Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council holds final listening session

Thursday was the third and final scheduled listening session for the council.

Posted: Sep 17, 2020 11:28 PM

For the third and potentially final time, the Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council (HPCAC) met to hear from the public Thursday night.

The meeting is part of the group's work to create a report on the protests held on June 1 and June 3 that resulted in Huntsville Police using tear gas and rubber bullets.

Members of the Citizens Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform gave a presentation on Thursday, September 17, regarding the protests held in Huntsville on June 1 and June 3. Members of the Citizens Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform gave a presentation on Thursday, September 17, regarding the protests held in Huntsville on June 1 and June 3.

Thursday's meeting was distinct from the other two because it was designed for organizations to come and give 15-minute presentations on those protests. 

Most who spoke on Thursday said the police did a poor job responding to the protests.

"It was very poorly managed and this led to confusion, panic and lasting psychological trauma and definitely physical injury," said Jordan Steelman, a member of Essential Nonviolent Uprising Force (ENUF) Organization.

During his time, Steelman talked about what he described as Huntsville Police's show of force, use of force and misuse of force. ENUF compiled a series of photographs and videos from the June 1 and June 3 protests that showed what they described as an escalation on the part of law enforcement between the two days.

Several of the images on one slide of Steelman's presentation showed images of what he said were injuries sustained by the rubber bullets used on June 3. He said this is part of a patter of "blatant disregard for protester safety" shown on that day.

The Citizens Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform gave a presentation that went through the results of a 96-hour survey they took shortly after the protests took place. 

Angela Curry and Claudia Mesnil went through the responses from things like how police allowed for evacuation once they started using tear gas on June 3.

According to their data, 83.5 percent of people who responded said "Police were present on all sides of the protest area like in a 'fish bowl.'" 85.2 percent said that "Police were not directing traffic to get protest attendees out of the area in a safe and efficient manner."

"71 percent of respondents said police did not allow medics to help those who were hurt," added Mesnil during the presentation.

Latoya Piper represented her company, Lions Pride Securities, which offers security services around the Huntsville area. She said they were present during the June 3 protests in order to help protesters and watch for outside agitators. 

She said based on what she and her team saw that day, training isn't the issue with Huntsville Police.

"It was a really unfortunate situation and it was completely mishandled. I don't think that a retrain is in order. I think that a different leadership is in order," Piper said.

Two of the speakers who came out on Thursday were there to speak in support of Huntsville Police. Mark Prill, the president of the Green Mountain Civic League, argued that the actions of protesters appeared to justify the police response.

"Under those circumstances, we must defer to the police judgment for the appropriate response to safeguard the greater community and cannot find fault for incidence in the moment that we saw under these circumstances," Prill said.

Following the listening session, council member David Little said their next step is reviewing police materials, which include about 400 hours of body camera and drone footage.

"We will find a time to meet with them, review additional footage that they have, review the intelligence that they have that they've discussed. So we have quite a workload ahead of us," Little said.

He told WAAY 31 that there isn't a defined deadline for when the HPCAC report will be complete. HPCAC attorney Jack Sharman said they are still deciding whether the underlying material that the council is using in their investigation will be made publicly available while they work or if they will wait until once the report is published.

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