A Detroit police officer accused of shooting three photojournalists with rubber bullets amid protest-related violence in May faces charges of felony assault.
Detroit Police Corporal Daniel Debono, 32, faces multiple counts of felonious assault for allegedly firing non-lethal pellets at the journalists, inflicting bruises and other injuries, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said. If convicted, he could face up to four years in prison.
“The evidence shows that these three journalists were leaving the protest area and that there was almost no one else on the street where they were,” Worthy said. “There are simply no explicable reasons why the alleged actions of this officer were taken.”
Shortly after midnight on May 31 in downtown Detroit, MLive.com photojournalist Nicole Hester, 30, and two independent photojournalists, Seth Herald, 28, and Matthew Hatcher, 29, encountered Debono and two other officers, MLive previously reported. The report indicated the journalists were trying to return to their car after documenting protests.
Worthy said that each of the photojournalists was wearing press credentials, identified themselves as news media, and raised their hands as they asked to cross the street. Debono then allegedly fired at and struck all three.
Hester was struck in the face, neck, arms, and legs, according to The Detroit Free Press. Herald’s sustained an injury to his wrist, while Hatcher sustained bruises to face and rib injuries.
“We were just trying to leave the scene,” Hester said, MLive reported. “We weren’t doing anything. We weren’t charging at them.”
John Hiner, vice president of content for MLive Media Group, called the incident “outrageous” and called for a probe of the incident.
“Journalists have a right and an obligation to be on the scene of breaking news, without being targeted. These journalists had credentials, identified themselves and were not posing any threat. We are demanding a full investigation of this unprovoked attack, and assurances that journalists can do their jobs without threat or harassment,” he said, according to the report.
Detroit Police Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood said Monday in an email to The Associated Press that an investigation was immediately launched after the department learned about the incident, and Police Chief James Craig suspended the officer.
“It’s important that we do not paint an entire organization with a broad brush,” Kirkwood said. “The actions of this officer should not reflect the vast majority of the men and women who have been working and responded to the protest appropriately for the last (eight) weeks.”
Craig said Monday the incident prompted reviews and training sessions within the department, according to the Detroit Free Press. He added that, overall, members of the force responded “very appropriately” to the recent outbreak of protest-related violence.
“You’ve got to remember, we have a youthful workforce, and I don’t know of a time in the recent past that we’ve had to deal with violent protesters,” he said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “So, by and large, this department performed in a spectacular manner.”
Protests sparked by the May 25 police-custody death of George Floyd have engulfed parts of the nation, calling for law enforcement reform and drawing attention to the problem of police brutality. Some demonstrations have turned violent and became marred by bouts of looting, arson, and assault against officers. Others have been hijacked by “violent anti-government extremists of all persuasions,” according to Attorney General William Barr.
“Some pretend to profess a message of freedom and progress, but they are in fact forces of anarchy, destruction, and coercion,” Barr wrote in a recent memo establishing a task force to investigate and put a stop to what he characterized as “anti-government extremists engaged in indefensible acts of violence.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.