Colorado Springs police will try to avoid using tear gas to control crowds in the future, Police Chief Luis Velez told the City Council this week in presenting a report on the police response to a Feb. 15 peace rally in the city.
However, the change in tactics is not an admission that using tear gas at the rally was in any way inappropriate, Velez insisted after delivering his report Monday.
"There's no concession to anything," Velez said.
The chief also announced that police would not drop charges against any of the 35 people arrested in connection with the rally, during which an estimated 3,000 people gathered from across Colorado at Palmer Park to protest against war with Iraq. Many of those arrested appeared in municipal court for arraignments Tuesday.
Monday's presentation was the outcome of meetings between Velez and members of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission, a local group that helped organize the Feb. 15 rally. The City Council requested the meetings after police were criticized for using tear gas at the rally.
Police contend the tear gas was necessary to clear a section of Academy Boulevard that was being blocked by approximately 150 protesters who refused to disperse. But the tear gas also affected many other demonstrators and bystanders, including children. Some complained that they had little opportunity to leave the area before the gas was deployed.
Tear gas is "indiscriminate," Velez conceded Monday. "There were other people who were peaceful demonstrators who also got a taste of that gas."
Among the "lessons learned" from the event is to use more "selective and discriminating technologies," such as stun guns, in the future, he said.
"We're going to identify individuals in the crowd and we're going to go after just them," Velez said.
Horses might also be used to control crowds, the chief said, although the police department eliminated its mounted unit two years ago as a cost-cutting measure. "If we'd had six horses out there, we could've moved that crowd rather easily," Velez said.
Still, he refused to second-guess the conduct of officers on the scene, and said tear gas is always a "viable alternative."
Nonetheless, the change in direction is tantamount to an admission on the part of police, said Bill Hochman, chairman of the Colorado Springs chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, who has asked Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace to launch an inquiry into police officers' conduct.
"If they agree to act differently, the inference can be drawn from that, that they didn't do the right thing," Hochman said.
The Dairy Queen Dozen
Jean Ferguson of the Justice and Peace Commission said she remained concerned that many who were affected by the police response at the rally would still not see justice from innocent bystanders who were gassed, to people who she claims were illegally arrested. Those people may be due reparations, she said.
"I do believe there will be a civil suit," Ferguson said.
Some people were arrested for "failing to disperse" even though they were trying to leave, Ferguson contends.
About 30 of those arrested were scheduled to appear for arraignment in municipal court Tuesday. However, charges against 12 defendants were dismissed because they were arrested outside city limits, meaning the City of Colorado Springs lacks jurisdiction to prosecute them.
Cary Lacklen, a Boulder attorney helping organize a defense team for those arrested, said the 12 had been arrested at a Dairy Queen restaurant located just outside city limits, near Peterson Air Force Base. A separate group of demonstrators were arrested at Peterson -- which is inside city limits -- in connection with a civil disobedience protest. However, of the "Dairy Queen Dozen," many were just having lunch when they were arrested "for wearing peace buttons or something," Lacklen claimed.
All of the remaining defendants, who face charges mainly for trespassing or failing to disperse, pleaded not guilty. A pretrial conference is set for April 14.
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