Cleveland police chief: 23 arrests so far during RNC, open-carry not really an issue

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CLEVELAND - The first two days of the Republican National Convention saw only five arrests in the city of Cleveland.

That changed on Wednesday, day three, after 17 people were arrested and two officers were assaulted at a march and flag burning protest.

Of those arrested, 2 people were charged with felonies for assaulting the officers. Neither sustained any serious injuries.

The other 15 people were charged with misdemeanors.

On Thursday morning, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Police Chief Calvin Williams gave the first of their two daily updates on safety in Cleveland.

Talking about the orders to disperse the crowd during the flag burning on Wednesday, Chief Williams said that warnings to leave were given over loudspeakers, on the ground and also by him to several protesters. The orders were given three times.

The decision to disperse the crowd was given because of "violence being perpetrated," according to the Chief.

The initial protester who had wanted to burn a flag decided not to. It was after that the second group of protesters arrived and began their burning.

No one was arrested immediately after the flag was burned. There was a police lieutenant on scene  who was trying to put out the fire on the flag and on one of the protesters. The Chief recounted that the officer kept telling the protester that he was on fire and he was trying to help. Some thought he was using pepper spray but instead, he was using a fire extinguisher.

"But then the crowd was pulling him off and basically struck the Lieutenant and that's when  our officers intervened and said 'wait a minute,' and the crowd basically got  pushed into a corner," said Williams.

That's when the threat to safety became imminent and they were asked to leave and they wouldn't.

As for the issue of Ohio's open-carry law, the chief said that it really hadn't been an issue at all. "Nobody’s been arrested or has challenged the things we asked them to do," he said.

Asked to comment on how he thought things had gone this week, Chief Williams said that there is still one day left to go, and while there were no expectation set as to how many might be arrested, "For me, one arrest is too many. Right now I’m kind of disappointed to be honest. "

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Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:04 am

Chief Williams: last night there were lots of people enjoying the town, walking around…lots of folks taking in Cleveland.

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:04 am

Chief Williams: It’s going to be hot, so the fountain on the square is going to be turned on early. We have water available for the public as well.

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:05 am

Chief Williams: We may even place a water buggy on the square, so please take advantage of that. 

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:05 am

Chief Williams: We’d like the public to still, if they see something, say something. BE SAFE.

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:08 am

Ed Eckart – please remember to drink water, eat salty snacks so you don’t get dehydrated.

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:08 am

Ed Eckart : there are 4 water spigots for general public to get water, in addition to the 4 buggies out at various locations. 

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:10 am

Chief Williams: You have seen some of the methods that we’ve employed to keep people safe and to keep disparate groups separate. We will continue that. It’s working.

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:11 am

Chief Williams: We have double the number of officers than protesters usually. When things happen we all try and crowd in, that creates a lot of chaos. And that’s why we tell people to back up.

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:11 am

Chief Williams: Plus it’s hot out there….if you crowd in, you can’t see. We won’t tell you to leave unless it’s for your own safety.

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:12 am

Chief Williams: 18 arrests from yesterday, plus the other 5. So 23 total.

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:12 am

Chief Williams: Warnings were given by loudspeaker and by the commander on the ground as well as myself that they should leave, or they would be arrested. It was given three times. 

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:13 am

Chief Williams: There was violence being perpetrated. We had to tell people to leave. The arrests didn’t come right after the flag was burned, it was when they wouldn’t leave. 

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:14 am

Mayor Jackson: In unlawful assembly, you give warning three times. But if there is imminent danger, you need to act right away. Even so, the chief gave three warnings.

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:14 am

Chief Williams: Open carry hasn’t been an issue. Nobody’s been arrested or has challenged the things we asked them to do. 

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:16 am

Chief Williams: The LT. on the scene yesterday was the one who got to the person on fire..he had a fire extinguisher, not pepper spray. He tried to tell the man that, “Hey you’re on fire.” And the crowd was trying to pull him away.

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:16 am

Chief Williams: I personally grabbed two elderly people and escorted them away from the protest. 

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:16 am

Chief Williams: There are a range of charges from the arrests.

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:17 am

Mayor Jackson: There is a law against open burning here in Cleveland. But then you have a first amendment expression right. 

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:17 am

Mayor Jackson: The distinction between open burning is there. They could’t have piled up wood and burned it. But this was a first amendment expression.

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:19 am

Chief Williams: The Free Hugs group from Dallas tries to bring people together during these times. He contacted me to pray and to folks to wear the shirts, and that’s how the prayer circle came to be yesterday.

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:19 am

Chief Williams: It was Trump, Clinton supporters and all kinds of people there, praying. It was a good thing.

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:20 am

Chief Williams: We didn’t set any expectations on number of arrests and such before this. We knew what we could control.

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:20 am

Chief Williams: For me, one arrest is too many. Right now I’m kind of disappointed to be honest.  

Ann Domeck July 21, 201610:21 am

Chief Williams: There were two incidents back to back yesterday. We were trying to clear space for a flag burning and then the gentleman decided not to do it. Then the other group came in and did what they did.