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Police chief says Friday night protest could have been worse, but 'turned out to be OK'

Police chief says Friday night protest could have been worse, but 'turned out to be OK'

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Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and Mayor Jean Stothert praised local law enforcement’s actions Friday evening, saying a peaceful rally that turned violent resulted in a relatively low number of documented injuries, arrests and incidents of vandalism.

Both also stressed that they want Omahans to express their rights to peacefully protest and don’t believe Friday’s or upcoming rallies will tarnish the positive relationships the police department has worked to garner with the community for years.

“Omaha has made tremendous strides. We have some good working relationships,” Schmaderer said in closing of a Saturday press conference. “I’m not deterred or disappointed at all that we take a moment and pause and feel and experience everything that happens because of what took place in Minneapolis.”

Schmaderer said he understands that some in the community are angry at police in general for the in-custody death that occurred in Minneapolis — George Floyd was held down by an officer even as he said he couldn’t breathe.

“We have to acknowledge the anger and we do. We have to acknowledge what our uniform represents at the moment to some people,” he said. “Your first amendment right and freedom of speech is encouraged, even if it’s directed at us.”

But he explained that a couple hours after the peaceful rally began Friday evening, it turned violent with people breaking the law. That is when officers needed to use tear gas and pepper balls to disperse the crowd from 72nd and Dodge Streets to keep them safe, he said.

Protest 2

Omaha police push a woman out of the street as she was protesting at 72nd and Dodge Streets. Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said he understands that some in the community are angry at police in general for the in-custody death of George Floyd that occurred in Minneapolis.

Twenty-one people at the protest were arrested on suspicion of various charges — gun possession, disorderly conduct, destruction of property or failing to disperse. Schmaderer said of the people arrested, 16 were white, three were black and two were Hispanic.

Twelve businesses in the area were damaged — either their windows were broken or there was graffiti. About 12 cruisers were damaged, including one that had “ISIS” carved into the back. Only one protester and two officers had documented injuries — they were treated by medics and released, not hospitalized.

“Things could have been worse but things turned out to be OK,” he said.

Schmaderer was at the command center nearby and was in constant communication with Mayor Jean Stothert, who he later told not to come to the area because the situation was devolving. He provided a rough timeline of how the night unfolded, according to police:

  • At 5:30 p.m., OPD established a command post to be there for security and to make sure protesters stayed peaceful.
  • At 6:30 p.m., about 600 people were standing at all four corners of 72nd and Dodge Streets.
  • At 7:25 p.m. 60-70 people entered the intersection, blocking traffic.
  • At 7:36 p.m. rocks, water bottles and other items were thrown at officers and a Nebraska State Trooper’s car was surrounded.
Protest 4

A couple hours after the peaceful rally began Friday evening, it turned violent with people breaking the law, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said. Twenty-one people at the protest were arrested on suspicion of various charges.

  • At 8:03 p.m., a help-an-officer call was initiated.
  • At 8:20 p.m., the rapid deployment force otherwise known as “riot police” attempted to disperse the crowd using tear gas and pepper balls that are meant to strike the ground and spread mace. Rubber bullets were not used Friday night, he said.
  • At 10 p.m., officers secured the Target store to prevent damage to the business.

Authorities deemed the area under control by 2 a.m.

“When safety is compromised and lawlessness starts, that is separate and distinct from the original matter that brought everybody there,” he said. “From my viewpoint of the scene … (officers) handled the events that were presented to us in the most professional manner we possibly could.”

There could be protests again tonight and Schmaderer acknowledged that there are some social media posts from residents who don’t plan to be peaceful. He welcomed people to express their opinion but stressed that authorities will intervene if it becomes lawless.

Stothert stood by Schmaderer, his officers, and the other law enforcement agencies that offered assistance, including the Nebraska State Patrol, Douglas and Sarpy County sheriff’s departments and La Vista Police Department.

“When it turned and became violent, the police were doing what they were supposed to do, which is to try to protect everyone there.”

Schmaderer said he wasn’t superstitious but hoped that Saturday’s weather could be on the side of law enforcement.

“If it rains, it rains,” he said. “Sure, I’ll take some rain tonight.”


Protest of George Floyd’s killing draws thousands in Omaha

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Alia Conley covers breaking news, crime, crime trends, the Omaha Police Department and initial court hearings. Follow her on Twitter @aliaconleyOWH. Phone: 402-444-1068.

Reporter - Courts

Todd Cooper covers courts, lawyers, trials, legal issues, the justice system and government wrongdoing for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @CooperonCourts. Phone: 402-444-1275.

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Omaha’s state of emergency will last 72 hours, and the curfew will go from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights. Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert could extend it with Omaha City Council approval. The curfew doesn’t apply to people going to and from work, medical personnel, the press, the homeless and some others.

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