Walnut Creek city council to get report on police response to protests

The Walnut Creek City Council on Tuesday night will hear a report on how law enforcement responded to vandalism, looting and various protests in that city from May 30 through June 5 - a response that, especially during a June 1 protest that spilled onto Interstate Highway 680, included tear gas and an attack by a police dog.

At the council's June 9 meeting, Mayor Loella Haskew asked City Manager Dan Buckshi and Police Chief Tom Chaplin for reports on police response to both the Black Lives Matter protests and the June 2, 2019 death of Miles Hall near the Hall family's home in a quiet neighborhood south of downtown. The family told police Miles was having a mental health-related episode, but the 23-year-old Hall - who was wielding a steel rod he would not drop - was shot and killed by police.

The first peaceful protest in Walnut Creek occurred May 30. But the next night, an estimated 600 people vandalized and looted dozens of  businesses in the downtown area and beyond. All three of Broadway Plaza's anchor stores, Macys, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, all sustained significant damage and loss. One person was shot during the vandalism spree. Police officers pepper-sprayed looters, forcing some of them to leave the stolen merchandise behind.

That same night, Walnut Creek's city manager imposed a citywide curfew from 6 p.m. until 5 a.m. for the first two nights, and from 8 p.m. through 5 a.m. until it was rescinded on May 5.

The next afternoon, on Monday, June 1, several small Black Lives Matter protest marches took place downtown, and most remained peaceful. By about 4:30 p.m. that day, a group of about 3,000 protesters split into several groups, a city report says. One group, numbering up to 2,000, made its way to the Lawrence Way/North Main Street entrance to I-680, where at about 5:30 p.m. many protesters pushed past California Highway Patrol units. 

There were physical confrontations between protesters and CHP officers, and a post-review of the incident revealed several 911 callers from the freeway had reported the smashing out of windows and jumping on cars by protesters. One driver called 911 to say a protester spit in her husband's face after smashing out their car's back window.

The Central Contra Costa County SWAT Team arrived in an armored vehicle to respond to CHP officers' call for help. Protesters blocked the SWAT vehicle's path onto I-680, and one protester made a video of this scene. Some interpreted a SWAT officer's command as, "Move or you will be dead." This video, which went viral, brought national criticism of the police response. In another video filmed at that same time, the officer appears to be saying, "Move or you will be gassed."

A short time later, at 5:46 p.m. Monday, officers used tear gas, and one 40mm "sponge round," against protesters and gained access to the freeway to help the CHP officers. Protesters then vandalized police vehicles.

A protester picked up a tear gas canister and threw it back at police, striking an officer. That protester was shot in the thigh with a 40mm sponge round. A police dog eventually bit that protester, and the wounds required medical treatment.

The freeway was reopened by 6:24 p.m.

Overall, eight protesters were arrested June 1, at I-680 and downtown for curfew violations; two of them also were arrested on suspicion of assaulting a peace officer.

Walnut Creek police officers took a deliberately lower profile at other Black Lives Matter protest in the city over the rest of the week. Those events were mostly peaceful.

The council meeting, to be held online only during the COVID-19 pandemic, begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday.