Investigations into alleged officer misconduct not enough for man permanently injured during curfew
iStock/peterspiroBy: ELLA TORRES, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Police departments across the country have come under fire for their handling of what were largely peaceful protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, which were, in part, against police brutality. In some cases, officials are now investigating alleged officer misconduct.
Yet for one man who says he was permanently blinded in his left eye after rubber bullets were allegedly shot at him, the internal investigations are not enough.
“They’re treating us like we’re attacking the country, when they’re really attacking us as citizens,” Jax Feldmann, a 21-year-old Denver resident, told ABC News.
Feldmann said he was leaving his friends’ house on May 30 and was walking to his car at around 9:30 p.m. before he was allegedly shot. Earlier that day, the city had seen protests in the wake of Floyd’s death. But by the time Feldmann had stepped out, he said the crowds had mostly dispersed. A curfew was in effect at 8 p.m. that evening.
He walked what he said was about 30 or 40 feet before seeing “a truck full of cops” drive around the corner.
Feldmann said he did not see anyone peacefully protesting, let alone being violent. But when he arrived at the corner of Grant Street and Colfax Avenue, he was, as he describes, suddenly shot in the eye.
“I can’t really work my head around the fact that I wasn’t even protesting, and I still got shot in the eye and now I’m blind,” he said. “I don’t have any explanation as to why they did that and they haven’t come forward with an explanation.”
Feldmann said that he learned on Thursday that in about a year or two, he will completely lose his eye and will need a prosthetic. The doctors gave him the choice to have more surgeries, but said at some point down the road, the outcome of losing his eye was inevitable, according to Feldmann.
Beyond the investigation, he wants to see actual change.
“This shouldn’t happen to anyone whether you’re a citizen or an actual criminal and something needs to be done about that … I think we need to ban these non-lethal projectiles,” he said.
A spokesperson for Denver police told ABC News there is “an open investigation into that incident at this time.”
“As with all internal affairs investigations, they are overseen by the office of the independent monitor,” the spokesperson said. When asked by ABC News if any officers had been placed on administrative leave or reassigned to non-field duties, the spokesperson did not respond to ABC News.
Protests in Denver were largely peaceful and continued steadily since Floyd’s death on May 25, but in some instances police used pepper spray and projectiles on them.
A federal judge ruled on June 5 that the Denver Police Department must scale back its use of chemicals and projectiles in protests. Judge R. Brooke Jackson of U.S. District Court, District of Colorado, said some actions of “what I hope and believe to be a minority of the police officers in Denver and the nation during recent days (and before) not only vis-a-vis persons of color but against peaceful protesters of all backgrounds have been disgusting.”
Denver police said it would comply with the order.
Rubber bullets, referred to as kinetic impact projectiles (KIPs), are made from a variety of materials including rubber, polyvinyl chloride, plastic or a composite including metal. A combination of these materials into one bullet, propelled at a fast velocity and in close proximity, can cause terminal injuries or serious long-term damage, according to experts.
Feldmann’s case is not the only instance being investigated.
In New York, the Attorney General Letitia James is investigating the interactions between the NYPD and protesters. Los Angeles police have launched more than 50 investigations into officer misconduct.
Feldmann’s mother, Tammy, is wondering why there is only an internal investigation and not criminal charges.
“It is very frustrating because if I would have done this to somebody, where would I be right now? I’d be in jail. I’d have charges pressed against me,” she said.
Tammy Feldmann said she wants someone to be held accountable and wants an answer as to why police were using rubber bullets in the first place.
She described the damage to her son’s eye.
“There’s three layers to your eye. You have the sclera, you have the choroid and you have the retina. There was so much damage from the bullet that it shredded all three layers so they’re no longer connected and they can’t fix it,” his mother said.
“So when Jax was given the option of a surgery, what the surgery was to remove all the blood that was in the back and front of his eye. The pain could be very intense to do that. Or we could do the other option, which is to let the blood just dissipate on its own because he’s not gonna have sight,” she continued.
Tammy Feldmann called her son’s decision to do the latter “heart-wrenching.”
Birk Baumgartner, an attorney representing Feldmann, said they are taking steps to file a lawsuit against the City of Denver.
“This is not some garden variety of officer misconduct. This is a criminal assault causing serious bodily injury,” Baumgartner said. “There is no doubt this is a criminal act and an intentional act, and the city is not investigating as such. That shows what their real intentions are towards Jax.”
A Sacramento woman said she’ll likely be blind in one eye after the police shot her with a rubber bullet, according to ABC Sacramento affiliate KXTV. A freelance photographer said she likely won’t regain vision in her left eye after being shot with what she believes was a rubber bullet, according to the New York Times. A woman who attended a protest in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, told ABC News bones in her face were fractured.
Dr. Rohini Haar, an emergency physician, medical expert at Physicians for Human Rights, and Research Fellow at the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley’s School of Law, said that police are not required to report their use of these weapons.
Haar also said their irregular shape creates unpredictable trajectories and makes it so there’s “really no way to use them safely in the crowd control setting to disperse the crowd or target a single violent individual within a crowd.”
“Ultimately, what the narrative should be, is that these are weapons and should be considered dangerous,” Haar added.
ABC News’ Dr. Ayodola Adigun and Eden David contributed to this report.
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