Federal judge ties Denver police’s hands with order limiting use of tear gas, non-lethal munitions

Dozens of cities across America have been rocked by anti-cop protests that have come in the wake of the death of an unarmed black man in the custody of Minneapolis police — and some of these demonstrations have been infiltrated by criminal opportunists and destructive rioters, as Attorney General Bill Barr said at a presser last Thursday.

But while the Trump administration has made clear that it stands for “law and order,” one federal judge just issued a ruling that makes it harder for law enforcement to rein in the bad actors. According to Breitbart, the Denver Police Department’s hands have been tied by a decision from U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson, who ruled that officers must severely limit their use of tear gas and other non-lethal munitions amid the widespread unrest.

Judge makes the call

In response to a lawsuit filed on Thursday by several protesters in Denver seeking what Breitbart described as “a temporary restraining order against police actions made with brute force,” Judge Jackson strictly limited the ability of Denver police to employ chemical agents like tear gas or use non-lethal munitions like beanbags and pepper balls for the purpose of crowd control or to prevent the destruction of property.

Essentially, the judge declared that the right to free speech is more important than protecting buildings and property from being destroyed.

“The threat to physical safety and free speech outweighs the threat to property,” Jackson, who was nominated by former President Barack Obama in 2010, wrote in an 11-page ruling issued late Friday night, according to a report from the Denver Post cited by Breitbart.

The Post noted that the group of protesters who filed the lawsuit alleged that Denver police had fired their weapons indiscriminately into the crowds of protesters and, in some cases, purposefully targeted the demonstrators’ heads and groins.

The judge was apparently convinced, and ordered the police department to refrain “from employing chemical weapons or projectiles of any kind against persons engaging in peaceful protests or demonstrations,” the Post reported.

Breaking it down

To be sure, the judge acknowledged that the use of such force would be necessary at times, but placed stringent limitations on how and when they could be used. Most notably, the Post said “a captain or higher-ranked officer must approve their use after that commander has [personally] witnessed specific acts of violence or property destruction that warrant that level of force.”

Other limitations included a complete prohibition against indiscriminate firing into crowds or the targeting of an individual’s head, neck, or back, the Post noted.

Furthermore, according to the Post, chemicals can now only be used after an order to disperse has been announced and ignored multiple times, and body cameras must be worn and operated at all times by all officers present. Any additional law enforcement from outside the city supporting Denver police are also required to abide by the same rules, the Post reported.

Looking ahead

For its part, the Denver Police Department issued a tweet shortly after the ruling was issued noting that the judge’s order will be complied with in the “meantime” as the department seeks further clarification.

The police also said that much of the judge’s order was already in line with the department’s current “community-consulted Use of Force Policy.”

At the end of the day, nobody wants to see peaceful protesters attacked indiscriminately by the police — but when bad apples are mixed in with the bunch, police officers have a duty to protect themselves and their communities. This order will only make that job more difficult.

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