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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
“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.