Lincoln Police release protests and rioting findings, new video of gunfire

Published: Dec. 3, 2020 at 12:29 AM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The five-day stretch between May 29 and June 2 undoubtedly changed Lincoln and policing in the community. In the weeks and months since, Chief Jeff Bliemeister said they’re using what happened that weekend to improve training and improve relationships.

On Wednesday, the Lincoln Police Department released a detailed 35-page report about the five-day stretch, including timelines, data, images, and video.

The protests and riots came in response to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer just a few days prior. Violence erupted across the country, but Chief Bliemeister admits, that kind of escalation was a surprise in Lincoln.

“I think we still had this impression, a lot of our officers had the impression, that we were not going to be the target of acts of aggression,” he said.

In the early morning hours of Saturday, May 30, that changed. The escalation started with protestors blocking areas around 27th and O Streets. At 2:00 a.m., the crowd became aggressive and started to assault officers by the EZ Go nearby, according the report handed out by Lincoln Police.

Police say officers were assaulted while trying to protect the EZ Go near 25th & O Streets in...
Police say officers were assaulted while trying to protect the EZ Go near 25th & O Streets in the early morning hours of May 30.(KOLN)

The report lists cans, bottles, bricks, and rocks being hurled toward officers who were trying to protect the outside of the gas station. On the inside, nearly $71,000 in damage had already been done. Police said it was a peaceful protestor who put out a fire inside the station, otherwise things could’ve been worse. After hours of tension, things died down around 5:00 a.m.

“I believe it was the mob mentality that took over,” Bliemeister said. “A few isolated actors influenced many others.”

Rioters caused $71,000 in damage to the EZ Go near 25th & O Streets
Rioters caused $71,000 in damage to the EZ Go near 25th & O Streets(KOLN)

Later that evening, around 7:00 p.m., a group of 200-300 people started marching on main arterial streets, including O Street and 48th Street. They ended up back in the downtown area around 10:00 p.m., with a large gathering outside the Hall of Justice by 11:00 p.m. According to the report, six minutes after arriving at the Hall of Justice, bottles and other projectiles started being thrown at officers. Lincoln Police said some of those bottles were full of accelerants, and fireworks were launched in the direction of officers to ignite those bottles, which didn’t work.

On Wednesday, we learned shots were fired at the Hall of Justice building with dozens of officers standing below. Lincoln Police released video of a second floor window shattering because of a bullet, just feet from a female investigator who was inside taking pictures. Police are still trying to track down who fired the shots and where they came from.

One of the six confirmed rounds that hit the Hall of Justice on May 30 broke a window near an...
One of the six confirmed rounds that hit the Hall of Justice on May 30 broke a window near an investigator.(KOLN)

“Unified command and many of the officers present were not aware that occurred,” Bliemeister said. It wasn’t until days later that the department became fully aware of all of the shots fired.

“Certainly, the timely release of that information may have changed tactics from that night and in the days that followed.”

At least six bullet holes were identified. According to the police chief, rioters were using peaceful protesters as shields.

“Individuals intent on committing vandalism and violence, were purposefully in close proximity or behind people who were there to stop them from doing those things, or who were there to peacefully protest.”

According to Lincoln Police, nearly $3 million in damage was caused between May 29 and June 2.
According to Lincoln Police, nearly $3 million in damage was caused between May 29 and June 2.(LPD)

From late Saturday night into early Sunday morning, numerous acts of vandalism and arson were documented on Lincoln Mall and across the city. The Lincoln Police department, which has maintained that it has been grossly understaffed for years, said limited resources prevented quicker movement down Lincoln Mall to avert significant property damage.

On Sunday, May 31, Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird enacted a curfew from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., which said only people who had to leave their home for work, medical attention, travel, or to assist law enforcement were allowed to be out.

