Connect with us

News

Huntsville police likely violated international use-of-force guidelines during protest, expert says

From the deployment of tear gas to the shooting of protesters with kinetic impact rounds — which include bean-bag rounds and rubber bullets — the three agencies that dispersed crowds in Huntsville a month ago appear to have violated guidelines.

Micah Danney

Published

on

Law enforcement officers advance toward protesters at a demonstration in Huntsville on June 3, 2020. (via David Capo)

The use of less-lethal weapons by law enforcement against protesters in Huntsville on June 3 went against international standards for the use of force in a crowd control scenario, according to a researcher who studies such incidents.

As associate director of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch, Mark Hiznay examines timelines of incidents where security forces use lethal and less-lethal force. The key moments he looks for on these timelines are the onset of violence and the first use of force by security personnel.

Sometimes those are the same point, and sometimes less-lethal weapons are used in ways different from what they were designed for, what training specifies or what international standards say are fair and humane. From the deployment of tear gas to the shooting of protesters with kinetic impact rounds — which include bean-bag rounds and rubber bullets — the three agencies that dispersed crowds in Huntsville a month ago appear to have violated guidelines.

“Using kinetic impact rounds as an area weapon to herd a crowd is abusive,” Hiznay said, adding that the weapons are meant to target individuals who pose an imminent threat of violence to law enforcement or members of the public.

He cited a set of protocols for less-lethal force adopted by the United Nations on Tuesday. The guidelines limit use of these weapons to situations where they are necessary for safety and proportional to potential threats.

“For example, force that is likely to result in moderate or severe injury — including when applied by less-lethal weapons — may not be used simply to obtain compliance with an order by a person who is only passively resisting,” the guidelines state.

ADVERTISEMENT

Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray oversaw the police response on June 3, including the coordination between his department, Madison County Sheriff’s deputies and State Troopers provided by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. At a press conference the next day, McMurray said that officers are trained to use the least amount of force to disperse an unlawful gathering, but when protesters didn’t disperse after the permit for the day’s rally expired, police “had to become proactive.”

“We kept asking them to leave,” McMurray said. “They brought this — this group brought this on themselves. They came here for the fight, not us.”

In his after-action report to the Huntsville City Council, McMurray said that nightfall was a concern of his because of the tendency of bad actors in “splinter” groups to turn violent, even after a day of peaceful assembly. He also noted the heat that his riot-gear-clad officers were operating in as they attempted to disperse the crowds, first with gray smoke and sound dispersal tools — and then with tear gas and kinetic impact rounds.

Hiznay said those circumstances are a recipe for abusive use of force.

Public Service Announcement

Using kinetic impact rounds as an area weapon to herd a crowd is abusive.”

“You get into these situations where the security forces are tired, hot — may or may not be being pelted by rocks and bricks — and panic to where the situation and the discipline breaks down, and you start thinking that these are the tools that you use to herd people or disperse people,” he said.

While Huntsville police and ALEA have denied using rubber bullets, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office has yet to publicly detail its deputies’ actions. Sheriff Kevin Turner has indicated that he will present an after-action report to the Madison County Commission in the near future, according to AL.com.

Multiple protesters have described being struck by projectiles without doing anything that could be interpreted as threatening. April Grubb was hit six times and left with bloody injuries, including a rubber round that embedded in her leg.

David Capo was facing the advancing police line and filming when he was struck in the chest by an unknown projectile that left a circular wound a half-inch across. By the time he got home that night, it had swollen to a welt four inches in diameter.

“It looked like I had a third pec[toral],” said Capo, 20, who works as a space camp counselor at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. He doesn’t have the money to see a doctor, he said, but he worries that one of his ribs might be cracked.

Such injuries are disturbing, Hiznay said, because the people who suffered them should not have been targeted and because those wounds can cause permanent damage. Of particular concern are cases in which people are hit from behind, which indicates that they were trying to leave and therefore were not posing a threat, and because they can result in nasty spinal cord injuries.

Hiznay avoids even using the term rubber bullets, given that various projectiles are commonly referred to as that, but the term doesn’t do justice to the severe bodily trauma they can inflict. The semantics lead to confusion in the public conversation about how they are used, he said.

There are no federal standards for use of kinetic impact rounds, so the U.N.’s guidelines are the closest thing to a defined set of standards. It states: “Kinetic impact projectiles should generally be used only in direct fire with the aim of striking the lower abdomen or legs of a violent individual and only with a view to addressing an imminent threat of injury to either a law enforcement official or a member of the public.”

