ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester City Councilmember Mary Lupien (D, East District) and Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart (D, 21) announced on Monday that they are asking the Department of Justice for a civil rights investigation into how law enforcement has responded to protests over Daniel Prude. They have sent a letter to Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Dreiband, who leads the Civil Rights Division.

“We’re calling into an investigation into this response. There have been tanks, dogs, pepper balls, pepper spray, tear gas and really a disproportionate response to peaceful protests,” Lupien said. “Our people are not the enemy and we are not at war.”

“We saw the other night on September 12,” Barhnart said. “We pulled video of law enforcement officers in an armored vehicle pointing a weapon at citizens. We’re seeing video of officers throwing tear gar at reporters. There needs to be a thorough investigation into what’s going on here. Who is policing the police? Who is calling these orders? We have absolutely no idea and we’re elected officials.”

Both Lupien and Barnhart said they were both struck by pepper balls while attending the protests. “We were standing with protesters, we were standing with elders and police looked right at us and opened fired at us,” Barnhart said.

“Dozens of protesters have been injured, some with severe eye injuries and broken bones. Legislator Barnhart was hit in the head with a pepper ball on September 5, leading to a concussion. Councilmember Lupien was struck in the back with a pepper ball on September 2,” a press release reads.

“We are turning people who are middle of the road and putting them into polarized camps either for or against and that is not healthy for our community,” Lupien said.

Lupien also called for an investigation into how protests are deemed unlawful. Lupien said at the point of dispersal is when violence occurs. “We really need to do an investigation into who made the call.”

“The best outcome frankly is if police continue to handle protests they way they did from September 6 to September 11,” Barnhart said. “Those nights were peaceful they were restrained and I would like to see that continue.”

In a statement, the Rochester City Council said they are encouraging anyone who wishes to share experiences at the protests to sign up for Wednesday’s Community Listening Session at 5 p.m. The event will be held on Zoom and streamed live on Facebook and Youtube.

More | Daniel Prude timeline: From March encounter with police to current protests in Rochester

The letter to Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Dreiband asks for examination into the following:

  • What law enforcement agencies participated in the protest response in Rochester in September?
  • Who was supervising the response on each night of the protests and directing an escalated response?
  • What weapons and chemicals were used on citizens? 
  • Were these weapons and chemicals used appropriately?
  • Did law enforcement violate the civil rights of protesters?

Last week, Rochester City Council held a public briefing with Mayor Warren, Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary, and a number RPD command staff members. In that briefing, councilmembers questioned the RPD officials on the response to the protests which included the use of police dogs, deploying pepper-balls and the act of officers covering their names and badge numbers.

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