Routine traffic stop leads to protest, pepper spray
Valerie Cavazos, Marcelino Benito
Photo: Video by kgun9.com
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Tucson Police officers pepper sprayed a crowd after a protest against Border Patrol agents.
Officers with TPD confirmed with KGUN9 that a routine traffic stop was performed at 22nd Street and 10th Avenue Tuesday night after officers noticed a vehicle with a license plate light that was out.
While the officer was talking with the driver and passenger, they told the officer they did not have any identification, or driver's licenses.
The officer then learned that the two were undocumented immigrants.
Sgt. Maria Hawke with TPD tells KGUN9 that not having any identification or driver's license is a misdemeanor offense, and in this case, Border Patrol was called to do an immigration check.
A crowd of more than 100 people gathered around the Border Patrol truck to prevent it from leaving with the two individuals.
Hawke says the crowd advanced on the truck, and the Force Commander on scene ordered pepper spray to be used on the crowd.
Former pastor John Fife, who participated in the protest, told KGUN9 as he watched the video of clash between Border Patrol agents and protesters.
"That's completely out of normal practice. That's not their role. it's not border patrols role to do police enforcement," said Fife.
KGUN9 reporter Valerie Cavazos asked him, "Why didn't they just leave?" He said, "After that happened do you think people will just leave. The response is no we're going to reassemble here."
Fife called this an unprovoked attack by the Border Patrol. Cavazos asked if the protest was staged. Fife replied, "No, it was completely the response of the community and the religious community to another injustice."
Tucson Fire was called to the scene to assess three people who had been sprayed, but no one was taken to the hospital.
Eventually the crowd dispersed, and Border Patrol was able to leave with the two people in custody.
A total of seven Tucson Police officers were on scene.
Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor held a press conference to discuss Tuesday night's incident. He tells 9OYS he stands by his officers, that they did nothing wrong.
"I am against SB1070," said Villasenor. "I don't agree with the purpose of it, but that doesn't mean I get to ignore the law. I will defend my officers when they're doing the right thing."
9OYS asked the chief whether the use of pepper spray was warranted. He watched the video and said it showed an appropriate use of force. Pepper spray, the chief maintains, was the best way to disperse a crowd that was getting more emotional and violent.
"It's too early to say if we'd do anything differently," said Villasenor. "Our review will find that out. But I looked at the video from some of the stations, and you'll see this was anything but a peaceful protest."
Actvists have called on TPD to change its policy of calling Border Patrol. If that doesn't happen they say they want Villasenor to resign.
"You cant ask the chief of police to ignore the law or you'll fire him," said Villasenor. "It just doesnt make sense. I have to enforce the law."
9OYS also reached out to Border Patrol for comment on their actions that night. They were not able to do so because of the government shutdown.