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Chief Hall Reins in Cops' Indiscriminate Use of Tear Gas and 'Less Lethal' Weapons

Brandon Saenz lies on a sidewalk bleeding from his eye after a Dallas police officer shot him in the face with "less-than-lethal" ammunition.
Brandon Saenz lies on a sidewalk bleeding from his eye after a Dallas police officer shot him in the face with "less-than-lethal" ammunition.
Photo provided by attorney Daryl Washington

Dallas police will no longer be allowed to fire "less lethal" weapons into crowds nor use tear gas to herd peaceful protesters on city streets, police Chief U. Renee Hall announced Wednesday morning.

The chief issued a general order restricting the use of the weapons as anger continues to simmer here and nationwide over law enforcement's indiscriminate use of tear gas, balls filled with pepper spray and other "kinetic impact" rounds such as foam projectiles. The less-deadly but still dangerous weapons have been used widely against crowds protesting police brutality following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police May 25. The department was already under a temporary federal court order limiting the use of the weapons against peaceful demonstrators.

“SWAT must continue to have reasonable and necessary tools in its continuum of force options,” Hall said in a written statement, “but there will now be limits on their appropriate use. They can be used to control violence but not peaceful demonstrations.”

The chief or an officer she designates will have to give the OK before police deploy tear gas if protests become violent or break out in looting, as happened during early demonstrations in Dallas.

Kinetic impact rounds such as rubber bullets, bags filled with lead shot and 40mm foam rounds fired from special launchers are designed to inflict pain on their targets, but they can do much worse.

In Dallas, Brandon Saenz lost his left eye when he was struck by a foam projectile that shattered his bones, knocked out seven of his teeth and required doctors to place metal plates in his nose and face. Saenz says he was merely walking by a group of peaceful protesters outside City Hall when he was wounded. He has filed a lawsuit against the department.

Last week, the Washington Post reported that Saenz was one of eight people nationwide who were blinded in one of their eyes by police during demonstrations on May 30. In all, 12 people were partially blinded during a week of unrest following Floyd's death, the newspaper reported.

"Of the eight who lost sight that day, six were protesters, one was a photojournalist, and another was a passerby," the Post reported.

It also found that in some instances, police accounts of what happened during the blindings didn't square with videos of the attacks.

In Saenz's case, Dallas police have so far said little about what happened to Saenz and have not identified who fired the foam projectile that took his eye.

"While we are encouraged that the policy will eliminate many of the less-lethal weapons, there still remains an opportunity for the weapons to be used under certain circumstances," Saenz's attorney, Daryl K. Washington wrote in an email to the Observer. "We would like to see those weapons totally eliminated so that citizens feel safe to exercise their First Amendment right.

"We are still waiting for the officers who seriously injured Brandon Saenz and Vincent Doyle to come forward. A crime was committed and sadly the perpetrators remain free. There's no transparency without accountability."

Doyle, another of Washington's clients, lost much of the vision in his left eye when he was struck by a police projectile during a demonstration on May 31.

Dallas police stirred up anger among protesters and some City Council members when they fired tear gas canisters to herd protesters who marched onto the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge during a peaceful protest the night of June 1. Police were out in force, but they didn't stop the protesters from entering the bridge. Once there, the demonstrators faced smoke, tear gas and pepper balls fired by officers who trapped them on the bridge and arrested more than 600 people, ostensibly for obstructing traffic.

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None of them were charged with a crime.

It was initially unclear whether tear gas was used on the bridge, but a draft "preliminary after action report" obtained by the website Central Track revealed that SWAT officers fired two tear gas rounds at the bridge.

Hall's statement said she and her command staff are still reviewing videos and written reports collected from the events downtown May 29-June 1.

“There is an extraordinary amount of information that continues to flow into the department,” Hall said. “If you have photo or video evidence or other information we need to consider, please use the iWatch Dallas app or email pio@dpd.dallascityhall.com by July 31.

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