Ministry complains to police
Orlando's investigation of the use of Mace after the Florida Classic could take 3 to 6 months.
April Hunt and Willoughby Mariano |Sentinel Staff Writers
November 20, 2007
A representative for a black evangelical church filed a formal complaint with Orlando police Monday, accusing an officer of roughing up church members after the Florida Classic football game.
Members of J.U.M.P. Ministries International were evangelizing in downtown Orlando early Sunday after the game between historically black Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M universities when officers pushed two church members and sprayed the group with Mace, they said.
Police said they used the spray to keep a crowd of 10,000 from getting dangerous.
The Police Department's internal-affairs division is investigating the case, and it may take three to six months to complete the probe.
Church member Celine Cannon, a Winter Park attorney, met with Orlando police investigators Monday and handed over unedited video footage in addition to filing the complaint. She said her group was not blocking traffic or causing trouble and clearly identified themselves as members of a church.
The evangelical group regularly preaches to revelers at Black College Reunion and spring break in Daytona Beach. They videotape their efforts to air on television.
Durone Hepburn, bishop of J.U.M.P. Ministries, said he worries that police showed no regard for the fact his church members were trying to preach to the crowd. He thinks that the officer's response was, in part, racially motivated. Police have said race had nothing to do with it.
Members of the church group are consulting with the Central Florida ACLU and the Orange County NAACP.
A police report released Monday shows four officers sprayed thousands of revelers just after the bars closed early Sunday to break up what they called a hostile crowd.
About 2:15 a.m., fights broke out around Orange Avenue and Central Boulevard, the report states. At the same time, an officer heard gunshots in the parking garage on West Central Boulevard.
One officer had begun to arrest a suspect near the parking garage when "thousands of people began to encircle" the officer, the report states.
That officer and four others then sprayed Mace toward the crowd to disperse it.
"The chemical agent had the desired affect [sic] which created a mild irritant to those present and safely cleared the streets preventing injuries to the officers and the public," the report states.
Cannon, who saw the incident, said an officer shoved two members and sprayed Mace, making people gag. There was no brawl near where church members were filming, she said. Cannon said the officer sprayed without warning, but other church members said he asked them to leave and then sprayed.
The spray is considered a use of force by the department and is allowed in certain situations, said Sgt. Barbara Jones, an Orlando police spokeswoman.
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Ministry outraged after members say Orlando cop sprayed them with Mace
April Hunt, Susan Jacobson and Willoughby Mariano |Sentinel Staff Writers
6:08 PM EST, November 19, 2007
A representative for members of an evangelical church who claim that an Orlando police officer abused them during a post-Florida Classic celebration Sunday filed a formal complaint with police Monday.
The woman from J. U. M. P. ministries also met with Internal Affairs investigators on accusations that an officer sprayed her group with Mace and pushed two of her group during the downtown celebration and sprayed them group with Mace. She provided an unedited copy of the video as well. Her name was not immediately available.
A newly released police report shows that four officers did spray "thousands" of revelers just after the bars closed, to break up a ["]hostile["] crowd. Internal Affairs investigators have up to 180 days to make a determination if the use of force was justified.
"They have got to be thorough and determine whether the spray was deployed properly," said Police Sgt. Barb Jones.
Churchmembers said they were videotaping a wrap-up of the night's events between 2:30 and 3 a.m. when an officer approached them.
That is when the officer shoved two members and and sprayed the Mace, causing people's eyes and noses to burn and making them gag, said Celine Cannon, a lawyer and a church member who was there.
"This is outrageous," said Cannon, who promised to file a complaint against the officer.
A police report shows that two officers were working crowd control from about 10:30 p.m. to closing time at 2 a.m. around downtown clubs.
At about 2:15 a.m., the report notes that several fights broke out around Orange Avenue and Central Boulevard. At the same time, an officer heard gunshots in the parking garage on West Central Boulevard.
One officer had begun to arrest a suspect near the parking garage when, "thousands of people began to encircle" the officer, the report states.
That officer and four others then sprayed Mace toward the crowd, to disperse it.
"The chemical agent had the desired affect (sic) which created a mild irritant to those present and safely cleared the streets preventing injuries to the officers and the public," the report states.
The spray is considered a use of force by the department and allowed in certain situations, Jones said.
"It is a tool that, if I witness a fight or am outnumbered, if people resist, I can use," Jones said. "Unfortunately, if it gets into the air, it spreads."
Some members of her group think the incident was racially motivated. Many black people were downtown after the football game between Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman, two historically black universities.
Orlando police Lt. Rich Ring denied that race played any part in the actions.
"We're going to use the same techniques on you whether you're polka-dotted, black, white, Hispanic or a mix of black and white," Ring said. "We have to maintain civil order."
Witnesses had conflicting stories about the number of officers present and exactly what happened. Cannon said the officer sprayed without warning, but others said he asked them to leave and then sprayed.
Darrell Walker, 29, said he and the member with the video camera chased an officer to ask on tape why they were sprayed, but the officer would not answer.
"It was crowd control," Walker said. "But when we turned to them and told them we were with the church, they shouldn't have done that."
Jones said investigators will review the video and wait to see if a formal complaint is submitted.
"If somebody did something wrong, they will address it," Jones said.
Ring said about 75 officers were policing a crowd of 10,000 downtown and used accepted procedure to avoid injury to officers and civilians. He said there were some arrests, but none related to this incident.
"If this one blast of a gas has got them upset, I'm sorry," Ring said. "But I'm proud of what my guys did last night."
The Rev. Randolph Bracy, president of the Orange County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the church contacted his group and he is looking into its claims.
Sarah Langbein of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.