PHOENIX (KPHO/KTVK) — A Phoenix man says he was pepper-sprayed, threatened with bean bag rounds and arrested for rioting downtown, but he says he was only walking home from a friend’s house to his apartment downtown.
Jonathan Hursh says he recorded cellphone footage of the encounter early Sunday morning near Central Avenue and Adams Street. By then, Phoenix Police had declared an unlawful assembly amid dangerous and destructive riots.
The video shows officers repeatedly telling Hursh to “move down the street” as far as he could because an unlawful assembly had been declared. Hursh appears to start walking away but is heard asking if he’s in “a public area” and demanding to “know the law” before an officer pepper-sprays him.
“It was clear that I wasn’t associated so I guess it didn’t cross my mind that they didn’t care,” says Hursh in an interview with Arizona’s Family. “I don’t understand Black Lives Matter necessarily, but some people don’t understand what it’s like to be a veteran with PTSD.”
Hursh says he is an Army combat veteran who served in Iraq. The video he provided Arizona’s Family shows an officer spraying pepper-spray a second time following by another officer who appeared to raise his weapon to fire bean bags.
“Pointing and threatening him with a shotgun. The person has no idea if that’s a bean bag or not ’til later,” says Phoenix City Councilman Carlos Garcia.
Garcia has pushed for a separate City of Phoenix department to review use-of-force cases.
“Someone that wasn’t part of the protest, to be treated that way, I’m embarrassed for our police department right now,” says Garcia.
Retired Phoenix Police Assistant Chief Kevin Robinson says the two-minute clip may not be telling the whole story. He notes that officers announced the unlawful assembly and asked Hursh to move away several times, but Hursh remained to “debate the issue.”
“Damage has been done, crimes have already been committed, you want to move people out of the area,” says Robinson.
Robinson says officers must take control of a situation.
“If you start to acquiesce a little bit, you sit there and want to talk about the issue? I mean, you knows (sic) what’s going to happen?” questions Robinson. “Is that group going to encroach upon you? Are you going to have a bigger problem?”
Hursh says he understands the police have a tough job, but he believes the situation could have been handled differently.
“I think we should err on the side of assuming most people are good and most people care about our country,” says Hursh.
Hursh was released from jail after a judge found no probable cause showing he participated in rioting. He has a hearing on the matter scheduled for later this month.
Phoenix Police said they are looking into the incident, but do not have any information to provide at this time.
Phoenix City Councilmember Sal Diccicio provided a statement to Arizona’s Family after viewing the video:
“It appears this video was taken after an unlawful assembly had been declared, and protesters including Mr. Hursh had been repeatedly and clearly ordered to leave the area. That said, any unnecessary use of force is something that will absolutely be reviewed by the Professional Standards Bureau and (Phoenix Police) Chief (Jeri) Williams and, if necessary, appropriate actions will be taken.
On balance, the men and women of the Phoenix Police Department have done an outstanding job – better than any other department in the country – at limiting damage and preventing injury to protesters and police alike. We need to commend our officers for that. There will be time for a full and complete review and accounting of events once this wave of unrest passes.
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