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Review of police during Huntsville protests cites problems

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — A civilian board that reviewed police actions during protests in Huntsville last year found that some officers crossed the line in using gas, rubber bullets and other means to break up demonstrations following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

The protests were relatively peaceful and police who fired beanbag projectiles violated department policies at some times, the review released Thursday night found. The use of rubber bullets prompted complaints of excessive force. The panel found better oversight is needed, news outlets reported.

The report also criticized the use of tactics including dousing people with pepper spray and deputies using the scopes of sniper rifles like binoculars to observe the crowd. Police overreacted to some social media posts and poor communication helped worsen problems, the roughly 250-page report said.

Police from the cities of Huntsville and Madison and Madison County deputies all were mentioned in the review, but panel members said it was sometimes difficult to determine whether members of particular departments had done specific things. Part of the problem was the refusal by Huntsville to let officers other than the chief speak with the panel, the report said, and neither Madison nor the county participated.

The committee looked into officers’ actions during days of protests that followed Floyd’s death and focused on two nights in early June when officers’ responses left the downtown area hazy from the use of tear gas and pepper spray. Police have said officers were trying to disperse crowds and prevent rioting.

More and better training was the top recommendation from the report, said Elizabeth Huntley, an attorney who helped with the review by the Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council.

“This unrest associated with this issue is not going away tomorrow. It is here with us. It is another round in history where there is an issue that triggers such an amount of unrest that it’s going to be here for a while,” she told City Council members.

Police Chief Mark McMurray said he would work departmental leaders to fix some areas cited by the review.

“These are opportunities for improvement,” he said.

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