Starting around 6:00 p.m., protesters again took to the streets and main arterial roads, though many dispersed as curfew approached. Starting at 8:00 p.m., outside the Hall of Justice, Lincoln Police began to make periodic requests for people to leave and go home. At 8:46 p.m., the first crowd dispersal agents were deployed. At 9:00 p.m., officers began moving forward down Lincoln Mall.

Officers documented fireworks and bricks being thrown in their direction, along with sporadic paintballs and other projectiles. However, things started to calm by 11:00 p.m.

A curfew was in effect for Monday, June 1, as well. Again, according to the report, protesters gathered outside the State Capitol and Hall of Justice, but unlike previous nights, officers were not stationed outside. Instead, Lincoln Police said a plan was implemented to respond to any direct threats.

In the late evening hours, there were peaceful protests outside the Capitol and a small subset of protesters marching on O Street, but not near the violence as was seen on previous nights.

Just after midnight, on June 2, a group of about two dozen people entered the Target parking lot and tried to break in. The building was boarded up, but there was still about $50,000 in damage done. Several arrests were made in relation to those acts of vandalism.

Several people were arrested after causing about $50,000 in damage to the Target on North 48th...
Several people were arrested after causing about $50,000 in damage to the Target on North 48th Street in the early morning hours of June 2.(LPD)

Here’s the arrest data between May 29 and Present Day:

5/29 - 5/303032%
5/30 - 5/312465%
5/31 - 6/119355445%
6/1 - 6/221234436%
Later Arrests2121412%

According to police data, 105 or 87% of the arrestees, are from Lincoln. Five were from Omaha and all but one were from Nebraska. There were 178 charges filed among the 121 people arrested, a majority of those charges were for curfew violations. Other common charges included vandalism, failure to disperse, trespassing, possession of a controlled substance, arson, failure to comply, obstructing a police officer, and disturbing the peace.

Police expect more charges and arrests from the riots.

“There was remarkable restraint shown by LPD, resiliency shown,” Bliemeister said. “It really goes back to all of our staff focused on the fact we were going to afford an opportunity for individuals to protest police violence that had occurred across the country.”

Lincoln Police documented more than 300 uses of devices to control and/or disperse crowds:

OC (Pepper Spray)7
Hand OC (Pepper Spray)10
Hand CS (Tear Gas)79
Impact Munitions 196

Impact munitions are used “against direct, physical threats on officers. Some are impact only, and some also deliver OC or CS as an added payload.” According to the report, they’re either bean bag rounds or impact foam tips.

According to police, the training associated with these devices is designed to minimize major injuries. During the four nights of protests and rioting, there are documented cases of injuries from these munitions. They range from bruising in various parts of the body, to significant facial lacerations.

Lincoln Police are unable to directly attribute any significant injuries to the actions of any specific law enforcement agency or employee. The Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, the Nebraska State Patrol, and some National Guard members were also on scene over the same time period.

When it comes to officers, 25 members of the Lincoln Police Department reported injuries, the majority of which were from objects thrown or launched in their direction. The most significant was a knee injury resulting in hospitalization and a 6-9 month recovery period. That officer is still not back to duty, according to Chief Bliemeister.

Lincoln Police didn’t find that any law enforcement agency committed any unlawful actions, but there were disciplinary measures taken.

“There was a finding in our review in use of control. That employee was disciplined, educated, and for facts not associated with this, no longer works at the Lincoln Police Department.”

Since that five-day stretch, police have documented 35 other almost entirely peaceful protests across Lincoln, some with as many as 500 protesters. Lincoln Police have launched the Hold Cops Accountable initiative, in partnership with the Malone Center, and according to Chief Bliemeister, want more accountability and transparency.

All of the roughly 350 police officers in Lincoln will be outfitted with body cameras this January.

In the aftermath, though, Chief Bliemeister said officer applications are down and morale is lower than it was. That’s been steadied a bit by a lot of community support. Police have also launched an initiative to try to recruit more officers from diverse backgrounds.

“There is a definite need and there has been a need for the Lincoln Police Department and agencies to more thoroughly interact and get to know individuals in our community, in particular, communities of color.”

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