Policing the protest

At 2:10 p.m. on Aug. 13, the Asheville Police Department received a call about the protest at Bank of America. Later in the afternoon, they announced the arrests of five protesters inside the bank on charges of trespassing, failure to disperse and resisting arrest.

photo by Jon Elliston

Sgt. Lizz Budd was the first to respond. According to a statement issued by the APD the following day, she “arrived to find a small crowd of people holding signs outside the bank to protest its business investments. Bank officials met Sgt. Budd at the door, saying there were people inside who had chained themselves together in the lobby.”

She and Bank of America officials then told the protesters that were locked together that they could continue their protest legally elsewhere, according to the statement.

Budd was about to get a lot of backup. In all, some 18 officers in riot gear, three K-9 officers and 19 other personnel, as well as some two dozen police cars, showed up, blocking the entrance to the bank as some officers went inside to remove the protesters. The demonstration then moved across the street to Pritchard Park.

The riot team had been mobilized earlier in the day, according to APD Capt. Tim Splain, who said the team had first made a trip to the Progress Energy power plant in Skyland in anticipation of potential protests there.

“We were expecting 200 to 300 people if the whole convergence showed up,” Splain said in reference to gathering of environmentalists near Brevard where the protest was planned. “Since we already had them on the bus, we just turned around and went downtown.”

Contrary to rumors and claims by some of the protesters, the police did not deploy Tasers on anyone involved in the protest.

One of those arrested inside the bank, Jacob Stockwell, asserts that while the police didn’t deploy Tasers, they did use painful “compliance holds” on him and ask “Who’s got the Taser?” as a scare tactic.

“I yelled and screamed in agony,” Stockwell said, adding that he intentionally screamed at top volume not just because of the pain, but as part of his protest. “I wanted to amplify what I was feeling about the overall attack on the earth,” he said.

Splain said the police used no compliance holds. “I’ve seen the video from inside the bank—we just moved them [the protesters] and they were pretty compliant,” he told Xpress later. “No force was used. It’s like the rumor that started about the Tasers. … It’s typical anytime there’s a protest for that sort of rumor to come up, because they’re trying to get more sympathy with the public.”

Another arrestee, Noah Hurowitz, told Xpress that his arm was twisted and he was thrown against the wall. “But I don’t think they [the police] used excessive force on me,” he clarified.

Meanwhile, a unit of some 18 riot police clad in heavy gear arrived and assembled in front of Jeruselum Garden Café, about a block from the bank. However, they were not deployed into the crowd, and left within an hour without taking action.

Splain said that it is standard procedure for riot police to be ready any time there’s a sizable demonstration. “Usually, they stay in the station and are never seen,” Splain explained. This is the first time since the immigration rally in May of 2006 that the team has made a public appearance.

While “a whole lot of nothing” happened at the power plant earlier in the day, Splain noted, the team had been prepared to take action there due to the site’s importance.

“We were out there backing up the [Buncombe County] Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “That plant provides power to a majority of this area. It’s critical infrastructure, and we weren’t going to let anyone disrupt its operation.”

Standing in front of the bank, Splain said that the police’s concern was not the demonstration itself or its message. “They are free to use the park,” he said. “We are not concerned with [practicing] the freedom of speech, just blocking the road or someone getting hurt or damaging property.”

He later said that he felt things had gone well overall.

“The protesters outside the bank were perfectly within their rights and we had no problems with them the entire time,” Splain said.

At this time, he says, he does not yet have an estimate as to how much the police deployment had cost the city monetarily.


Editor’s note: The main author of each article in this series is noted in its byline, but all of the articles drew on reporting from Xpress staffers Rebecca Bowe, Jon Elliston, David Forbes and Brian Postelle.

Climate change culture clash:
The inside story of last week’s fracas in downtown Asheville, from multiple perspectives
by Jon Elliston

Sticking their necks out:
The activists’ story
by Rebecca Bowe

Dog day afternoon:
Many downtown merchants take protest spectacle in stride; others decry “spoiled brats”
by Hal L. Millard

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