By Joe Johnson
Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Cleveland Spruill early Monday morning ordered his officers to fire tear gas cannisters into an alleged group of outside violent extremists who were gathering to do damage downtown, which hours earlier had been the scene of people peacefully protesting the police killing of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, according to a four-page memorandum Spruill sent Tuesday to Assistant County Manager Deborah Lonon.
The memo read as follows:
“While our stated goal was to facilitate a peaceful protest, ACCPD realized the need to be prepared to respond to destructive and violent protests should they occur. This need for preparation was based on recent events across the nation involving peaceful protests that turned destructive and violent, and based upon potential for participants from outside the ACC area to attend and engage in destructive behaviors and violence. Our preparation included coordination efforts with UGA police and seeking the assistance and resources of other state and local law enforcement agencies.
After describing the placement of barriers and redirection of traffic downtown to protect government buildings while allowing protesters to safely assemble and march, Spruill describes the unfolding of subsequent events:
“Protesters began arriving around 5 p.m., grew to an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 participants” and peacefully marched between the Arch at the East Broad Street main entrance to the University of Georgia, City Hall and the Athens-Clarke County Courthouse, Spruill said in the memo.
The protest remained peaceful early on, except for when a man in the crowd waived a silver lighter that was shaped like a gun, causing protesters to run out of fear. The police chief said that officers quickly took the man into custody, and that the man was released without being charged.
“More troubling was arrival of a group of individuals who self-identified as members of the Boogaloo extremist organization. This group has as one of its state(d) goals, the desire to instigate race wars across America,” Spruill said. “To learn more about this group, please visit their website at https://www.adl.org/blog/the- boogaloo-extremists-new-slang-term-for-a-coming-civil-war .
“A number of these group members were armed with rifles and handguns and when questioned, indicated they were exercising their right to open carry. This was troubling because the organization is known for their involvement in destructive and violent behavior at other protests across More troubling was the arrival of a group of individuals who self-identified as members of the Boogaloo extremist organization. This group has as one of its state goals, the desire to instigate race wars across America. To learn more about this group, please visit their website at https://www.adl.org/blog/the- boogaloo-extremists-new-slang-term-for-a-coming-civil-war . A number of these group members were armed with rifles and handguns and when questioned, indicated they were exercising their right to open carry. This was troubling because the organization is known for their involvement in destructive and violent behavior at other protests across America. It was also troubling because, although they did not state their intent, there was potential for these armed counter-protesters to conflict with, or commit acts of violence against the peaceful protestors, reminiscent of the Charlottesville, Virginia protests. However, with no legal authority to stop them, they were allowed (to) continue into the crowd of protestors and (were) monitored throughout the event. Upon their arrival a number of the peaceful protestors began to leave.
“Throughout the evening the protestors continued to dissipate and by 8:00 pm, only one group of approximately 150 to 200 participants remained. Officers noticed that most of the remaining group members did not appear to be from ACC and were primarily made up of many of the Boogaloo members. Throughout the evening, officers also observed signs that these individuals were planning to engage in destruction and violence, likely targeted against government buildings and infrastructure and against law enforcement officers defending them. These signs included instruments consistent with those utilized in riotous behavior. Some of these included:
• Long weapons – Rifles and shotguns
• Sidearms – variety of hand guns
• Leaf Blowers – Used to compel smoke and gas used by law enforcement to disperse unlawful crowds
• Gallons of milk – Used to wash the face and reduce the effectiveness of gas
• People wearing gas masks
• People carrying heavy backpacks – potentially filled with instruments of destruction, likely bricks.”
The police chief’s memo continued: “At one point the group, which was assembled at the UGA Arch on Broad Street, moved into the street, sat down and blocked Broad Street traffic in both directions. ACCPD chose to overlook this unlawful behavior at this time to avoid instigating conflict. Instead, traffic was rerouted to streets around them.
“Based on our observations and intelligence gathered that destructive and violent behaviors by the remaining group was imminent, I made a request for a Declaration of a Local State of Emergency with a Downtown curfew between 9:00 pm on May 31 and 5:00 am on June 1. You approved this request and signed the Emergency Declaration shortly before 9:00 pm.
“Between 9:00 pm and 1130 pm officers cleared all other Downtown areas in accordance with the curfew, with the exception of the group on Broad Street. After other areas were cleared, at 11:54 pm, ACCPD began making notifications to the Broad Street crowd that they were unlawfully assembled and would need to immediately disperse and leave the area or face arrest. The specific message, which was delivered between six and fifteen different times was as follows:
“This is the Athens-Clarke County Police Department. You are currently in violation of Georgia Law (O.C.G.A. 16-11-33) prohibiting unlawful assembly. You are hereby being lawfully commanded to immediately withdraw from your unlawful assembly and disperse. If you do not withdraw and disperse you may arrest and criminally charged. There is potential that force may be used against you during arrest. Withdraw and disperse now.”
Continuing in the memo, Spruill said, “After delivering this message multiple times and receiving no response, I made the decision to utilize gas as a final attempt to get the crowd to disburse without having to use higher levels of force. It should be noted that gas is the industry standard and preferred method of disbursing crowds because its effect is temporary and goes away within a short period of time with no lasting injury. This is as opposed to the use of rubber bullets, batons, bean bag rounds or conducted energy devices (Tasers), which are much more likely to cause lasting injury.
“At 12:06 am gas was deployed by the ACCPD Special Response Team (SRT) and members of the crowd were again given the opportunity to voluntarily leave. At this point a number of the people left the area. However instead of leaving, some of the group members began picking up the gas canisters, throwing them back at the officers and using leaf blowers to blow the gas away from the crowd. A few sat on the ground as a final act of defiance. After a wait period at 12:10 am, SRT and supporting units moved forward and the remaining people at the scene were arrested with minimal force. No other force options were necessary or were used. As the SRT team moved in, several individuals were observed fleeing into a building that was under construction. Officers were able to locate these individuals hiding in the building and they were also arrested. A total of 19 arrests were made in the Downtown area. Six of the arrested individuals had addresses outside the ACC area. During our search of the area after the area was cleared, stacks of bricks were located inside tents that we believe the group was planning to use to throw at officers or use to damage buildings. It should be noted that ACCPD and Central Service had taken precautions before the start of the event to clear the area of all trash cans bricks, bottles and other items that could be used as projectiles. The bricks that we located after the incident were likely what was being carried in inside the backpacks that we noticed the group members carrying.
“It should also be noted that ACCPD had intelligence that there may be a coordinated effort to burglarize gun stores while officers were tied up addressing the civil disturbance Downtown. Shortly before 1:00 am on June 1, officers responded to a report of looters at the Academy Sports Store on Atlanta Highway and disrupted a burglary in progress. 13 individuals who had broken into the store were arrested for burglary and damage to property. In all, 32 arrest were made to include the 19 Downtown and 13 at Academy Sports.”
At about 1:30 a.m., Classic City News observed another possible attempt to steal firearms from Georgia Dawg Pawn & Jewelry, where windows had been smashed but no entry was made due to security bars.
A little bit down the road, a group of men armed with rifles appeared to be guarding the Clyde Armory gun shop.
The Athens-Clarke curfew ended at 5 a.m. Tuesday.