KDPS reports outline details of violent rally

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek
A far-right group and counter-protesters clashed in Kalamazoo on Aug. 15, 2020.

A far-right group and counter-protesters clashed in Kalamazoo on Aug. 15, 2020.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Police reports are adding new details to the events surrounding the Proud Boys march earlier this month in Kalamazoo.

News 8 obtained the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety’s incident reports through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The reports detail KDPS’s response to the violence that broke out between the Proud Boys and a group of counter-protesters.

KDPS positioned an officer on the seventh floor of the high rise currently under construction at 180 East Water Street several hours before the Proud Boys arrived. An officer at that location says he estimated about 75-100 people milling about the site before the Proud Boys arrived.

The officer said he first noticed the Proud Boys as they “marched eastbound on Water St., towards Arcadia Creek Festival sight.” The report says the officer noticed the crowd gathered at the festival sight began to gather near the southern entrance.

The report continues noting both crowds were loudly chanting as the Proud Boys continued to walk east down Water Street. The officer noted “several members of the counter-protest would run threateningly towards the Proud Boys group in the street as if to incite a violent response before backing off.”

The report also said counter-protesters were yelling profanities, but their “behavior was more inciteful in nature” as he described protesters approaching Proud Boys. The officer said counter-protesters clapped their hands together, lunged toward them and produced “weapons such as sticks, bats, what appeared to be aluminum cans.”

The officer said he then lost sight of the crowd for about 10 seconds. He moved over a safety railing to get a look “straight down from above” where he then saw a fight had broke out.

The officer said during this fight, he saw people on both sides “throwing punches at each other” before seeing counter-protestors start throwing objects at the Proud Boys.

After the fight started, the officer says he noticed a man “running into Water Street with a large wooden object above his head.” The report says the officer watched this man swing the object and strike another man lying on the ground.

“(It was) clear that this weapon was created prior to the incident and brought along with (redacted) in preparation for violence,” the officer reported seeing from his vantage point.

The officer saw the man who was holding the wooden object a second time when the fighting started again near the Heritage Company on Edwards Street.

“(I saw him) attempting to charge into the fighting crowds but someone was holding (him) back,” the officer reported of the second incident he saw of the man.

The report says the person holding the man back was “clearly a member of the counter-protesters.” The man is then said to have ripped away and “ran up to a Proud Boys member who was facing away from him.

“(Redacted) then swung his wooden club with both hands and hit the victim in the back of the head,” the officer said. “(The) strike was done with such force that I heard the victim’s skully, despite the loud fights and protests occurring around us.”

The man was later spotted by officers in Arcadia Creek Festival site with blood dripping down his forehead.

“This injury was present well before officers contacted (him),” the officer reported.

This was later confirmed by the suspect who said he was attacked prior to picking up the wooden club. The suspect told officers he was walking from his home on Clinton Street to the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission for lunch when he tried “to cross the street to avoid the crowd,” but he got in the middle of it and someone or something struck him in the head.

The victim told officers once he got away, he picked up the club to “get his lick in” but he was adamant that he had just picked up the club and did not strike anyone. Officers took the man to the Kalamazoo County Jail on felonious assault charges.

The man’s name was redacted from the report because he was never charged. According to the report, the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor’s Office declined to press charges because they “need victim for assaultive crime.” Charges of inciting a riot were also declined due to lack of a report “indicating how this suspect urged others to commit violence or destruction of property.”

“Had his actions and the actions of a small number of ‘counter-protesters’ not occurred, this demonstration by both groups would not have ended in violence,” the officer on the high rise said.

Several different reports also outline how the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety’s Crowd Management Team (CMT) responded to the event. City Manager Jim Rtisema told city commissioners last week squads of officers were spread out around downtown in case violence or property destruction started.

Officers reported once they moved into the festival sight, they were able to successfully move out “several hundred persons.”

According to reports, the crowds moved from Water Street to Michigan Avenue. Officers say they gave 40 minutes of continuous commands, “announcing a police line had been established.”

“(The commands) were instructing people to leave the area or they would be arrested,” the report read.

Samuel Robinson, a reporter with MLive was live streaming the movement on Facebook as officers made announcement to disperse. According to the report, “continuous loud verbal commands” had been going on for more than a half hour.

The report says Robinson was in the middle of the roadway and “ignored” the verbal commands. It was then said the officer “gently grabbed (Robinson) by the backpack and pulled him towards the arrest team.”

The report says Robinson immediately shouted, “I’m being arrested!,” which was confirmed by the Facebook Live video. The report makes no mention of Robinson also shouting he was a reporter with MLive, which was said in the live video.

The officer wrote in the report that Robinson fell to the ground “on his own power.”

“Another officer and I maintained control of (Robinson) and gently lowered him to the ground to prevent him from injury or damaging the large camera around his neck,” the report went on to say.

The officer who initiated the arrest made note of what Robinson was wearing.

“Black t-shirt with an orange or red picture on the chest, dark gray pants, and sneakers,” the description said. “(He) was wearing a black backpack and had a large camera slung around his neck.”

The report does not mention the MLive logo on the backpack or the credentials around his neck.

A second officer involved in the arrest said Robinson “lost his footing” as he was being walked backwards. That officer says the CMT held him to “control his fall to the ground.”

Robinson was taken to the Kalamazoo County Jail on a charge of obstructing. He was later released from custody and charges were dropped.

Shortly after Robinson’s arrest, the reports say officers made an arrest of a man who refused to move from the intersection of Rose Street and East Michigan Avenue. Officers say a man ran up to police as they were “arresting an agitator” and punched a PSO. Another officer deployed pepper spray “to thwart the attack.” The man, later identified as Travis Anderson, left the area. Officers were able to take him in to custody a short time later and charged him with resisting and obstructing.

The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety came under fire for how they handled the Proud Boys march with some community activists.

“It should have been a flip for how you address Black Lives Matter protests versus a Proud Boys protest, whose mission is literally to spew hate and waste city resources, to push their racist and hateful agenda,” community activist Khadijah Brown said.

KDPS Chief Karianne Thomas alongside Mayor David Anderson and Ritsema held an almost two hour press conference answering community questions about the response.

The Kalamazoo City Commission formed a committee at their Aug. 17 meeting to set guidelines for how KDPS handles future protests. The City Commission meeting stretched over two days as the Commission fielded calls from dozens of residents.

Commissioners Chris Praedel and Eric Cunningham, Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin, and Ritsema were tasked with formulating a plan. A deadline of Friday was set to report back to commission with an initial plan that will be presented at the Sept. 8 city commission meeting.

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