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Council Members Are Blasting DPD’s Formal Review Of The Chaotic Police Brutality Protests In Dallas Earlier This Summer. Here’s Everything You Need To Know.

At-times irate Dallas City Council members railed against Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall for the better part of three hours on Tuesday as part of a special Public Safety Committee meeting in which Hall and her Dallas Police Department command staff presented the findings of its much-anticipated “after-action report” detailing the city’s turbulent police brutality protests between the dates of May 29 and June 1.

The 85-page assessment of police response to the protests — per Hall, it’s the first-ever such report produced in the history of DPD — was publicly released on Friday, August 14, a full 74 days after the conclusion of the events at its focus. It also arrived at least four hours after the stated 4 p.m. deadline for its submission.

Its release comes at the tail-end of a turbulent summer filled with continuous demonstrations against police actions — much of that spurred on by DPD’s highly criticized handling of those first four days of protests — and amid repeated calls for Chief Hall’s firing. It also comes almost a month after we exclusively published an unreleased early draft of the department’s report that had been circulated among City Hall and DPD leadership under the premise that it not be publicly shared.

Though significantly longer and at times more granular than the 13-page earlier draft, the Friday-released report is still characterized by the same lack of pertinent details and significant acknowledgement of any DPD wrongdoing that had plagued its previous version. On Tuesday, at least two city council members even suggested that the report included numerous passages with descriptions that were convenient enough to be construed as “cover-up” activity on the part of a Dallas Police Department intent on overlooking its more troubling actions during the events.

Council members also repeatedly excoriated Hall over the report’s delay at the Tuesday meeting, calling it representative of the same “lack of leadership” at DPD that the report at times suggested. They further questioned why so many of its details seemed skewed, outright inaccurate and/or lacking in context at various points — most notably during its recounting of the department’s highly publicized kettling and subsequent arrest of 674 protesters on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge on June 1.

Among the other descriptors council members offered Hall in their assessment of her department’s report: “for its length, underwhelming”; “too little too late”; “reactionary”; “defensive”; “biased”; “troublesome”; “disappointing”; and “unacceptable”. Council members Omar Narvaez and Adam Medrano additionally shared that the report’s contents made them lose any trust they’d previously had in Chief Hall.

Beyond general platitudes and thanks, only council member Carolyn King Arnold offered Hall much support, pointing out the difficulties Hall faces as a Black woman in a position of leadership.

The entire video conference was a brutal watch — not just because of the criticism Hall and her staff were forced to endure, but due to the technical difficulties that plagued the proceedings, particularly on the part of DPD (and at some perhaps too-convenient times).

And yet the mess of a meeting also felt just like the proper follow-up to the mess of a report at its focus.

Beyond our thoughts on the initial draft of the report, below are our own takeaways from the latest document — some of which was publicly discussed on Tuesday and some of which wasn’t — abetted where applicable by council member comments on the same matters.

Consider this your CliffsNotes to the otherwise very dry reading material. Or, if you’re a masochist, you can read the report for yourself in full via the embed at the bottom of this post.

The entirety of the report bears a very victimized tone with clear sympathy pleas. 

In the report and throughout Tuesday’s meeting, DPD’s messaging surrounding the first four days of police brutality protests in Dallas mostly projects extreme defensive positioning. The report itself goes out of its way any number of times to note how officers “responded with courage amid a challenging dynamic” and displayed “many examples of professionalism and restraint” despite “working under extreme pressure for 12 or more hours.”

The report also makes repeated mention of the July 7, 2016 shooting of five officers after a protest in Downtown Dallas. More than that, it describes two instances in which DPD made arrests regarding threats made against officers on social media, recounts officer injuries in far greater detail than any injuries sustained by protesters, repeatedly says protesters were “assaulting” DPD’s ranks during their demonstrations and quickly derides protest behavior from the weekend as a “riot” displaying “disorderly and dangerous behavior.”

It specifically notes that “events escalated from peaceful to violent on both May 29 and May 30 when protesters confronted police officers who were tasked with closing intersections” — implying that the sparks of the initial clashes in no way came from the other direction. It also multiple times negatively refers to protesters all weekend long throwing teargas canisters back at officers who’d first fired the projectiles at them.

Even so, the report bemoans the department’s lack of ammunition, protective gear, surveillance capabilities and general staffing figures throughout the weekend. Due to these hurdles, the report says DPD’s actions were “heroic.” The protesters get less leeway; at one point the report says one officer “had never heard more hateful words spoken to another human being” in regards to how protesters spoke to him and his colleagues during the events.

