Charlotte police detail arsenal of ‘pain compliance,’ tear gas used during riots

Protest erupts after CMPD officer-involved fatal shooting

Several hundred people protested a CMPD officer-involved fatal shooting in the University Area that extended from Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning. A dozen police officers were injured in the clashes.
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Several hundred people protested a CMPD officer-involved fatal shooting in the University Area that extended from Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning. A dozen police officers were injured in the clashes.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police used a variety of less-than-lethal hand grenades, smoke bombs, “muzzle blasts” of noxious chemicals and tear gas canisters in an attempt to control crowds during two turbulent nights of protests after the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott last month.

In an affidavit filed as part of a lawsuit against CMPD by the protesters, Major Michael Campagna laid out the array of crowd-control techniques that CMPD used.

The most complete accounting so far of how CMPD attempted, and at times failed, to tamp down the unrest describes chaotic and fast-moving scenes in which officers were battling for hours with unruly groups and sustaining injuries from hurled bottles, rocks and wrenches.

The affidavit addresses one of the most persistent rumors: that CMPD fired a rubber bullet that killed protester Justin Carr in front of the Omni Hotel on Trade Street. Police have arrested and charged a civilian, Rayquan Borum, and prosecutors say he confessed to the killing. Few details have been released, and Borum is awaiting trial.

The events started Sept. 20, after CMPD officers serving a warrant on another man said they saw Scott with marijuana and a gun in a vehicle. Scott was shot and killed in an encounter with the officers. Soon, a crowd began to gather at the scene, an apartment complex in University City.

By 8:45 p.m., CMPD decided to close the scene because it wasn’t safe for crime scene technicians, according to the affidavit. By about 9:30 p.m., officers in riot gear started trying to push the crowd back from the area, near Bonnie Lane and Old Concord Road, so marked CMPD cars could leave. About 150 people were on the scene, yelling at officers.

At 9:39, a CATS bus was moved in to help the riot police leave. “There are now 20-30 CEU (riot) officers on scene, but that is not enough to maintain control of the whole area,” the affidavit says. The bus was soon surrounded.

At 10:30 p.m., a CMPD officer “threw a canister of what he mistakenly believed to be smoke into the crowd behind the bus.” It was a CS canister, more commonly known as tear gas. That was the first use of the gas, according to the affidavit. More gas was deployed in hand-thrown canisters, and police also “deployed a stinger grenade.” Such grenades explode with a loud and bright bang, and scatter 180 rubber pellets (.32 caliber), along with OC powder (similar to pepper spray).

Police said the barrage of rocks continued, injuring several officers. CMPD officers used “hand tossed gas canisters,” and “Grenadiers” threw “multiple munitions” to clear a path for officers to leave and regroup further down Old Concord Road.

At 11:25, with more rocks being thrown, officers fired “crushable foam nosed munitions” and “40mm muzzle blast CS powder munitions” at people in the crowd who were throwing rocks.

According to the affidavit, crushable foam-nosed munitions are rounds that dissipate energy on impact when the nose hits a target while releasing a “payload” of OC powder, similar to powdered pepper spray. They’re fired to incapacitate people from a distance, from a 40mm launcher. The “muzzle blast” munitions are also fired from a 40mm launcher. A “pain compliance round,” they fire a cone of powdered tear gas directly onto people in front of police lines.

When protesters blocked Interstate 85 and started looting trucks and setting fires hours later, police also turned to stinger grenades and hand-thrown smoke and gas canisters to disperse them.

The following night, Sept. 21, a large crowd of protesters gathered uptown. As they marched through the streets, the protest started to turn violent when it got to the EpiCentre. A group of protesters confronted CMPD officers in riot gear in front of the Omni Hotel just before 8:30 p.m.

That’s when a “fuse lit explosive device” was thrown at the CMPD line, exploding at officers’ feet. A CMPD captain asked for permission to use gas, but was denied “due to unrelated crowds in the area.”

At 8:31 p.m., Carr was shot. “The crowd is convinced that the police killed the victim with a rubber bullet. While untrue, this belief dramatically elevates the antagonistic posture of the crowd,” according to the affidavit.

Officers used hand-tossed tear gas canisters to push people east on Trade Street in front of the CMPD line. CMPD officers threw smoke grenades at a group of motorcycles and four-wheelers riding up and down Caldwell Street between 10:31 and 11 p.m. Officers used smoke instead of tear gas because the latter could be dangerous to motor vehicles, according to the affidavit.

That was the last use of hand-thrown munitions, Campagna said. But at about 11:37 p.m., a crowd began throwing things at officers from a hill near Caldwell Street and I-277. Officers fired “pepperball guns” at them, weapons similar to paintballs. Instead of paint, however, the plastic-coated balls contain pepper spray. They break on impact with a target, scattering the irritant on them.

“CMPD is currently conducting an administrative debriefing and review,” Campagna wrote, which “includes the use of less-lethal force.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo