KDPS reports break down timeline of vandalism downtown

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

The smashed out window of a downtown Kalamazoo business. (June 2, 2020)

KALAMAZOO (WOOD) — Newly released incident reports lay out the timeline of the night that vandals broke out windows in downtown Kalamazoo.

A series of nine reports obtained via the Freedom of Information Act gives insight into the police response beginning late June 1.

The evening began with a 6 p.m. prayer vigil on the steps of the Michigan Avenue Courthouse. Kalamazoo House of Prayer led community members in prayer and song before laying on the sidewalk in silence for eight minutes, representing the time Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George’s Floyd’s neck.

The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety said earlier in the day it would have an enhanced police presence around the courthouse. News 8 crews covering the vigil noted police sitting in the parking lot between the courthouse and First Baptist Church.

By the time the vigil wrapped up around 7:30 p.m., rumors were spreading about threats of destruction later that night. Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson, who participated in the vigil, was hopeful it would not happen:

“I’m going to believe that’s not going to happen in Kalamazoo. I don’t think that is Kalamazoo and I don’t think that’s going to get us anywhere, so I am hoping and trusting and praying for (people to) please support us to do the work we need to do and let’s start with something. Let’s not burn it down,” he told News 8 at the time.

After the vigil, several people lined Michigan Avenue near Rose Street holding signs to continue the protest. Cars honked in support as they drove by.

The protest continued late into the night. According to police reports, KDPS had undercover officers watching. Just after 11:30 p.m., officers made a traffic stop near the protests. Undercover officers alerted nearby officers that Daniel Williams was in the area filming the traffic stop on his phone. The report said Williams had been driving around the area for several hours by that point, blocking “the right of way traffic, burn(ing) through red lights, and (driving) at high rates of speed.”

When officers made a traffic stop on Michigan Avenue, Williams is said to have veered “quickly in front of them at an angle, blocking traffic, and blaring continually on the horn at the officer. Williams then parked his car directly in front of the traffic stop and exited the driver`s seat, moving quickly towards the officer who was busy conducting a traffic stop.” Uniformed officers spotted him about 15 feet from the stop with his phone in the air.

A uniformed officer said he walked up to Williams, who had outstanding warrants, and told him he was under arrest. According to the report, Williams tensed up and refused to follow police commands. Officers said they told Williams if he did not comply, he would be taken to the ground. At that point, the report says, Williams intentionally fell to the ground in “an attempt to escape.” After a short struggle, Williams was arrested, then became “dead weight” and refused to walk to the patrol car. Officers said in the report this put them in danger “as a large violent crowd was growing around us as this happened.”

Officers carried Williams to the cruiser and he began to “comply with officers and stood on his own two feet.”

In an interview with MLive, Assistant Chief Dave Boyson said Williams “had also been identified by officers ‘as one of the main instigators advocating (for) violent protests’ and had been posting on Facebook Live to get people to come downtown and join him.”

The police report makes no mention of Facebook Live or Williams instigating a riot. MLive reviewed Williams’ Facebook page and said “he is not heard once advocating for violent protests.”

As officers were arresting Williams, two males and a female “continued to advance towards arresting officers.” After “numerous loud verbal commands to ‘get back,'” officers sprayed “one burst” of pepper spray at the three people, who were 5 to 10 feet away. All three were exposed to the spray and eventually left.

Williams was charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest.

One officer wrote in his report that he noticed an influx of traffic in downtown around this same time. A group was gathering at the Shell gas station parking lot on the corner of Michigan and Westnedge avenues. The same officer said he believed Williams was resisting in an “effort to grow the crowd/incite a riot situation.”

According to one officer, it was after Williams’ arrest that “the city descended into chaos.

“Bottles were thrown at officers. Buildings were vandalized and looted and several fires were started,” the officer’s report continues.

Another officer wrote that the arrest was the “turning point where crowds began to riot.” The undercover officer wrote they estimated the crowd of “subjects participating” to be approximately 300 people.

At 11:40 p.m., an officer on a directed patrol downtown said he noticed three people walking near the U.S. District Court Building on Michigan Avenue at Park Street. One of them had a baseball bat in his hands and “looked as if he was going to damage property with it.” Another person was leaning over a post office drop box, shaking a can of spray paint. The officer tried to stop them, but they took office. He eventually caught up with two of them and they were arrested for rioting and resisting and obstructing.

It was later determined there was no damage to the U.S. District Court Building or the postal box.

At 12:38 a.m. June 2, an undercover officer saw a group breaking the glass of Rold Gold Coffee Supply on West Michigan Avenue. Officers quickly arrested two people after watching them pick up rocks, walk across Michigan Avenue and then throw them at First National Bank. The two then walked east on Michigan Avenue, continuing to throw rocks at windows. Uniformed officers caught up with the two as they were breaking out windows at Nord Jeweler further down Michigan Avenue. As officers arrested the pair, a crowd began to form and, according to the report, began throwing rocks and glass bottles. One large bottle hit the curb in front of the officers and sprayed one in the face, though the officer wasn’t hurt. One of the suspects also yelled, “Help us,” to the crowd twice. Officers noted the man they were arresting was “encouraging the crowd to overtake officers.”

Just after 1 a.m., a KDPS officer saw a woman damaging the windows of a Kalamazoo Township police cruiser. She was quickly taken in to custody and taken to the emergency room “for clearance” after complaining about not being able to breathe. The officer said it was “very likely due to the CS gas that was emanating all around the park she chose to place herself in.” The report notes the woman “voiced her displeasure with the arrest” and questioned why she was the only arrested even though “everyone is doing it.”

Several businesses were damaged during the early morning hours of June 2 and a curfew was placed in the city for later that day.

KDPS’s use of tear gas and force has come under fire, with the city of Kalamazoo in the process of appointing an independent investigator to look into what happened.

Chief Karianne Thomas told the City Commission her department is already reviewing the actions taken in the days leading up to and after June 1.

“We recognize there were areas that we could have done better, could have communicated better and we’re committed to that. We’re committed to trying to work forward as your public safety department and the things that we do here has a direct impact on everyone’s life and we need to make sure that we’re very thoughtful on what we do,” Thomas said at a June 15 City Commission meeting.

The incident reports released via the FOIA request do not detail the actions of the Crowd Management Team that was deployed that morning to clear the protesters from downtown and repeatedly used tear gas.

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