Mayor Kenney, Commissioner Outlaw apologize for use of tear gas during I-676 protest

The Philadelphia Police Department has issued a moratorium on the use of tear gas on crowds of non-violent people following the response during a protest that spilled onto I-676 on June 1.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, along with Mayor Jim Kenney, apologized to the public Thursday after tear gas, bean bags and pepper spray were used against protesters who were trapped on the highway.

“I humbly apologize to those who were directly impacted as well as to our communities at large,” Outlaw said.  "As recently as today, I have viewed video posted by the New York Times, by which I am extremely disturbed and quiet frankly sickened beyond description. Some of the video depicts our officers utilizing the force instruments gratuitously and in complete divergence from our policy directive."

Outlaw issued an immediate moratorium on the use of tear gas in most situations including to disperse crowds of non-violent people.

"The use of OC is not to be used for the dispersal of non-violent persons or disorderly crowds and in situations where people are peacefully exercising their constitutional right of free speech," she added.

Outlaw said she is committed to repairing the damage the event has caused to already strained police-community relations.

Protesters race up a hill after being shot by tear gas after a march through Center City on June 1, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Demonstrations have erupted all across the country in response to George Floyd's death in Minneapolis, Minnesota w

In addition, Philadelphia Police Deputy Commissioner Dennis Wilson accepted a voluntary demotion to chief inspector, a position he previously held before being promoted to deputy commissioner, following his approval to use CS gas during the protests. Wilson was the incident commander on June 1.

"I and I alone gave the approval for CS gas. I did this based on what I could see from my position and also what I had been hearing on the radio," Wilson said. 

Wilson also stated that he called Outlaw before the deployment of CS gas at 52nd and Market but not during the protests on I-676.

Mayor Jim Kenney said he regretted giving the okay the day before the highway incident to use tear gas to disperse people in a much more violent protest in West Philadelphia, where stores had been broken into and a line of police cars had been burned, broken into and vandalized. He said that situation was very different from the peaceful protesters who had gained access to the highway.

“In that moment of decision on Sunday, May 31, I ignored what my instincts told me,” he said, stressing his regret. “I have never believed tear gas was an effective tool. When I’ve seen other cities use it in protests. It always seemed to me to make situations worse. And it has.”

Outlaw said a SWAT officer will be suspended with intent to dismiss after 30 days following the incident. An official announcement is expected to be made on Friday.

"That officer was shown on video utilizing OC spray on civilians in violation of our policy. He is being charged departmentally with conduct on becoming an officer, unauthorized and/or excessive use of force while in an official capacity. In addition, the investigative packet has been submitted to DA’s office for review. At this point, we are not naming the officer because we have not given formal notice. Once we do give formal notice, we will release his name," she said.

The investigation is ongoing. The city is retaining an independent consultant to conduct a comprehensive examination of the city’s response.

Police union boss John McNesby believes police morale is near an all time low and this doesn’t help.

"It's an absolute disgrace what happened today, absolute lack of leadership. There is no direction for our officers on the street. They feel abandoned. They feel betrayed," McNesby said.



For the latest local news, sports and weather, download the FOX 29 News app.