Indeed, the report very much says officers felt targeted throughout the weekend, while admitting that “the standard operating procedure of creating a highly visible officer presence for managing crowd control incited the emotions of the protests.”

Those incited emotions could scar DPD officers for some time, the report suggests while expressing concern that the protests and their fallout may lead to officers being “alienated by family and friends.”

By and large, the report paints DPD officers as victims, rather than as public servants.

Beyond “riotous” protesters in general, the report blames some wild agitators — which is to say anyone but its own officers.

Despite acknowledging that its officers’ PA usage throughout the events “incited” protesters, the report dissolves DPD of any real contribution to rising tensions. Instead, it points the finger to “riotous” and “violent” protesters, while making repeated mention of looting and property damage as a justification for arresting, firing projectiles at and advancing on crowds.

At separate points, the report also makes note of the presences of some outside agitators at the protests — “individuals who affiliate with the Boogaloo Movement” as well as “other persons, believed to sympathize with ANTIFA” and “anarchists, whose agenda was to create opportunities for civil unrest, [and who] worked as agitators within the groups encouraging criminal acts.” The report provides no details on DPD’s assessments of these groups, although it does at one point refer to “fringe” elements involved in the event.

As with the earlier draft, this newer version also notes a May 30 instance in which DPD noticed a “man in gas mask with rifle, [with] protesters surrounding” him, who “was being threatened” at City Hall Plaza. It then describes how a response team then went on to “extract” that individual, who already “was able to flee the area” and left cops “unable to leave due to the [general protest crowd] having cut off their exit.”

At that point, the report says, protesters engaged in “mob mentality” and “thrill-mayhem.”

DPD thinks it handled the protests — and the release of this after-action report — pretty decently, actually!

In a memo to City Manager T.C. Broadnax that introduces the report, Chief Hall champions the “exhaustive” document as “a critical self-analysis intended to inspire concrete steps for organizational growth and development” as well as “an honest assessment and review of errors, miscalculations and shortcomings.”

Throughout the following 83 pages, the report regularly leans on phrases like “tactics that had proven effective” and “order was restored” to describe DPD’s actions during those first four days of protests. Later, it congratulates officers for having “took immediate action to order a comprehensive examination” despite the 74-day wait it took to complete.

On Tuesday, council members took direct issue with these assertions, expressing concern over the report’s delay and its lack of details. Hall’s defense there: After-action reports for instances such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the Pulse Nightclub shooting took 12 to 15 months to complete, and her department’s production of the document is in line with how quickly other police departments across the country have released their own assessments on responding to the George Floyd-spurred protests in their cities.

Council members expressed horror over the comparison between the four days of protest in Dallas to those other tragedies, but Hall countered by saying that DPD had never previously produced an after-action report of any kind, ever, and that it deserved credit for having created it. She then again noted how her conversations with chiefs in other cities indicated that her department was utilizing “best practices” in terms of its report and its protest response tactics in general.

When asked by council member Cara Mendelsohn and Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Adam McGough why the report never even once mentions Hall’s whereabouts during the protests, the chief said that she “was everywhere.” Asked by Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Medrano to give herself a letter grade for her personal performance during the four days of protests covered by the report, Hall replied: “I would give myself a C-minus.”

Later, Hall defended her department more generally in the face of council member questioning: “We are not looking at the things we did right,” she said. “We’ve done what other cities across the country have done, and we’ve done it better.”

On the other hand, the report reveals that DPD was unprepared for the protests, that its internal communications were disastrous and that its chain of command is a failure.

The report notes that the Dallas Police Department collaborated with a total of 17 outside law enforcement agencies over the course of the four-day protest period in question — including entities ranging from Garland PD to the FBI.

But it also notes that, simply within its own department, DPD faced great difficulty in terms of communication and chain of command. Because “radio communication was difficult as officers talked over each other, commands and directions came from multiple sources, and requests for direction were either unheard or unintelligible,” most followed commands were given in person or over cell phone calls. This led to further confusion due to “ranking commanders [and their] desire to be in close contact to the operation to better ‘feel’ the pulse of the event.”

The report concedes there was confusion over who was in command of various operations. During the June 1 bridge incident in particular, officers described departmental communication as “extremely confusing,” “terrible” and eventually thrown “out the window.”

