Pepper spray incident conspicuously absent from Denver Police’s footage of Freddie Gray protest

Stark contrast between what protestors saw and what police captured on official video

Written by Beryl Lipton
Edited by JPat Brown

In December 2014, a grand jury decided not to indict the police officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner, and protests erupted throughout the country. In Boston, the ruckus was captured by the Boston Police Department, and a year later, the BPD released their videos to MuckRock in response to a public records request. The materials were an interesting exhibit in the public record of what the police see when they see a protest.

We encouraged others to file their own requests for similar official footage in other cities.

In response, MuckRock user Christopher Thomas, of Unicorn Riot, an independent alternative news site, directed us to the events of April 29, 2015 in Denver. Freddie Gray had been arrested over two weeks before, on April 12, 2015, sustaining spinal injuries from which he died a week later. By the date of this particular Denver protest, Baltimore had been under riot-induced curfew for days.

The DPD’s footage from the April 29, 2015 solidarity march is a moving snapshot of an American moment, caught on film by the very people about whom the protesters are, well, protesting - evidence that they saw and heard you.

Unfortunately, it’s also an example of how the most official record in these situations can be woefully incomplete. Of the event, the major outrageous talking point was the pepper spraying of the crowd, including a 12-year-old whose experience of police use-of-force was captured on camera by one of the protest’s attendees.

But the DPD’s footage - which can be seen starting at the 1:22 mark in the YouTube clip - only captures 25 seconds of the moments before arrests began and the chemical agent was deployed.

In the clips shot before, most protesters can be seen proceeding peacefully, though a few are also clearly cursing and agitated. The DPD later pointed to the presence of first amendment-protected, albeit inflammatory, signs and the demeanor of some protesters as their justification for rightful use of pepper spray.

According to materials obtained by Unicorn Riot, the DPD response to complaints about their use of mace on children amounted to their own review of materials, including HALO surveillance footage not included in the release.

A separate request for those materials has been submitted.

There’s an obvious contrast between the footage caught by and of protesters at the scene of the protest - the police footage shows nothing of pepper spraying and begins again after the most combative moments have passed. The camera switches back on with the instructions that the scene be captured - referring to the tipped over police motorcycles and the detritus in the street - with no indication, or footage, of what actually caused it.

The DPD materials provide another indication of the importance of citizen camera footage in providing a fuller context to the official narrative.

Watch an edited cut of the footage embedded above or on YouTube, and check out the full publicly-released footage on the request page. Then let us know at info@muckrock.com if there’s other footage you’d like to see or submit a request yourself.