Controversial Phoenix civil-rights activist Jarrett Maupin said on Friday that other groups are to blame for the damage at Thursday's George Floyd protest, which he organized.
Hundreds of people turned out for the march Maupin put together to honor Floyd, a black man who was killed during an arrest on May 25 by white ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. (Following a night of protests, some violent, in Minneapolis and other U.S. cities, Chauvin was arrested on Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.)
Marchers and activists including Maupin walked from Phoenix City Hall to the State Capitol in what authorities acknowledge was, at first, a peaceful protest.
But around 10 p.m., after most protesters had left, the ones that remained grew rowdy. Police began trying to disperse the crowd, firing smoke bombs. People threw rocks at police cars. Before the night was over, the exterior of Phoenix police headquarters was damaged, windows of businesses were broken, and police and civilian cars had been vandalized. Eight people were arrested by the early morning hours of Friday.
This wasn't the first time something like this has happened at a Maupin-organized event. At the "Rally for Justice" event he organized in July 2016, clashes broke out between protesters and police, resulting in several protester injuries. Maupin was an up-and-coming political figure at one time in Phoenix until he was convicted of lying to the FBI, claiming falsely that he'd seen a video of then-Mayor Phil Gordon engaged in pedophilia. He served a month in prison for violating probation in the case, but he didn't let the shameful act stop from becoming a successful community activist over the years. He's continued his activist life even after a 2017 Arizona Republic story exposed how he had taken money from some of the people he was helping.
Last year, Maupin shared video with Phoenix New Times showing the violent arrest of shoplifting suspect Dravon Ames by a Phoenix police officer who threatened to blow Ames' head off in front of his family. Following community outrage, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams fired the officer. The Phoenix City Council later created the Office of Accountability and Transparency, which will review police use-of-force incidents. The council is set to vote at their next meeting on funding the salaries of the people who will run the office.
Maupin also has many detractors. He blames them for the damage to buildings and police vehicles that occurred later Thursday night.
"I don't think I should be held responsible here," he said.
He estimated that about 1,200 people attended the protest, but 200-300 stayed behind "to do the rioting."
Those "rough people" included "all those weirdos that can never get people at their protests," Maupin said, adding that he "can't wait" for police surveillance video to determine who started throwing rocks, damaging police vehicles and buildings. He said he believes the culprits are affiliated with Poder in Action, Black Lives Matter Metro Phoenix, and Puente Arizona.
Black Lives Matter Metro Phoenix had published a warning about Maupin on its website on Thursday before the protest: "We strongly encourage people to use extreme caution if attending the ‘All Black Lives Matter’ rally tonight organized by Jarrett Maupin because he has a solid history of leading protesters into dangerous situations without planning for safety and legal consequences."
(The group planned another protest for Friday evening to bring attention to the death of Dion Johnson, who was shot and killed on May 25 by a state Department of Public Safety officer.)
At about 10 p.m., when the police began their action, some of the protesters were riled up by the reported pepper-spraying of a young, black, pregnant woman.
On Twitter, Arizona Republic reporter Uriel Garcia shared a photo at 10:03 p.m. on Thursday of a young black woman sitting on a sidewalk, covered with a milky substance, clearly out of sorts and clutching her stomach. The Republic's website, AZCentral.com, ran the photo on its homepage with the caption, "A pregnant woman is pepper-sprayed during the George Floyd protest in downtown Phoenix on May 28, 2020."
"The woman is on the ground in pain," Garcia tweeted a few minutes later. "Officers carrying shields have surrounded her."
"She couldn't speak & people around her assumed she was peppered sprayed," Garcia tweeted. "When I got there I asked people what happened & everyone said she was peppered [sic] sprayed... I didn't see police fire off anything in the specific location. But when I got there I had a hard time breathing, too."
Garcia documented that some of the protesters became frustrated with the response to the woman's apparent medical emergency and began throwing rocks at patrol cars.
But the woman, identified by Garcia as 19-year-old Kenya Rodriguez, hadn't been pepper-sprayed. She called Garcia hours later and told him she had an asthma attack triggered by smoke, as Garcia tweeted just after 2 a.m. The Republic corrected its photo caption.
It's unclear what substance had been poured over Rodriguez's head, but as another Republic report from the night detailed, "some of the protesters carried jugs of milk and milk of magnesia, two home remedies for the burning and pain from pepper spray and tear gas."
Maupin said he believes Black Lives Matter Metro Phoenix cooked up the whole scene to incite protesters and make him look like a bad organizer. But he could not provide any proof.
The scene "was a stunt by BLM Phx Metro and PODER and I will be exposing it at a press conference," Maupin told Arizona Republic reporters in an email he shared with New Times. He suggested that Rodriguez was put "up to this" and added, " Pretending a pregnant woman got pepper sprayed? Smh gross."
He also said he thought Black Lives Matter Metro Phoenix supporter Kim Simpson was in on the alleged scheme. Simpson, reached by phone, laughed at the idea.
"That doesn't make sense," she said. "It wasn't fake at all."
Simpson said she was at the scene with Rodriguez, whom she said she didn't know before Thursday, and stayed with her until an ambulance came and took her away. She said she thought Rodriguez had come with Maupin or one of his supporters. She said Maupin bolted from the protest once it began getting out of control.
"When shit hit the fan, he took off running," she said.
Rodriguez denied that she staged her medical problem, but said she probably didn't need an ambulance. She had come to the protest to see what it was all about, she said, and saw people breaking the window of a police vehicle. When it cracked, police hurled "smoke bombs" not far from her, she said. That triggered her breathing problem. Someone — she didn't know who — poured milk of magnesia on her head, thinking it would help if she had been pepper-sprayed, she said. She said she spent about an hour in an emergency room before being released.
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Maxima Guerrero of Puente Arizona released a statement from the group "in regard to the excessive use of force by Phx PD."
The statement said Puente did not organize the protest and did not promote the protest to its members and supporters. It had no part in the protest, but "some Puente employees/members, along with other individuals, attended the protest as legal observers to document the event and the police response."
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said in a news conference on Friday that police had "worked with community and faith leaders beforehand to ensure a peaceful event."
The event was indeed peaceful for several hours, she said, at which point "the actions of a small group of individuals" changed the situation. People who remained blocked traffic and damaged cars and windows at police headquarters and businesses. Police declared the protest an unlawful assembly and began clearing the streets with rows of riot police. Two officers ended up treated for heat exhaustion.