PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — New video has forced the mayor and police commissioner to make a public apology, deliver punishments and change the Philadelphia Police Department’s rules of engagement as a result of police’s use of tear gas on peaceful protesters on I-676 earlier this month.
It was a chaotic scene on I-676. Peaceful protesters trapped on the side of the highway surrounded by SWAT officers deploying tear gas.
The images from the day sparked a New York Times journalistic investigation, showing violations of the police department’s own guidelines on crowd control.
“I think it was a very, very strong incident where it looked very clear from the beginning the police used tear gas in an inappropriate way,” Christoph Koettl, a New York Times reporter, said.
After viewing the New York Times’ video, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw apologized multiple times during Thursday afternoon’s briefing and she says she’s committed to repairing the damage the incident has caused with the department’s already strained relationship with the community.
“I was disgusted on that day, I’m as disgusted as I am today,” Outlaw said.
Outlaw was visibly upset Thursday, apologizing for initially backing officers who used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a crowd of protesters on I-676 on June 1.
“In the weeks that have followed, I have learned that relative to 676, those statements are substantially inaccurate,” Outlaw said. “As I have now personally viewed video evidence that largely contradicts the material portions of those statements. In making those statements, I relied on statements which was relayed to me after the initial deployment and for that, I humbly apologize for those who were directly impacted as well as to our communities at large.”
Outlaw also issued a moratorium on the use of tear gas on Thursday.
“Effective immediately, I am issuing a categorical moratorium on the use of tear gas for the dispersal or control of crowds, which includes any persons who are peacefully or passively resisting. We are also evaluating all other ammunitions available to SWAT personnel,” Outlaw said. “The only time we could consider deploying tear gas is in the case we are presented with an armed and dangerous individual.”
Deputy Commissioner Dennis Wilson, who was the incident commander, admitted to solely authorizing the use of tear gas and voluntarily stepped down, taking a demotion to the position he held previously as Chief Inspector.
“I, and I alone, gave the approval to use CS gas,” Wilson said. “I did this based on what I could see from my position and also what I had been hearing on the radio.”
Repercussions are also in store for a SWAT officer who was seen pepper-spraying three people kneeling on the ground on I-676. The officer will be issued a 30-day suspension with intent to dismiss.
“That officer is observed on video utilizing OC spray on civilians in violation of our policy,” Outlaw said. “He’s being charged departmentally with conduct unbecoming an officer, unauthorized and/or excessive use of force.”
Mayor Jim Kenney, who gave consent to the use of tear gas the day before on May 31 in West Philadelphia, says he’s regretted it ever since.
“Ever since seeing the video of the terrifying incident on I-676, I’ve regretted my decision from the day before. I also regret my statements that followed attempted to justify the use of tear gas,” Kenney said.
It's clear from videos of the I-676 protest on June 1 that members of the Police Department used completely unacceptable force.
In response, @PPDCommish:
–Placed a moratorium on tear gas & other non-lethal methods.
–Will quickly make personnel decisions.
I also am accountable.
— Jim Kenney (@PhillyMayor) June 25, 2020
Kenney says what happened on June 1 is the opposite of healing and reconciliation between police and the community.
“There will be accountability for all of this,” Kenney said.
In addition to the police department’s actions announced Thursday, Philadelphia City Council announced its intention to hold hearings over the I-676 incident. That’s in addition to another independent investigation that’s been launched by the City Controller’s Office.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said confirmed Thursday that his office has received materials from the police department for “consideration” relating to the officer actions in the I-676 incident.
Krasner says his office considers the incident serious and they are reviewing the materials to see if further actions or charges are warranted.
So far, no timeline is set for his decision.
Fraternal Order of Police Philadelphia President John McNesby angrily reacted to Outlaw’s apology.
“The message to the officers is that nobody has their back, go out, get in your car, answer your radio, protect your community and be careful,” McNesby said. “Don’t do anything above and beyond because you’re not going to be backed by the city administration.”
McNesby added that he wants the police commissioner to apologize to the dozens of officers hurt during several days of protests.
The protesters’ attorney says no one had the backs of the peaceful, nonviolent protesters carrying out their constitutional right and stricter punishment should be handed down.
“We believe that there are many others who should be held responsible for what happened out there,” Thomas Fitzpatrick, an attorney, said.
CBS3’s Alecia Reid and Kimberly Davis contributed to this report.