Protesters stand outside the Madison County Courthouse on June 3, 2020. (via Sarah Myers)

The guidelines also address the problematic nature of distance between officers and a crowd. In his presentation to the city council, McMurray said that projectiles were fired to create distance in order to avoid violent physical confrontations with protesters. In his telling, this use of force was preferable to another.

According to U.N. standards, therein lies the potential for improper application of that force.

“The nature of law enforcement places special constraints on the extent to which force may be delivered remotely. Among other reasons, this is because distance is likely to reduce substantially the potential for assessing a situation that requires a law enforcement intervention,” the guidelines state.

They also call for accountability after the fact: “In the event of injury, a report should contain sufficient information to establish whether the use of force was necessary and proportionate, and should set out the details of the incident, including the circumstances; the characteristics of the victim; the measures taken to avoid the use of force and to de-escalate the situation; the type and manner of force employed, including specific weaponry; the reasons for the use of force, and its effectiveness; and the consequences. The report should conclude whether the use of force was lawful and, in any event, should identify any lessons learned from the incident.”

On June 4, McMurray told press that his department would stay the course if presented with another situation like the day before.

“If they try this again, we’ll be ready for them again,” he said. “We’re not going to put up with these organizers with the backpacks, the medical first aid kits, the weapons they bring to fight police officers, and to break and loot and trash cities like they’re doing all over this country.”

McMurray took a somewhat more conciliatory tone after his presentation two weeks later, telling the council that he was open to discussing ways to improve his department. But during the presentation, he stuck to the idea that medics among the protesters who had marked themselves with red tape were there to patch up violent demonstrators who could then rejoin a fight against police.

That also runs contrary to what the international guidelines say.

“Medical personnel, whether they are acting officially or as volunteers, should be provided with safe access to attend to any injured individuals,” the guidelines state.

As Huntsville continues to reckon with what happened on June 3 and make decisions about any procedural changes in light of those events, Hiznay said the city faces a question about less-lethal weaponry that many U.S. police departments are confronting.

Based on the evidence he has reviewed, security forces across the country are inclined to use last-resort methods as a first resort, he said. The core question is whether these weapons can be used in a way that complies with necessity and proportionality.

“And when you’re talking about what happened in the courthouse square there, the answer is becoming no — that they’re prone to abuse, and they’re causing debilitating permanent injury in situations where a non-violent crowd is trying to comply,” Hiznay said.

 

Micah Danney is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

Advertisement

Health

Vaccines should protect against mutated strains of coronavirus

Public health experts say it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public.

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

(STOCK PHOTO)

Multiple vaccines for COVID-19 are in clinical trials, and one has already applied for emergency use authorization, but how good will those vaccines be against a mutating coronavirus? A UAB doctor says they’ll do just fine. 

Dr. Rachael Lee, UAB’s hospital epidemiologist, told reporters earlier this week that there have been small genetic mutations in COVID-19. What researchers are seeing in the virus here is slightly different than what’s seen in the virus in China, she said. 

“But luckily the way that these vaccines have been created, specifically the mRNA vaccines, is an area that is the same for all of these viruses,” Lee said, referring to the new type of vaccine known as mRNA, which uses genetic material, rather than a weakened or inactive germ, to trigger an immune response. 

The U.S. Food And Drug Administration is to review the drug company Pfizer’s vaccine on Dec. 10. Pfizer’s vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, as is a vaccine produced by the drug maker Moderna, which is expected to also soon apply for emergency use approval. 

“I think that is incredibly good news, that even though we may see some slight mutations,  we should have a vaccine that should cover all of those different mutations,” Lee said. 

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found in a recent study, published in the journal Science, that COVID-19 has mutated in ways that make it spread much more easily, but the mutation may also make it more susceptible to vaccines. 

ADVERTISEMENT

In a separate study, researchers with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation found that while most vaccines were modeled after an earlier strain of COVID-19, they found no evidence that the vaccines wouldn’t provide the same immunity response for the new, more dominant strain. 

“This brings the world one step closer to a safe and effective vaccine to protect people and save lives,” said CSIRO chief executive Dr. Larry Marshall, according to Science Daily

While it may not be long before vaccines begin to be shipped to states, public health experts warn it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public. Scarce supplies at first will be allocated for those at greatest risk, including health care workers who are regularly exposed to coronavirus patients, and the elderly and ill. 

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, speaking to APR last week, urged the public to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing for many more months, as the department works to make the vaccines more widely available.

Public Service Announcement

“Just because the first shots are rolling out doesn’t mean it’s time to stop doing everything we’ve been trying to get people to do for months. It’s not going to be widely available for a little while,” Harris said.

