out of a car and started spraying protesters with a chemical, said Susan Montgomery, the mother of 10-year-old Dyvonte Clinton.

Montgomery said her son was nearby when the officer began discharging the chemical.

She said it did not seem like he'd intentionally sprayed Dyvonte.

Dyvonte Clinton
Dyvonte Clinton stood with a sign shortly before participating in a downtown Minneapolis protest, Wednesday, May 13, 2015.
Courtesy Susan Montgomery

"He just starts screaming bloody murder — he couldn't see, he couldn't find me," Montgomery said of her son. "We were laying on the ground trying to get him calm."

She said the officer sprayed the chemical at protesters twice.

Montgomery and a friend carried Dyvonte into a nearby hotel lobby, where they washed his eyes out. She said he has a doctor's appointment today because he's still in pain.

"He was scared, he was hurt," Montgomery said. "It was very traumatic for him."

Videos posted online show demonstrators confronting an officer, who then sprays a chemical irritant directly at an adult protester.

That sparked outrage and brought responses from the Minneapolis mayor, police chief and local civil rights leaders.

Protesters marched in Minneapolis
Protesters demonstrated against police brutality in downtown Minneapolis, Wednesday, May 13, 2015.
Aaron Lavinsky | Star Tribune via AP

Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau announced on Facebook Wednesday that she'd opened an investigation that will include gathering surveillance video and interviewing witnesses.

Harteau on Thursday told reporters the incident is being investigated by the city Office of Police Conduct Review, which is made up of staff from the Minneapolis Police Department's Internal Affairs Division and the city's Department of Civil Rights.

"We need to speak with the people who marched, we need to know what their experience looked like," Harteau said. "We also need to hear from motorists who were fearful about property damage."

Harteau said she spoke with Montgomery on Thursday morning to find out how Dyvonte was doing.

Hodges asked that organizers of future demonstrations coordinate with police to ensure safety for both demonstrators and the general public.

Wednesday's march was organized by a group called the "Black Liberation Project." The group has previously organized "black brunch" protests, where demonstrators against police brutality confront diners, according to the group's social media presence and fundraising efforts.

Members of the group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Black Lives Matter Minneapolis and the Black Liberation Project have called for a joint protest outside the Hennepin County Government Center for Thursday night.

A march against police brutality
Dozens of protesters turned out to march in downtown Minneapolis, Wednesday, May 13, 2015. The march was largely peaceful until one police officer jumped out of a car and started spraying protesters with a chemical, according Susan Montgomery who attended the event.
Aaron Lavinsky | Star Tribune via AP

Minneapolis NAACP President and Black Lives Matter spokesperson Nekima Levy-Pounds said the Minneapolis Police Department needs to investigate the incident, review department policies and communicate any reforms to the public.

"The officer's response to the young people who were marching seems extreme," Levy-Pounds said. "The fact that he would use Mace without warning signals deeper problems within the Minneapolis Police Department that need to be addressed."

Levy-Pounds said Thursday's protest has been planned in solidarity with the young boy and aims to keep issues of police misconduct in the public eye.

The president-elect of the Minneapolis Police Federation, Lt. Bob Kroll, said he had not yet seen video taken from the Wednesday night incident but had spoken with the officer who sprayed demonstrators.

"I'm confident he did the right thing under the circumstances," said Kroll.

Kroll declined to name the officer, but said he and other officers were outnumbered by hostile demonstrators who were damaging property. He said he heard some cars were damaged. Demonstrators, he said, burned a flag, although he didn't know if the flag belonged to the demonstrators or was taken from someone's property.

He said the officer involved in the main incident last night is a veteran officer and is not on leave during the investigation. He also said the officer will likely not face any discipline.

Officers are well within their authority to use Mace in those situations, Kroll said.

He added that people should ask another question about the incident: "What is a 10-year-old doing out at that hour of night participating in a protest, or with their parents that are protesting?"

The boy's mother, Susan Montgomery, said she was a little concerned that the protest would run late. But it was a peaceful demonstration, she said, and she didn't see any demonstrators damage cars or other property.

The protest in Minneapolis followed Tuesday's announcement from Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, who said he wouldn't charge Officer Matt Kenny in the death of 19-year-old Tony Robinson in March.

Ozanne said he found that Kenny used lawful deadly force after he was staggered by a punch to the head and feared for his life.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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