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What You Need To Know About The Unreleased Dallas Police Report After Protests

margaret_hunt_hill.jpg
Hady Mawajdeh
/
KERA News
Police confronted kneeling protesters on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas on June 1.

Dallas police issued new restrictions on the use of "non-lethal" weapons like tear gas and pepper balls on Wednesday.

That policy on so-called "First Amendment activity" came just a few hours after the local website Central Track published a leaked internal police document that shines a light on the department’s violent clashes with protesters during May and June. 

The flashpoint moment happened June 1 on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge between downtown and West Dallas. Afterward, police faced a number of criticisms, including using smoke bombs and projectiles that were fired into crowds with children.

Activists and community members called for an investigation, which police have said is ongoing. But the document Central Track posted Wednesday indicates the department's review was completed more than a month ago, on June 12.

KERA’s Hady Mawajdeh talked to Central Track’s founder Pete Freedman to learn more about the document. Here's a lightly edited transcript:

Q and A

Hady Mawajdeh: How did Central Track get this document? And how did you go about proving its authenticity?

Pete Freedman: We first heard about the report about 10 days ago, and we were alerted by an independent Dallas journalist named Avi Adelman who had been in his words, leaked the document by a source. He added City Hall was aware of its existence and frustrated that no one else knew about it. Upon hearing that yeah, we were interested in learning more.

Avi passed the document along to me. I looked over at myself, scanned it for inconsistencies and eventually reached out to some contacts on Dallas City Council who were able to independently verify that the document I had received was the same one that they had been sent by the city manager on June 17.

HM: For people who haven't been paying attention, why is the release of this a big deal?

PF: I think the major things that we haven't yet gotten really a sufficient statement from DPD about the conflict of the first four days of protesting here in Dallas, Texas. In fact, we've gotten a number of promises from DPD that they would have a report coming. Those promises first started coming out at a marathon city council session on June 5. It's been, you know, over a month and a half since then....

So I think just the fact that it exists and council members and higher-ups, DPD had it in their possession and hadn't yet published it or released it, or even acknowledged its existence while the public was clamoring for it. And while many of them were publicly calling for transparency in DPD, I think it speaks to an inconsistency there.

HM: There seemed to be some inconsistencies from what the public has heard in what this document says happened over those four days. An example is Chief Renee Hall has stated several times that smoke bombs were used on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge on June 1, when 600 people were arrested, not tear gas. But that's not what the document says. Can you talk about that, and any other inconsistencies you saw?

PF: Use of tear gas on the bridge has been a point of contention since Monday, June 1. The protesters immediately claimed tear gas was used. DPD immediately claimed it hadn't been, and there's been a lot of back and forth about that in the press and in public.... That's just vital information that everyone's been focused on.

It's worth pointing out, though, that in their response to Central Track publishing this report, Chief Hall and City Manager T.C. Broadnax have both indicated that the report is only a draft. The reason that they hadn't put it out yet is because it was incomplete. So I guess it's possible that the official record might still change. Beyond that, there's mention of a road that doesn't exist, that it claims protesters were marching along on their way to the bridge.

There's also a pretty glaring note in which DPD officers say they were seeing a lot of plastic bags filled with water and baking soda, a combination that they say can explode. However, that is a solution commonly used as an anti-tear gas agent. Baking soda, as those of us who made volcanoes in middle school chemistry classes know, only explodes when combined with vinegar not water.

HM: Central Track is dedicated to covering Dallas. But your efforts have really shifted over the past 55 days-plus. You've unleashed your staff on these protests since they've started. I guess the big, and maybe the more important, question is why?

PF: I think this is a hugely important story. Our reader tends to be younger than most of the readers in Dallas. Our average reader is 27 years old. This is a story that is vital to that generation of Dallasites. Also, I'm not sure anyone else is providing the coverage that we're doing on this stuff.

I think there's a lot of value to, you know, your bird's-eye-view helicopter footage of protests for sure. But there's also a real huge amount of value in being on the ground, hearing what the protesters have to say, seeing first-hand what the police are doing in response to the protesters’ actions and sharing that perspective. I wish more did it. We feel really compelled to be out there every day or as often as we can, because there aren't enough people telling what we think is a hugely important story, not just in Dallas, but nationwide and even globally.