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Protesters clash with police in downtown Tucson

Multiple arrested
Posted at 6:30 PM, Feb 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-17 20:51:24-05

Protestors and police clashed in downtown Tucson Thursday night after dozens of people showed up to for a rally to support immigrants and undocumented immigrants.

This comes after nationwide protests over recent ICE actions and President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration.

According to the Tucson Police Department, three women and one man were arrested. 

The four arrested have been identified as 24-year-old David Leon, 68-year-old Joan Cichon, 42-year-old Tanya Alvarez-Blancarte and 39-year-old Najima Rainey. 

Leon, Cichon, and Alvarez-Blancarte were each charged with Aggravated Assault on a Peace Officer. 

Rainey was charged with Obstructing and Failure to Identify. 

TPD says three officers were assaulted and had minor injuries, but couldn't elaborate on those injuries. Sgt. Pete Dugan tells KGUN 9 that one of the officers was kicked in the face, the other was hit in the back, and he didn't know the specifics of the third officer involved. None of them were taken to the hospital, Dugan said.

The event was planned by the group L.U.P.E. who says it has had protests before in Tucson. Stteffanny Cott, an organizer with the group, says they have never had issues with police. She says the event was intended to be peaceful.

Cott says the group of about 150 originally met in front of the Federal building on Congress Street. Cott says they decided to start marching and that's when a Tucson Police Department vehicle pulled up and blocked them.

Cott claims that one officer was revving his engine, and nudged one of the demonstrators. Cott believes police provoked the protestors and they were met with "indifference."

"We've worked in the past with the Tucson Police Department, we don't really understand why today was any different," Cott said. "No one in their rightful mind would think this is a correct response to what was happening."

"We take the safety of our rallies and of our protests very seriously, and we stress the importance of it being safe," Cott said. "No one was in any type of danger or in jeopardy."

Sgt. Dugan says officers had been monitoring the protestors and had been in contact with organizers before the event. He says around 6 p.m. when protestors moved onto the street, officers wanted to move them onto the sidewalk for safety reasons.

At some point Dugan says someone in the crowd hit an officer in the back. As police attempted to take that person into custody, Dugan says a crowd started surrounding the officers. One of the officers deployed pepper spray, Dugan says, in order to disperse the crowd.

Once the suspect was taken into a vehicle, Dugan says the protestors began blocking the TPD car and locking arms around it. At that point Dugan says two people were taken into custody. 

"From what I understand is that it was very peaceful at the beginning, then you have individuals, you have one that assaults an officer, you have individuals blocking a police car and hindering our investigation," Dugan said. "At that point those people are no longer peacefully protesting they are actually committing criminal offenses."

"There have been a lot of protests here in Tucson and around the nation," Dugan said. "I'd like to think that most of them are very peaceful here. We like to let people exercise their First Amendment rights. The only time we get involved is if they start to block streets and that hasn't been arranged beforehand."

Dugan says the investigation is still ongoing, and he did not know if the officers involved were wearing body cameras.

Cott says there were children at the rally, and there were elderly people that were pepper sprayed. Sgt. Dugan said he did not have any information on the ages of the people involved. 

Tucson police released the following statement on Thursday's event:

Yesterday’s events on Congress St. by the Federal Building in the downtown area have generated a number of questions about not only that situation, but also about our department’s response in general to protests and other large scale gatherings. We appreciate that speeches, marches, demonstrations, rallies, and in some cases celebratory events, are protected First Amendment activities. We respect the right of the public to engage in this sort of expressive activity and routinely work with interest groups to protect the safety of the participants as well as the general public. As you know, this collaborative process has allowed us to assist dozens of groups in successfully and safely expressing their views. We remain committed to this cooperative approach since it has generally resulted in safe outcomes for our community. The ability to engage in expressive activity, however, is not without limits. It must be done in a manner that does not impact private property rights, result in the destruction of private or public property, endanger motorists, or involve violent acts. When those lines are crossed, we have an obligation to both the participants and the public at large to intercede and ensure public safety.

With that background, we’d like to explain what we have learned about yesterday’s event. At approximately 4:30 p.m., a large group of protesters assembled near the Federal Courthouse and were peacefully protesting on the sidewalk. A limited number of our officers were in the area to monitor the event. The group remained in this location for roughly an hour until approximately 75 protesters began to move east on Congress, leaving the sidewalk and moving onto the street. This created a traffic hazard and blocked eastbound traffic.

At that time, there was a high-volume of rush hour traffic in this area. In order to protect the safety of the protesters, as well as the motorists, officers moved in to direct the group to return to the sidewalk. A portion of the group immediately complied and moved to safety; another portion continued in the roadway. One individual protester then walked behind a bicycle officer and hit him in the back with his elbow. The officer attempted to take this individual into custody but was met with resistance. A large group of the demonstrators then surrounded the officer and attempted to interfere with this arrest. Our officers continued to communicate with the group and spoke directly with group leaders who also directed demonstrators back to the sidewalk. Although the leaders were successful in getting some of the group off the roadway, other demonstrators began to block the patrol vehicle from leaving the area by locking their arms together.

Due to the number of protesters surrounding the officers, additional officers were requested and over the next several minutes, they began to arrive. The officers continued their effort to direct demonstrators away from the patrol vehicle and eventually arrested those who refused to move away. Pepper spray was used as a means to address a small number of the demonstrators that either continued to push towards the officers or interfered with arrests. In total, four individuals were arrested—three for aggravated assault on police officers. Office of Professional Standards investigators were called to the scene to speak with any arrestees or demonstrators who wished to make a complaint about police actions. While three officers sustained minor injuries during this incident, none of them required medical treatment.

Please note that this is intended to be a brief update based on preliminary information. We will continue our investigation and welcome any information that helps us better understand what took place. The Tucson Police Department fully supports the free speech of all community members and groups. We ask that anyone participating in future speeches, marches, rallies, protests etcetera, to work with us and to conduct themselves in a peaceful manner to ensure these events and activities can be as safe as possible for everyone.