Continue Reading

News

Tuberville looks forward to public service “probably for the rest of my life”

Tuberville’s term as senator will begin on Jan. 3 when the 117th Congress is sworn in.

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville during an interview with Sean Spicer on Newsmax.

U.S. Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, told Newsmax’s Sean Spicer that he looks forward to the opportunity to give back to this country.

“After winning this and after being up here a couple of weeks and seeing how much of a difference we have made just to this point in the Senate has been gratifying,” Tuberville said. “I look forward to doing public service probably for the rest of my life.”

Tuberville said that he was 18 years old when the Vietnam War was coming to a close and then got into coaching so never served in the military and looks forward to the opportunity to give back to the country.

“As I went around the state of Alabama for those two years though I learned the respect of the people and how much that they want this country to remain the United States of America that we know and grew up in to go by the Constitution and those things. As I went through the campaign I got more and more fond of that I want to give back,” Tuberville said.

“I never served, I never gave back, but God was so good to me and my wife my family,” Tuberville said. “Giving back means so much to me after I was given so much for many, many years.”

Tuberville said that education will be a priority for him, getting education back to fundamentals like reading, writing, history and math. Tuberville said that unless the country gets back to fundamentals in education, “This country is not going to make it. We have got to get back to fundamentals and we are getting farther and farther every day.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Tuberville was the only Republican on Nov. 3 to defeat an incumbent Senate Democrat when he unseated Sen. Doug Jones.

“I want to be the voice for the people of Alabama,” Tuberville explained. “The previous Senator was a voice for his party, the Democratic party.”

Tuberville, a career college football coach, reiterated his position that we should play sports and send kids back to school despite the coronavirus global pandemic.

“I think we are doing a lot better in sports than we are doing in a lot of other areas,” Tuberville said. “I was keeping my fingers crossed back in August that we would let our young kids go play high school sports, number one, and then we get into college sports. There are so many people throwing negatives on why we should not do that. But I can tell you, you can see many more positives if we go back to school and we play sports. It’s important that we attack this virus as it has been attacking us. If it gives us an inch, we gotta take it.”

Public Service Announcement

Tuberville reiterated his opposition to shutting down restaurants, schools and businesses to fight the virus.

“We have to get back to everyday life,” Tuberville said. “You can’t keep shutting people down. Freedom is a power that we have. A power that we have earned because of our forefathers. We can’t give that up.”

Tuberville is an Arkansas native. He was the head football coach at Auburn University where he won an SEC championship, Ole Miss, Texas Tech, and Cincinnati. Prior to that, he was a national championship defensive coordinator at the University of Miami. He was also the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M.

Tuberville’s term as senator will begin on Jan. 3 when the 117th Congress is sworn in.

Continue Reading

National

UAB cancels third game

The only remaining game on UAB’s schedule is a game at Rice on Dec. 12.

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

(STOCK PHOTO)

The UAB Department of Athletics on Thursday announced that it is canceling its final home game of the season. UAB was scheduled to play Southern Mississippi on Friday at Legion Field, but the game was canceled due to continuing problems with COVID-19.

UAB has said that it will “continue to work with Conference USA on the remaining regular-season schedule.”

The only remaining game on UAB’s schedule is a game at Rice on Dec. 12.

UAB currently has a record of just four wins and three losses.

A win at Rice would guarantee the Blazers a winning season, but in this COVID altered season, a four and three or four and four record is probably good enough to be bowl eligible.

Southern Miss has had a dreadful season. They are two and seven and have two remaining games, against UTEP and Florida Atlantic. Both of those games were postponed from earlier in the season.

ADVERTISEMENT

Unless the season is extended a week to the 19th, there is no way for UAB and Southern Miss to make up the canceled game.

Continue Reading

News

Official state Christmas tree was delivered

The approximately 35-foot tree will be displayed on the front steps of the state Capitol building.

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

The 2016 state Christmas tree in front of the state Capitol.

Alabama’s official Christmas Tree was delivered to the state Capitol this week.

This year’s tree was donated by Robbins Taylor Sr. It is an Eastern Red Cedar that was grown in Letohatchee, Alabama.

The approximately 35-foot tree will be displayed on the front steps of the state Capitol building.

The tree will be adorned with lights and decorations ahead of the Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Friday, Dec. 4. Gov. Ivey’s Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Capitol in Montgomery.

Alabama became the first state in the nation to make Christmas an official government holiday in 1836. Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the United States on June 26, 1870.

Continue Reading