Despite noting how DPD has handled “a variety” of “large-scale” protest events in recent years, the report notes that the May 29 through June 1 protests were “unlike any protest ever seen by DPD.” It also says (despite referencing how the department watched what was taking place in other cities in order to better prepare what might happen in its own jurisdiction) that “the unanticipated presence of individuals inciting violence” contributed to the department’s overall unpreparedness.

In one particularly troubling passage, the report says many of its officers were “freelancing,” which the report then describes as “the spontaneous reaction to an observed need for action.” The report notes that such officer activity “made tracking police resources extremely difficult.”

In the report and in the special meeting alike, DPD keeps on acting shady about what actually happened on the bridge.

The report never uses the word “kettling” to describe its actions on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge on Monday, June 1.

Instead, it emphatically states that DPD’s goal was “to protect the individuals” protesting, that it acted out of safety for the cars on the bridge and, most of all, that its officers absolutely blocked off the bridge and warned protesters not to walk onto it.

This narrative has been actively disputed elsewhere, and council members poked that bear again on Tuesday. They pointed out video they’d seen that directly contradicts DPD’s emphatic position that it did all it could to stop protesters from walking onto the bridge.

Multiple council members also disputed the report’s claims that protesters provoked DPD’s firing of projectiles and teargas by first throwing water bottles at the police blocking their path.

The report even asserts that “members of the crowd refused to leave the freeway” after being kettled in — as if that were ever really an option. Later, the report suggests that the call to release arrested parties was made at 9:48 p.m., but makes no mention of when they were finally set free; in reality, many wouldn’t be let go until well after midnight. Furthermore, the report suggests that charges were eventually dropped against those arrested on the bridge because “executive commanders recognized the overall change in tone of the protests and the shift from violent to peaceful demonstrations” and “that the spirit of service to which the Dallas Police Department is committed would not be exemplified by moving forward with charges.”

When pressed on Tuesday, Hall and her staff were unable to share exactly how many officers were on the bridge during the mass arrest, a figure conspicuously absent from the report. Hall also conceded that protesters — she even described them as “not riotous” — did not have a permit to march on Riverfront Boulevard before proceeding onto the bridge, but that they’d received a “verbal” OK. Council member Adam Bazaldua questioned why blocking one roadway was legal and blocking another suddenly was not.

Multiple council members suggested DPD was lucky no one died during its operations on the bridge.

There actually are some new and interesting revelations to come out of the report and Tuesday’s meeting.

Let’s run some bullet points!

  • The report notes that the protests cost DPD “approximately $1.5 million, including $920,000 in salaries and overtime, $377,000 in goods, equipment and services, and $215,000 in vehicle usage and damage.”
  • It notes that the DPD Twitter account gained 3,000 followers over the four-day period.
  • It says that officers received food donations from Keller’s Burgers, Chick-Fil-A HEB, Tom Thumb grocery stores, Katy Trail Ice House, the Front Burner restaurant group, Whole Foods and Luna’s Tortilla Factory. Other DPD “friends” — including various religious organizations and the Dallas Mavericks — are also thanked for their support.
  • The report reveals that worn body camera footage exists from the officers who worked the protests, but that the cameras were faulty and tough to adhere to their riot gear. It makes no mention of any plans to release this footage.
  • The report’s minute-by-minute breakdown of activity includes clear mention about the use of teargas on the protesters arrested on the bridge on June 1. It is unclear when this timeline was produced, but this teargas deployment inclusion still raises more questions as to why Chief Hall was unaware of teargas use a full four days after that night, when she appeared before another special council session.
  • A July 15-dated memo to Chief Hall at the end of the report suggests that this final version of the report that she released on August 14 was initially submitted to her almost a full month before it came out. What’s up with that? And why, then, did the report still come four hours after the deadline?
  • Pointing to an email in the report that indicates Hall was directly alerted to the use of teargas on the bridge on July 7, council member David Blewett pressed the chief on Tuesday as to why she didn’t immediately make a point to correct her previous statements. Hall conceded that as a fair criticism: “You’re right. We could have had a press conference around that.”
  • The report notes officers receiving information on June 1 that led them to believe one of the protesters on the bridge that night was COVID-19 positive — a piece of news we’ve only seen reported by one outlet previously. This raises concerns as to why DPD didn’t make a concerted effort to share this information previously in the name of public health.
  • DPD estimates Downtown Dallas and the surrounding areas suffered $5 million in property damages as a result of the protests.
  • Asked during the Tuesday meeting to detail which commands she personally gave during the protests, Hall said “I trust my people” and that “99 percent” of weekend’s orders came from field commanders. Asked by McGough to detail the one percent of orders for which she was responsible, Hall replied (verbatim): “Uh, usually just, uh, gas was one of the things — not to use gas.” Her microphone then cut out. After solving the technical issue, Hall went on to describe her efforts throughout the weekend as more focused on strategic adjustments, command advice and overall direction.

