APD releases after-action report on spring protests

SPARKS FLY: An Asheville Police officer’s body-worn camera captured this image of a pyrotechnic explosion in downtown Asheville during the protests that occurred May 29 through June 6. Photo courtesy of the APD

Nearly 10 months after community members poured onto Asheville streets to protest the police killing of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd, the Asheville Police Department has finally released an after-action report. The document details the department’s response to the protests that occurred May 29 through June 6. 

APD Chief David Zack presented the report to members of Asheville City Council’s Public Safety Committee on March 24, just 16 hours after the 303-page document was first shared with committee members and the public. The document states that the “decision to destroy first aid supplies and food” at a medic station housed between Salsa’s and Farm Burger along Patton Avenue on June 2 “was wrong.” Additionally, while the report says that the decision to use tear gas against protesters on May 31 at the Jeff Bowen Bridge was “both within agency policy and best practices,” it notes that officers violated departmental crowd control operations and chemical munitions policies during that action. 

The after-action report was first requested by Asheville City Council in July. After determining that hiring an outside consultant group to create the report would be too costly, Council tasked the APD with crafting its own comprehensive report detailing the department’s response, lessons learned and recommendations for the future. 

Following a 90-day timeline outlined by Zack in September, the final report was supposed to be released in December. The chief offered no explanation for the delay in his presentation to the committee.

The spring protests were only the second time that APD’s crowd control team had been deployed in riot gear, Zack said, and the first time tear gas was deployed during a demonstration. “It goes without saying that the protests were unprecedented in the city and for law enforcement officers nationwide,” he added. “Never before had APD encountered a protest where the emotional intensity was directed solely at the police.” 

But Council member Kim Roney, who serves on the Public Safety Committee, argued that APD had encountered similar protests in 2016. She reminded Zack that the city saw large demonstrations after the police killing of Jai “Jerry” Williams, a Black Asheville resident, which led to a sit-in at the APD headquarters

“I know staffing has changed, but I feel this does a disservice to our community when there were hundreds of people who took to the streets in 2016,” Roney said. “I am concerned the narrative that might come out to the public in this public document doesn’t tell the whole story about policing in Asheville.”

From May 29 to June 6, the APD made a total of 57 arrests, four of which required use of force, Zack said. APD’s Professional Standards unit received more than 500 complaints regarding the use of tear gas and anger over the destruction of supplies, only one of which was a formal complaint of injury. In November, the Racial Justice Coalition filed 20 anonymous excessive force complaints to the department. 

According to the report, officers “only deployed munitions when they were attacked, their lawful orders repeatedly ignored, they were encircled by angry crowds or were vastly outnumbered.”

The after-action report outlines 11 recommendations and 17 action items, including: 

  • Review of APD crowd control operations regarding warnings before the deployment of chemical munition and the creation of a script to maintain consistent language.
  • Amendments to APD’s crowd control and chemical munitions policies to “remove requirements that were unattainable and/or impossible to complete when dealing with large, loud, fast-moving and violent crowds.” 
  • The use of body-worn cameras for all officers working at large-scale protests. 
  • Establishing a “staging area” with a designated manager to track external resources and coordinate mutual aid efforts. 
  • An APD property retrieval group to hold personal or abandoned property at a secure location. 
  • Working with city public information officers to help distribute timely information to the public. 

The report’s release came days after a New York Times investigation analyzing similar studies from cities nationwide found police forces were “poorly trained, heavily militarized and stunningly unprepared” for the protests that emerged after Floyd’s death. 

“We know that we will likely be answering questions for weeks and months,” Zack said. “We are more than willing to do that and will make ourselves available to satisfy the concerns of all.”

Updated at 11:30 on March 26 to change the timing of the protests from summer to spring. 

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About Molly Horak
Molly is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writer for Mountain Xpress. Her work has appeared in the Citizen-Times, News and Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow me @molly_horak

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3 thoughts on “APD releases after-action report on spring protests

  1. Mike R.

    You have the right to protest peacefully in this country (still). You do not have the right to take over highways, streets, damage property, etc.
    All of that took place last summer during the Floyd protests.
    I support the Asheville Police Department in their efforts during the protests (er..riots). Were they perfect; of course not. Did they make some mistakes. Yes. But overall, they were handed a very difficult and fast moving situation and responded the best they could.

    While we’re at it……Ashevlle’s “Picketing” Ordinance is really outdated and very weak with to respect to providing clear guidance on protests that get large fast. I have asked the Mayor and City Council to place priory on amending that so that police are not made the “bad guys” when protests overflow Asheville downtown or elsewhere. No response to that request.

    • James

      “Not perfect?” “Made some mistakes?” Armed thugs attacked and trashed a medic station on the flimsy pretext that they were trespassing and you blithely gloss over it with “not perfect?”

      If you continue to look the other way when law enforcement violates people’s rights you may find yourself on the other end of that treatment some day and regret it. When the police act like “they good guys” who recognize their job is to protect and to serve and not “self-protect and self-serve” using any excuse to attack the people of this town then they will receive the treatment and respect we want to give them.

      • Mike R.

        I agree the water/medic station “trashing” was wrong. Police Chief Zach in his report on this agrees.

        What about the buildings that were damaged by the protestors? What about a crowd walking down I240 across the Bowen Bridge that could have been hit by cars and were blocking traffic. This is an interstate road. What about the streets that were blocked in downtown Asheville?

        What should the police have done about that?

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