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A screenshot from a video showing an officer shooting Darrell Hampton, 27, in the face with a pepper ball. Hampton says there was no warning and he was standing peacefully on a sidewalk near the Colorado Capitol when he was hit. (Provided by Darrell Hampton)
A screenshot from a video showing an officer shooting Darrell Hampton, 27, in the face with a pepper ball. Hampton says there was no warning and he was standing peacefully on a sidewalk near the Colorado Capitol when he was hit. (Provided by Darrell Hampton)

A 27-year-old man is demanding accountability after he was shot in the face with a pepper ball by a Denver police officer last weekend while attending a protest in response to the death of George Floyd. 

“It was completely unprovoked,” said Darrell Hampton, of Littleton. 

He said it felt like being punched in the face when he was hit by the pepper ball. He was recording the officer who shot him, and his phone was shattered by the impact.

The incident, captured in a video that went viral online, is among several that have led to intense scrutiny toward the police response to nine straight days of demonstrations in Denver. Protesters are calling for an end to police brutality after Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, including one who kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. 

Darrell Hampton was filming when he was hit in the face by a pepper ball fired by police. (Provided by Darrell Hampton)

Late Friday, a federal judge issued a scathing order calling some of the police response to the Denver demonstrations “disgusting.” 

“The Denver Police Department has failed in its duty to police its own,” Judge R. Brooke Jackson wrote in his sweeping ruling, which temporarily prohibits officers from using tear gas, pepper spray and less-lethal munitions against peaceful protesters.

MORE: Federal judge orders police not to use chemical weapons, projectiles against peaceful Denver protesters

Jackson’s order came after four Denverites filed a lawsuit asking him to intervene in the use of force. The lawsuit included the incident involving Hampton as evidence of excessive force being used by officers, as well as a photograph taken by Colorado Sun editor Eric Lubbers showing an officer firing what appears to be pepper spray at a demonstrators without provocation.

Video shows Hampton was silently standing on a sidewalk near the Colorado Capitol on June 2, the third day of Denver’s demonstrations, when an officer riding on the side of a Denver police vehicle raised his weapon and fired a pepper ball directly at Hampton’s face. The screen fills with dust or smoke as the projectile makes impact. 

There was no warning captured in the recording before the round was shot. 

A secondary view of the incident captured in a bystander’s video shows Hampton recoiling after being hit. Several items were tossed in the direction of police officers, who were surrounded by demonstrators, in the moments before the pepper-ball round was fired.

A bystander’s video captured the moment Darrell Hampton was shot in the face by a pepper ball on June 2 near the Colorado Capitol. (Provided by Arash Jahanian)

Hampton said he felt a chemical burning sensation across his face and neck after being struck. “I was worried I wouldn’t be able to open my eye again,” he told The Colorado Sun on Saturday. “Nothing was really taking the pain away. I just had to wait for it to subside.” 

Hampton, who said he went to protest to have his voice heard and show support for the national movement, said other demonstrators rushed to his aid, dousing his face in a solution meant to counteract the effects of tear gas. He said his vision has returned after initially being blurry. He did not seek out medical attention.

“I still don’t know, to this day, why he took the shot,” he said. “It still doesn’t feel fair, to this day.”

Darrell Hampton after being doused in a solution to help counteract the affects of tear gas. (Provided by Darrell Hampton)

Hampton said the incident happened before Denver’s curfew and as he was standing on a sidewalk, which recordings of the shooting confirm.

Arash Jahanian, Hampton’s attorney, said he is intends to file a lawsuit against the city. “We do think the officer should be disciplined — should be fired, frankly,” Jahanian said. 

Officer Tyrone Campbell, a Denver police spokesman, said Saturday that the Denver Police Department is aware of the video and that the incident is under investigation by the agency’s internal affairs bureau, as well as the district attorney’s office and the city’s independent law enforcement monitor. 

Campbell said he didn’t know the status of the officer who fired the shot. 

Other videos have surfaced showing police using pepper balls against people without provocation, including one in which a man who was riding in a car with his pregnant wife was hit by numerous rounds after he exited the vehicle and demanded that officers stop pelting them. The man told local television stations that he wasn’t involved in the protests and was simply trying to deliver food.

YouTube video

Denver police filed an emergency motion late Friday asking Judge Jackson to modify his order banning police from using less-lethal force against peaceful protesters. They say that without the changes, “the safety of protestors and law enforcement officers may be significantly compromised.”

MORE: Read the Denver Police Department’s motion.

Police asked Jackson to allow force to be used against destructive or violent demonstrators after an order by an officer at the rank of lieutenant or above instead of an officer of the rank of captain or above as the order mandates. The department only has four captains, which would make quick decision making impossible, police say.

Police also asked Jackson to amend his order that all officers responding to the demonstrations be wearing body cameras and have them recording at all times. The Denver Police Department says that would force them to refuse the help of surrounding police agencies, which they need for crowd control and property protection.

Police also say the order would prompt body cameras to run out of batteries if they were constantly recording.

A Denver Police Department officer sprays pepper spray at a protester walking on Colfax Avenue near the state Capitol during the third day of protests against police brutality on May 30, 2020. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

“The requirement for all officers to have body worn cameras activated at all times is not a practically workable option,” police said in their emergency motion.

Demonstrations in Denver are expected to continue for a 10th straight day on Saturday. 

Hampton, who said he hasn’t returned to the protests since being shot in the face with a pepper ball, has tentative plans to attend a demonstration with his friends this weekend.

The Colorado Sun —

Desk: 720-432-2229

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage.

A Colorado College graduate, Jesse worked at The Denver Post from June 2014 until July 2018, when he joined The Sun. He was also an intern at The Gazette in Colorado Springs and The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, his hometown.

Jesse has won awards for long form feature writing, public service reporting, sustained coverage and deadline news reporting.

Email: Twitter: @jesseapaul