A Detroit police officer accused of shooting journalists with rubber pellets at protests in May was charged Monday with multiple counts of felony assault.
The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office filed the charges against Daniel Debono, a 32-year-old corporal, according to a press release obtained by the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News. If convicted, the officer could face up to four years in prison.
The alleged shooting occurred after midnight on May 31 as the three journalists were covering protests against police brutality and racial inequality in the city. Debono fired on the journalists after they identified themselves, asked permission to cross a street and began to cross, prosecutor Kym Worthy said.
Nicole Hester, 30, Seth Herald, 28, and Matthew Hatcher, 29, were wearing press credentials, according to the prosecutor. All three were reportedly struck by rubber pellets. Herald’s wrist was injured, while Hatcher experienced bruising on his face, including his nose, and rib injuries. Hester was struck in the face, neck, arms and legs.
“The evidence shows that these three journalists were leaving the protest area and that there was almost no one else on the street where they were,” Worthy said in the release. “They were a threat to no one. There are simply no explicable reasons why the alleged actions of this officer were taken.”
Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood, a spokesperson for the Detroit Police Department, told The Hill in a statement that “as soon as” the department was aware of the incident, “an investigation was immediately launched and the Chief made a decision to suspend the officer.”
The investigation was transferred to the prosecutor’s office for “review and charging recommendations.”
“It’s important to note that the actions of this officer does not reflect the vast majority of the men and women who have been working the protest for the last 8 weeks,” Kirkwood said.
Debono had been suspended with pay while police investigated the incident, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said Monday, according to the Detroit Free Press. He said usually when charges were brought against an officer the suspension becomes unpaid.
Craig said the department has had discussions and training since the alleged shooting.
“You’ve got to remember, we have a youthful workforce, and I don’t know of a time in the recent past that we’ve had to deal with violent protesters,” he said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “So, by and large, this department performed in a spectacular manner.”
Protests broke out across the country after George Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody on Memorial Day. The demonstrators were mostly peaceful, with few turning to violence, as they called for police reform to prevent instances of brutality.
— Updated at 9:01 p.m.