Philadelphia mayor, police commissioner apologize after tear gas used on protesters on I-676

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Friday, June 26, 2020
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Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and Mayor Jim Kenney publicly apologized for authorizing the use of tear gas and pepper spray on protesters that spilled onto Interstate 676.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and Mayor Jim Kenney publicly apologized Thursday for authorizing the use of tear gas and pepper spray on protesters that spilled onto Interstate 676 earlier this month.

Outlaw said she was compelled to issue an apology after a video about the June 1 incident was released on Thursday by the New York Times.

On Thursday, Outlaw also declared a moratorium on use of tear gas for crowd control.

"To that end, effective immediately, I'm declaring a categorical moratorium on the use of tear gas for the dispersal or control of crowds, which includes any persons who are peacefully assembling or passively resisting," she said.

Outlaw said "the only time" officers should consider deploying tear gas is when confronted with an armed and dangerous individual.

Kenney said he fully supports the moratorium and added that he was "disturbed" by the New York Times video.

"...and as we said last week we are retaining an independent consultant to conduct a comprehensive examination of the city's response, but I'm watching this Times report it was clear to me that we cannot wait for the results of these probes to take action. Members of the department made decisions on use of force that were completely unacceptable," he said.

Kenney said that he has never believed that tear gas was an effective tool, but that after police vehicle were set on fire and businesses were looted, he gave consent.

"And ever since seeing the video of the terrifying incident on I-676, I regretted my decision from the day before. I also regret my statements that followed, which attempted to justify the use of tear gas in that particular situation. I now know that my statements were based on inaccurate information being relayed from the scene. So, I recognize that I also need to apologize," he said.

In addition to apologies from Kenney and Outlaw, Deputy Commissioner of Special Operation Dennis Wilson came forward as the person who authorized the use of tear gas on the group protesters.

"I and I alone gave the approval to use CS gas," Wilson said. "I did this based on what I could see from my position, and also what I had been hearing on the radio."

Wilson said he did not call the commissioner before making the decision to deploy the gas.

"For that, for violating that the rules of engagement and commissioners trust, I'm going to take a voluntary demotion to my previous civil service rank which is chief inspector, and I believe that's going to happen immediately," Wilson said.

Outlaw also said an officer involved in this incident will be suspended for 30 days with intent to dismiss. That officer won't be named until formal notification is made.

The information was also sent to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.

Christina Sorenson was one of the people pepper sprayed at close range

"The reason I was out there was because of systemic violence and a lack of investment in communities to allow for true public safety," said Sorenson. "And nothing that they announced today, to me, showed that."

Earlier this month, Action News spoke with Katharine Miller, who was with Sorenson when the pepper spray was fired.

RELATED: Philadelphia protesters gassed, maced on I-676 taking legal action

"All of a sudden people started screaming and sprinting. There was clearly more gas behind us and there was just nowhere to go," she said.

All I could think was this person is going to get murdered. We've all seen this video. So I jumped down and knelt in front of him," Miller added.

"We're apologizing to protestors? Protestors?" said FOP Lodge 5 President John McNesby. "To the officers out there, the message is be careful. Call us if you need us. No one has your back."

Fired up, McNesby called Outlaw's apology a lack of leadership.

"What do you think about Wilson announcing his own demotion?" asked reporter Christie Ileto.

"That was absolutely not his call," said McNesby.

Attorney Kevin Mincey, who is representing some of the protesters says, "Bringing that one police officer out to accept the blame for the conduct of all the officers, it's just not enough for our clients and the folks who were with them on 676."

"The apology falls flat," said Elias Sell, who took one of the now-viral videos.

"The moratorium is a good start. Honestly a good start, but anyone who is demoted should instead just be fired. There should be no tolerance for violence towards a citizen. Their job is to serve and protect. If they're violent towards citizens, they can just go," he said.