In some ways, the report is less-general than its earlier draft. At the same time, it still includes clear inaccuracies and a jarring lack of detail. But that’s OK because Chief Hall says this is just a draft, too.

One element of the initial draft that’s missing from this latest version is a count of the number of officers deployed in the protest response and the number of hours they worked. It is unclear why this information was removed.

Interestingly, though, the new report does add previously undisclosed estimates for how many projectiles were deployed by DPD patrol units. The earlier draft only included SWAT’s projectile deployment figures.

But this SWAT narrative-heavy report is even lacking in details about that unit. At one point, it notes that “approximately” 30 SWAT officers were involved in the greater protest response. That’s a recurring theme throughout the report, which is severely lacking in names, figures and geographical markers. An entire hour-long May 31 evening standoff between protesters and projectile-deploying officers is mentioned with no clarification as to where or at what time this event took place.

For all the details it doesn’t include, the report seemingly goes out of its way to include some questionable notes. For instance, it shares that two gun stores were burglarized in parts of town far removed from the protest activity on Saturday night. It also makes curious mention of the 40-miles-per-hour posted speed limit for the on-ramp onto the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.

More unexplainable, the report only makes mention of two “serious” injuries suffered by civilians over the course of the weekend. A quick Google search — no cop-led investigation necessary — can provably show that there were more injuries sustained by civilians than that over the four days in question.

Perhaps most clearly damning, the report mentions a press conference hosted by Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson about the implementation of curfew zones on Sunday, May 31; in reality, there was no event of the sort. During Tuesday’s meeting, DPD staff apologized for including that incorrect statement in the report; other inaccuracies were not addressed.

Hall also cited during that meeting the approximately 50 complaints made against her department due to its protest response — again, why approximate? — as a main reason for so many details being absent the report. Per longstanding protocol, Hall said, DPD does not publicly comment on ongoing investigations. She then implied that the report will have more details added to it once those investigations are complete and after her department is “given more information” about the weekend.

No word on when those additions might arrive.

The Friday-released report, Hall said, is where DPD is “comfortable” with its information for the time being.

Some final, random notes of probably too-extreme niche interest.

Let’s run through some more bullet points again!

  • When he first appeared on screen during Tuesday’s video conference, council member Adam Bazaldua was wearing a rather conservative shirt-and-blazer combo. The second time he appeared on screen, he wore a T-shirt bearing the words “Enough Is Enough.”
  • At one point during Tuesday’s meeting, council member Cara Mendelsohn quoted the “You can’t handle the truth!” scene from A Few Good Men. She was trying to make a point about the half-truths included in the report. Still: She really did that!
  • Council member Omar Narvaez and Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Adam Medrano participated in the conference together from Medrano’s desk. Medrano said it was because Narvaez was having trouble with the technology at his own office.
  • The report mentions how media coverage shows protest organizers revealing on June 1 an intention to head onto the bridge before actually doing so — and I’m 99 percent sure that this is a reference to Central Track’s own coverage of the event. We’re honored! But if DPD continued watching that same clip, they’d also get a sense of just how little its officers actually did to prevent the marchers from heading onto the bridge. Cherry-picking details like that isn’t cool!
  • Just for the record, while covering the protests, I was teargassed multiple times and hit with a flash bang thrown by officers at City Hall Plaza on Saturday, May 30. I caught the whole thing on video. DPD is welcome to watch that footage, too!
  • This is perhaps supremely relatable, but beyond DPD missing the submission deadline for this report, it’s worth pointing out that the document Hall and her staff filed is rife with spelling errors and at least one section that just screeches to a halt mid-sentence out of nowhere. Seems like if people are calling for your head, you might want to be extra careful about avoiding such mistakes before publishing. Maybe ask a friend to proofread it? Or… y’know, whatever, who cares.

The full report.

 

Cover photo by Dylan Hollingsworth.

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