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5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Investigates: Broken Promises – A Family Still Waits for Answers After Son Sprayed by Police

February 23, 2017 08:16 PM

The image of a crying 10-year-old boy chemically sprayed by Minneapolis police during a protest demonstration in May, 2015 went viral -- milk pouring from his swollen eyes to ease the pain -- and city leaders promised they’d conduct a thorough investigation on police use of force.

Today, the boy’s family still waits for answers.

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"It was devastating. I fell to the ground and I couldn't even pick him up, I was screaming bloody murder," said Susan Montgomery as she recalled when her son, Taye, was sprayed by police with chemical agents during a march through downtown Minneapolis.

The next day, Police Chief Janee Harteau and Mayor Betsy Hodges held a news conference promising that a full investigation by the city’s Office of Police Conduct Review, a civilian-police panel, would investigate whether police use of force was justified.

"We must get a full set of the facts," Harteau said. Minutes earlier, she shared that she had called Montgomery with reassurances a full accounting would take place.

And Hodges asked for anyone who had additional information or who experienced the confrontation with police to step forward.

"Almost two years later – no resolution, no accountably, no responsibility, no apologies … nothing," a disillusioned Montgomery told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Investigative Reporter Eric Chaloux.

Chaloux pressed the Office of Police Conduct Review to find out what the panel found. Last month, he was told that the case was already closed with no discipline to any officer involved in the incident. Montgomery says that no one from the review panel ever contacted her.

Chemical Irritant Can Defective

On Tuesday night, after several weeks of making requests for public information about the demonstration, the police turned over a 27-page supplemental report that detailed the events surrounding the protest and fears police had that a hostile crowd would become even more aggressive than blocking traffic and standing on cars.

Inside the report was a detail not made public until now: that a police lieutenant who sprayed the chemical agent near where Taye was standing wrote that his spray can was defective.

“The thumb trigger stuck open and I released the remainder of the can at the street," the lieutenant stated.

In addition, the report states another officer who sprayed chemical irritants earlier in the protests had a similar problem.

The lieutenant wrote that a man approached him, saying, “ ‘I'm gonna kick your a**.’ He was working himself up and I could tell he was trying to muster the courage to attack me." 

He added that he told the man to get back.

"I knew that taking action was going to end up as a media frenzy, and I  hesitated as long as I possibly could and longer than I safely should have,” the officer stated. “When the group got to within approximately 3 feet away ... I sprayed a large can of chemical aerosol at the group." 

The officer went on: “Numerous times this group engaged motorists, jumping on cars and trying to pull open doors. Officers pushed back the crowds to get motorist out of harm’s way. Chemical aerosol was used to drive back hostile crowds."

Cell phone video shows a Minneapolis officer spraying chemical agents at protesters within an arm’s distance. Taye and his mother say they were in an area behind the man who was close to the officer as seen in cell phone video from that night.

Chaloux followed up, and in a statement police wrote, “We can tell you the defective irritant was immediately identified at the 1st Precinct and subsequently sent back to the manufacturer. Two ‘lots’ were identified as having equipment with defective trigger mechanisms.”

The Protest

"I hold still to my beliefs that you have to fight for them,” Montgomery said. “I don't regret going (to the demonstration) because I think it was important."

Montgomery brought her son to an to an early-evening protest at a downtown Minneapolis government plaza to raise awareness for Tony Robinson, a teenager shot by police in Wisconsin. Similar protests were held that night in other cities across the country.

The protest started at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, and then went into the streets. Photographs from that night show some in the crowd surrounding motorists and a few burned American flags.

In published reports, a police union official later said an investigation would show the officers acted reasonably, adding there was a lot of criminal activity that shouldn't be overlooked, and asking why the mother brought a 10-year-old to a protest.

Montgomery said she and her son were just marching and not involved in any wrongdoing.

"The stuff that went through my mind was like, I'm never going to see again,” Taye recalled from the incident. “I'm like blind, I can't see, I can't see.”

Sources at City Hall say none of the protesters were charged with any crimes that night.

The Investigation

Harteau announced the day after the incident that the Minneapolis Office of Police Conduct Review would lead the investigation. On the OPCR website, the panel is defined as “a neutral agency that investigates allegations of police misconduct.”

The family showed 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS a stack of transcripts from their interviews with Minneapolis Police Internal Affairs investigators. There is no indication that anyone from the civilian panel was involved in the investigation.

Taye told investigators that he "saw one ... but other people said they saw two officer’s spray into crowd.”

He picked out that one cop from an array of photos shown to him. Also in the transcripts, Montgomery told police she felt the officer just sprayed at the whole group, saying the officer “should've been mindful of the fact that there was children and innocent per se peaceful protesters. We weren't all on cars."

She questioned police in the interview room about how the irritant was used. In the transcripts, the police sergeant said, "It's different for every situation."

Chaloux requested that the department provide reports showing the panel was actually acting in tandem with police, but was told by a department spokesperson that he would have to go through the police records department to get that information.

A police spokesperson denied Chaloux’s requests to interview Harteau about the matter, instead offering the head of Internal Affairs, who is also part of the civilian-police review process, to talk about use-of-force reviews.

"I think the one thing that's important for people to realize is that we do have a very exhaustive system that we use for reviewing use-of-force incidents, whether it's a complaint or whether it's an internal review -- it's a good system and it works" said Commander Jason Case. He was not willing to talk specifically about the police actions that night.

Family Still Left in Dark

Police and a spokesperson for the civilian review panel said state law prohibits them from commenting on what the investigation determined and why it was closed with no discipline.

Montgomery said she doesn’t see the police changing their attitudes when they fail to be transparent with her. “I just don’t see it,” she said.

Last night, the department denied another request for an interview with Harteau about the matter and how use-of-force cases are investigated.

Chaloux asked the mayor's office weeks ago whether she had been briefed or had a comment on the investigation. The mayor did not respond.

To see Chaloux's full interview with MPD Commander Jason Case, click here

Credits

Eric Chaloux

Copyright 2017 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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