Oakland police launched hundreds of tear gas canisters, projectiles at protesters

Oakland police used 206 canisters of tear gas, 25 smoke grenades and 17 foam projectiles over a five-day period of civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, according to new court records.

The Oakland Police Department released the tally of weaponry used between May 29 and June 4 as part of a response to a recent lawsuit filed by activists seeking to ban officers from using tear gas and other projectiles in Oakland.

The police department’s policy limits when officers may deploy tear gas during protests, and civil rights attorneys have recently accused the department of violating its policy when it used the gas.

But in the response to the lawsuit filed in federal court on Thursday, the Oakland City Attorney described a chaotic clash that required officers to resort to more extreme measures.

“Approximately 200 businesses were looted and vandalized; 137 fires were set; there were five homicides and several shootings; two federal agents were shot, and one was killed; shots were fired at the (police administration building); and 30 first responders were injured, including 21 OPD officers and two City firefighters,” the city attorney’s office wrote, describing what officers faced.

Ninety-one of the tear gas cannisters were used on May 29 – the most turbulent night that also saw the killing of Federal Protective Services Officer David Underwood.

But the use of tear gas on another group of protesters three days later has raised questions about whether police violated their policy, which bans the use of chemical agents before other techniques are used first.

“We want to stop the militarization of the Oakland Police Department. It needs to be stopped all across the country but particularly we’re dealing with Oakland here,” said civil rights attorney Walter Riley, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit.

He added that “in these last few demonstrations they actually went out and caused the conflict.”

Police in riot gear deployed tear gas on a group of protesters one block from department headquarters on June 1. The group was an offshoot of an earlier protest organized by students at Oakland Technical High School.

The department said some in the group were throwing rocks and bottles at officers and preparing Molotov cocktails.

New body camera footage shows the police deploying smoke and gas on the crowd. On the video, the officer notes that police “took our first bottle” at 7:40 p.m. and that “officers on the line are masking up.”

Oakland police deploy tear gas after a youth-led rally for George Floyd. June 1, 2020 (Frank Sosa)

No other apparent threats can be seen before the tear gas was deployed.

Oakland police said they used 31 tear gas canisters, four smoke grenades and three foam projectiles that day.

“We want to take away the tear gas, we want to take away the use of flash bangs against people who are protesting,” Riley said.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and the US Marshals said they will stop providing mutual aid to Oakland if it bans tear gas.