SAN JOSE, Calif. - Officials in San Jose held a news conference Thursday to discuss police tactics used during recent protests against police brutality.
Police admit they made mistakes, but they say when they felt San Jose was under attack, they had a choice to either retreat or to hold their ground.
In recent days, protestors dodged rubber bullets and tear gas. Some protesters across the country have been partially blinded after being hit with rubber bullets.
They also describe being violently arrested by police.
Vera Sloan had been at the scene as a legal observer.
"Somebody behind me yelled, 'Grab her and I was taken, grabbed from behind by two people and spun around and thrown to the ground. My knee split open," said Sloan.
But San Jose police said what happened downtown was a very clear response to violence against them.
"When my boots hit the ground at 7th and Santa Clara, I stepped into a war zone," says Capt. Jason Dwyer of SJPD.
They say it was unlike anything they had ever seen. Chief Eddie Garcia said officers only used non-lethal force in recent days
against "agitators" who have attempted to harm law enforcement during the otherwise peaceful protests. Officers were being pelted with rocks and frozen water bottles, while fires were being set, and windows broken by looters.
Police squad cars have also had their windows broken and defaced with words like "pigs."
"You ask how we can make the decision to use less than lethal force for crowd control purposes and my response to it is how could you not? If you're going to ask us to stay there, we have to be allowed to defend ourselves," says Dwyer.
Chief Garcia said while he supports the rights of peaceful protesters, this was different.
"Your officers stood there and absorbed the collective rage of generations," said Garcia.
San Jose police, as well as the independent police auditor have logged in excess of 400 complaints about police behavior.
In particular, the actions of Officer Jared Yuen, a six-year-veteran, has come under fire during recent days over what protestors say was antagonizing behavior; yelling expletives and rushing into the crowd.
Yuen was placed on administrative leave Friday pending an internal conduct investigation, according to Garcia.
"I don't need to have five minutes of that video to tell you that
it was unprofessional and that's not going to be tolerated," Garcia said.
There is currently a petition calling for his firing.
"An extremely high number of those compalints, about 85 to 90-percent thus far, were all concerning the actions of Officer Yuen," said Garcia.
City officials said they're committed to learning from these events, reviewing training and working tirelessly to improve. Garcia added that San Jose residents and protesters are encouraged
to send videos of potential officer misconduct for review.
Garcia said officers have detained and arrested dozens of
protesters, looters and people breaking curfew over the last week.
That includes at least two journalists who reported being detained
Sunday despite the curfew order exempting media members in addition to essential workers like law enforcement officers and firefighters.
Liccardo subsequently apologized to at least one of the
journalists and said in a Twitter post that he was troubled by the improper detention.
"And we are hearing very clearly the cries for reform throughout the country and yes in our own department," said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.
But those at the protests said they aren't interested in explanations that don't come with real change.
"Every time something goes wrong, the police chief and the mayor come forward to make excuses. They tell us that violence will not be tolerated. I'm sitting here with knees split open and that violence seems to be very tolerated," said Sloan.
The police chief said overall, he is enormously proud of the bravery shown by this department, tasked with what he calls an almost impossible mission. He said the protests have gotten progressively calmer each night.
Bay City News reporter Eli Walsh contributed to this report.