By Steven Monacelli
On May 30, 2020, thousands gathered in downtown Dallas for a protest in solidarity with hundreds of other protests across the country in response to the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. As the crowd concluded its second lap through the downtown area and arrived at City Hall, things began to deteriorate. Minor property damage caused by a few lone wolf protesters appeared to provide justification for the police to don their riot gear, declare an unlawful assembly, and start letting the tear gas fly. Within a matter of hours, it was total chaos. And I should know. I had a front row view as a reporter on the scene.
Nearly two years later, the office of District Attorney John Creuzot sent an email announcing a press conference seeking information from the public regarding potential crimes committed during those heady protests in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. The email piqued my interest. Little progress had been made regarding numerous incidents of injury sustained by protesters from “less lethal” weapons fired by police officers on the crowd. Some incidents spurred criminal cases that had already been dismissed, others did not result in charges at all — including my own injury and arrest on the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge on June 1, 2020, an incident documented by Press Freedom Tracker (Disclaimer: I am currently pursuing a civil suit against the Dallas Police Department and several unidentified officers stemming from this incident.)
So, I decided I should be at the press conference in person to see what it would be all about. At the conference, which occurred just a few weeks ago, I had a front row seat on the floor underneath one of the television news cameras. DA Creuzot said that they were fairly certain crimes had been committed by police officers but that they needed a bit more information to move forward with confidence. They began the conference by showing a previously unreleased body camera video of a police officer firing at a protester who was complying with orders to walk away. The protester, whose identity is still unknown, was hit in the buttocks. Then they showed some images of witnesses who they said they had not yet identified but believed had video footage of the officer firing the shot. The first witness appeared on the screen. It was a photo of me from behind.
“That is me,” I said, entirely interrupting the press conference. “I have that video right here.”
The moment was captured by Fox 4 News, who cited me as a Dallas Weekly reporter but did not cite me by name. As the press conference went on, it turned out that I had personally witnessed and filmed two out of the three incidents in which Dallas police officers had shot peaceful protesters, including the officer who fired the shot that is believed to have destroyed the left eye of Brandon Saenz.
Just a few weeks later, DA Creuzot announced that new charges would be brought down against two Dallas SWAT for their alleged roles in the incidents. Those officers, Senior Cpl. Ryan Mabry and recently fired Senior Cpl. Melvin Williams, each face multiple charges for assault and official oppression. The latter, Cpl. Williams, has already been fired from DPD due to an investigation that emerged out of separate incidents of alleged police brutality
Affidavits put out by DA Creuzot paint a vivid picture of unnecessary use of force. Three specific incidents display what they argue is a pattern of unlawful behavior. Each was captured on a police body camera. One man holding a cardboard sign alone on a sidewalk was shot in the groin, bicep, and thigh. Another man, Vincent Doyle, was hit in the face by a 40mm “less-lethal” round. A third unidentified man was hit in the buttocks as he walked away by a shot that whizzed by my right shoulder. (That third man went on to accost the officers as “d*ckless” per my video recording.) A fourth unidentified man was also hit in the groin. And last but most certainly not least, Brandon Saenz, who was permanently marred by a 40mm round to the face.
The legal representation for the two officers paint the affidavits as false narratives. Mike Mata, the president of the Dallas Police Association, said at a press conference that the charges are unwarranted and politically motivated, but did not specify details when pressed by the Dallas Morning News, who put out a detailed report on the incident a few weeks ago. The last sentence of what was initially the last paragraph of the report prior to being updated with additional information read as follows: “A video recorded by journalist Steven Monacelli helped investigators rule out Williams and Rocha because those officers were in other locations, the affidavit said.”