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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC Police defend officer actions at Silent Sam protests amid criticism

silent sam smoke bomb

A smoke grenade deployed by the police to disperse the angry crowd of counter demonstrators fills the air with blue smoke on Saturday, September 8th.

Calvin Deutschbein, a member of Chapel Hill’s Community Policing Advisory Committee, said he fears the potential consequences of police violence escalating at future Silent Sam rallies. 

“My assessment of the behavior of police on campus is, I think they’re going to kill students,” Deutschbein said. 

Speaking at an Orange County Human Relations Commission meeting earlier this month, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said it causes him “great concern” that some law enforcement action at the three rallies following the Confederate monument’s toppling had never been seen previously by the community. 

Blue, whose agency is one of many that UNC Police have brought to campus for assistance, said he was “particularly saddened that our department’s association with Silent Sam these last few weeks may very well have diminished some of the very good work” that Chapel Hill Police has done. 

UNC Police Chief Jeff McCracken said he thinks Blue’s words were not meant as a criticism of police actions. 

“It’s unfortunate, and I’m concerned, too, that we’ve gotten to this point, but I am not concerned about the level of force that has been used because it has been justified, and it has been reasonable,” McCracken said. 

He said UNC Police is currently in the process of an internal after-action review of all the protests surrounding Silent Sam from this semester, but that those reports typically do not become publicly available. Public record requests for internal reports after each rally have been unfulfilled and closed by the University. 

‘A political situation’ 

“I would describe the police conduct as unconscionable,” Deutschbein said. “I think that’s probably the most generous way to say it: criminal. I do believe the police departments are operating in violation of any clear, right understanding of the law or governing documents.” 

Public criticism of force used by police officers on UNC’s campus include the use of pepper foggers on crowds, use of bikes to hit individuals during police escorts of groups such as The New Confederate States of America, deployment of smoke bombs and what critics called 'physical aggression' toward arrested and non-arrested individuals. 

“I’m concerned that a political situation coupled with the temperament of protesters has caused us to have to use force when we have not had to do that in the past,” McCracken said. 

Deutschbein said he thinks McCracken may be correct in a way he didn’t intend.  

“I do believe that specifically the politics of the protesters is a reason why they’re being targeted for violence,” Deutschbein said. 

McCracken did not confirm or deny if UNC Police has a list of known dissidents. 

“I just would say we always do everything we can do to identify any potential threats to safety at every event, and these are no different,” McCracken said. 

Thomas Bruefach, an undergraduate at North Carolina State University, was arrested at an Aug. 25 rally and charged with inciting a riot and resisting arrest. After speaking into a megaphone earlier in the day, he said he remembered seeing multiple officers pointing and looking at him. 

His arrest occurred after police deployed a smoke bomb in front of Graham Memorial Hall. Bruefach said he thinks it was scary how coordinated police, some in riot gear, began “picking people off,” and that officers hesitated after detaining him when discussing what to charge him with. After his arrest, Bruefach was given a trespass notice barring him from entering McCorkle Place for two years. 

‘My legs were numb for the next two days’ 

McCracken also said police controlled the crowds with “few to no injuries.” 

Jonathan Franks is a commander of the Greensboro Police Department’s Civil Emergency Unit, another agency brought to Chapel Hill by the University. Franks used a pepper fogger on a crowd multiple times during a police escort of Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County N.C. 

A pepper fogger, used by police for crowd control, disperses pepper spray in a widespread fog form rather than a direct line to affect broader groups of people. Deutschbein said he was sprayed twice.

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He said his legs were numb for two days, a result of the first fogger spray directly affecting his lower body. He said he had difficulty walking and that he got lost on the way home because his contact lenses had been impaired. 

The GPD Directives Manual states Greensboro officers are only permitted to use pepper spray in the event of a dog attacking someone or if an individual must be brought under control when physical restraint isn’t reasonable or practical. It also states officers must then take individuals to the nearest controlled water facility and monitor them for any health issues. 

Documents defining UNC Police's directives regarding measures such as pepper spray usage are not available online, according to UNC Media Relations Manager Randy Young. The Daily Tar Heel requested these policies from the University, but were not granted them by the time of publication.

As a whole, GPD sent 61 officers with 30 canisters of pepper spray to the University that night, according to The News & Observer.

At another rally on Sept. 8, an officer hit Jody Anderson, an N.C. State undergraduate, with a bike, leaving a large wound and blood down his left leg. About five minutes later, Anderson approached a scuffle between police and nearby protesters.

In a video, an officer tackled him, put him in a chokehold and held a pepper fogger against his head as fellow officers surrounded them, blocking off cameras and the enveloping crowd. The video does not show what happened immediately before. Anderson was charged with assault on a government official. 

Statewide reinforcements 

Between Aug. 21, the day after Silent Sam was torn down, and Sept. 7, UNC Police enacted mutual aid agreements and formally requested assistance from at least 22 law enforcement agencies throughout North Carolina in preparation for the rallies, according to emails and letters obtained by the DTH. 

“We anticipate that the public assault on a counter-protester by the individual wearing an ACTBAC t-shirt will lead to additional confrontations against ACTBAC at this Thursday's event,” McCracken wrote Aug. 27 in a formal request to Glenn McNeill, commander of the N.C. State Highway Patrol, referencing a past rally where Barry Brown, 40, punched an unidentified UNC student in the face

UNC Police contacted agencies that include the Durham County Sheriff’s Office, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Durham Police Department and all 17 UNC-system campus police departments. 

Under North Carolina state law, mutual aid agreements allow nearly all law enforcement agencies in North Carolina to loan officers, equipment and supplies to a jurisdiction outside their own, upon the request of a separate agency. Those officers gain the same jurisdiction, power, rights, privileges and immunities of the requesting agency, in this case UNC Police, along with any they normally possess, except for the ability to make an arrest. 

Officers from other jurisdictions are paid by their own agency under the law. The University has not disclosed any expenses it has incurred related to law enforcement during rallies. 

All officers fall under the command of the requesting agency’s head officer. In the case of the rallies, that commander would be McCracken. Because non-UNC Police officers can only detain individuals under the law, they were grouped in teams with UNC officers designated to make actual arrests. 

Bruefach claimed that the “uncertainty” of his arrest continued when an officer began filling out his arrest paperwork and couldn’t remember which officer had initially arrested him. McCracken wouldn’t comment on any individual arrests at this point. 

“Sometimes, you have to — not sometimes, all the time — you have to make sure that you look at the elements of the crime and make sure that the charge fits those,” McCracken said. 

The “narrative” field of Bruefach’s arrest report, where an arresting officer describes the circumstances that led to an individual’s arrest, was left empty by UNC Police.


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