The Boston Police Department and the Suffolk district attorney’s office have opened investigations into police actions during protests earlier this year, following the publication Friday of body camera footage that shows officers shoving and pepper-spraying local demonstrators who gathered to decry the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, officials said.
The videos, posted online Friday by online news outlet The Appeal, show brief clips of uniformed officers spraying aerosols into the faces of protesters, using batons to knock people down, and threatening demonstrators in profane language.
In one clip, an officer excitedly tells a colleague that he hit several protesters with his police vehicle when it was surrounded near Boston Common. The officer’s colleague then cuts him off and warns him that the body camera is recording their conversation.
Warning: This video contains language some may find offensive.
Police Commissioner William G. Gross said in a statement Friday night that he had ordered the department’s Bureau of Professional Standards to “conduct a thorough and fair investigation into this matter, and the totality of circumstances involved” as soon as he learned of the videos.
“I have placed a Sergeant involved in this incident on administrative leave and I will take any additional action as necessary at the conclusion of the investigation,” Gross said. “I want to encourage people to bring these matters to our attention so that we can investigate them appropriately.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, in a statement Friday night, called the videos “difficult to watch.” Walsh said the clips raise questions that he expects the department’s Internal Affairs investigation to answer.
“We never want to see police officers using more force than necessary, even when tensions are high,” Walsh said. “These types of situations are also exactly why we are implementing body worn cameras for all police officers, and why we convened a police reform task force committed to bringing necessary reforms and accountability to the police department.”
Spokespersons for Walsh and the police department declined to comment further on Saturday. Representatives for the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association and the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins’ office is investigating the case according to a spokesman who said she “takes this very seriously.”
“Several of the videos present troubling scenes that merit further examination, which is what the office is doing,” said Matthew Brelis, the spokesman, in an e-mail on Friday.
The video clips are time-stamped to show they were recorded in the early morning hours of June 1. Demonstrators had held several peaceful rallies across the city the previous day, part of a nationwide outcry over systemic racism and law enforcement abuses prompted by Floyd’s death. After nightfall, the protest turned violent, however, as people skirmished with police and vandalized and stole things from businesses in Downtown Crossing and Back Bay
Boston police reported 54 arrests. Nine officers were injured and transported to the hospital, and 21 police cruisers sustained damage, the department said.
According to The Appeal, which describes itself as a nonpartisan public policy-focused news organization, the brief clips were taken from hours of footage provided by attorney Carl Williams, who represents several protesters arrested that night.
Williams said in an interview Saturday that the videos were provided to him by the Suffolk district attorney’s office as evidence in a case, and they showed actions he had seen firsthand as he observed the protests.
“There’s just some stunning behavior. … I’ve defended people who’ve been alleged to have done things like these, with less evidence than video,” he said.
Williams said Boston police should publicly release all body camera footage from that night, and the district attorney’s office should drop all remaining charges against protesters accused of crimes such as disorderly conduct or assault and battery on a police officer.
He said there is a grim irony in seeing police use violence against civilians protesting police brutality.
“This is what … people of color have been talking about on signs and placards in the streets, and it’s literally what they were protesting about,” he said. “People were protesting police racism, violence, brutality, and murder, and they begat police violence and racism.”
The Boston Police Department has denied Globe records requests for body camera footage of the protests, citing it as part of an ongoing investigation.
In one video, an officer speaking to a coworker wearing a body camera says that earlier in the night he was driving a vehicle surrounded by protesters at Tremont and Park streets.
“I had to [expletive] keep coming, [expletive] hitting people with the car. Did you hear me? I was like, ‘Get the [expletive],’ ” he says as they talk in Downtown Crossing.
Suddenly the officer wearing the camera turns around and walks away, then returns.
“This is on! This thing is—” he says of the camera.
The other officer says he knows the camera is on and insists, “I didn’t hit anybody! Like — just driving! It’s [expletive].”
Later, the officer wearing the camera exclaims, “This thing just [expletive] went on automatically!”
In another clip, two Boston officers can be seen conferring with a Northeastern University officer as protesters walk back and forth in front of them, and a man’s voice can be heard saying, “Start spraying the [expletives].”
In another scene, officers spray a mist toward groups of people on Washington Street downtown, with the colorful lights of the Paramount Theatre marquee flashing in the background.
Later, farther down Washington Street outside the Marshalls store, an officer wearing the body camera shakes an aerosol can in front of the lens and says to another officer, “You need to start spraying more! Are you out? Are you out? I got a little left. I want to hit this [expletive]. … I want to hit this kid.”
He points to someone in front of the department store.
In one 16-second clip, a uniformed officer walks up to a officer wearing the body camera and hands him a striped necktie still in its packaging.
“There you go,” he says to the officer, who checks the price tag on the tie and says it sells for $50.
Gross, who became commissioner in 2018, said in the wake of the protests that most demonstrators were peaceful, but their actions were undermined by a few agitators.
“Unfortunately, individuals showed up not with a peaceful intent on mind, but with being disruptive,” he said. “And again, we applaud everyone who protested peacefully. But unfortunately others came hellbent on destroying our city, our great city, our destination city.”
Gross also commended his officers and said “no one is going to take over our city and burn it to the ground.’”
Late Friday night, Attorney General Maura Healey also weighed in on the video clips, calling the footage “disturbing and inexcusable” and demanding an investigation.