Disturbing images and videos from a protest in Seattle over the weekend show a young girl in distress after she was allegedly maced by an officer.
While the Seattle Police Department would not confirm the identity of the officer, a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News it has launched an investigation into the incident. The incident occurred as hundreds of people took to the streets to protest racism and excessive use of force after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis.
"Uses of force, including pepper spray, during the demonstrations will undergo a high level of scrutiny and review by the chain of command," said Kelsey Nyland of the police department's Joint Information Center. "This incident in particular has been referred to the [Office of Police Accountability] and an investigation has commenced."
A public information officer told BuzzFeed News the department had received a high volume of reports regarding the use of mace by officers during Saturday's demonstrations.
On Saturday, a video reuploaded by Twitter user @julesstores — and with the child's face blocked out — quickly went viral with a wave of shock and outrage online. It showed the girl crying and screaming as a crowd of adults swarmed to pour milk and water on her face. (Warning: The footage is distressing.)
The Twitter user, Julián Torres from Mexico, told BuzzFeed News he instinctively recorded the video on his computer, and a few minutes later, he noticed it had been removed from the website.
"After I got it on my laptop, I refreshed ... and the video for sure was already taken down within the first 5 minutes. Some people said that they took it down because it showed the little girl's face," Torres said. He added that he was certain he had seen the original video posted by someone who was there on the scene.
Torres also said the original caption identified the child as "a 9-year-old."
Kayvon Behroozian, a 28-year-old from Seattle who was not at the protest, told BuzzFeed News he originally posted it from his friend, Evan Hreha, who was there at the time. Behroozian confirmed he pulled the video down because he "didn’t want to contribute to her potential privacy/safety concerns," he said.
Hreha recounted what he witnessed before and after the incident when he started recording. He said the demonstrations were mostly "peaceful" and that moments before the pepper spraying, a reverend was holding a "prayer for peace."
"I was walking around and observing — everyone was peaceful. There was some heckling at the cops but that was to be expected," he told BuzzFeed News.
Hreha said the only instigating moment he witnessed prior was someone pushing a sign. This caused a group of officers to "really push forward aggressively."
"The next thing you know, the little girl and others were running out screaming. They had been maced and that’s when I started filming," he said. "Everybody on the left side of the street were all saying that it was officer Campbell [who maced]."
Hreha then proceeded to walk over to the line of officers where he filmed himself questioning them, specifically an officer with the name "J. Campbell" and who had his badge number taped over. Even though Campbell did not respond, Hreha noted that he was the only cop he could see with a can of mace visibly in his vest.
Hreha provided BuzzFeed News with the video (below).
"When I went back over and started filming him, he was really stone faced and smirking a little bit," he said of the officer in-question. "People were asking why he did it. Everyone else gave their badge numbers willingly and he just sat stone-faced and didn’t say anything."
He said the only thing the officer said to him was that his "body cam is rolling."
Several days later, on Tuesday, the Seattle Office of Police Accountability issued a tweet that said the officer named J. Campbell was not he officer involved in the incident.
A follow up tweet from the group said, "We have made progress in identifying what actually happened. Please reserve further judgment until we complete our investigation."
Hreha added that he then saw the parents of the child take her out of the protest, and assumed they had gone home.
Other images of the scene soon began circulating on Twitter. And despite the fact that the suspected officer's badge number was taped over, people online quickly matched his name to active officers within the Seattle Police Department.
Torres and others are also calling on people to file complaints with the department's Office of Police Accountability (OPA).
The Seattle Police Department confirmed that it had received a high volume of complaints and that it "will investigate" any other images or videos of the incident, "including body camera footage for any of the officers in the vicinity," a spokesperson said.
"As the mayor made clear during today’s press conference, all uses of force by SPD officers will be investigated accordingly, and officers will be held accountable for inappropriate uses of force. Retaining and building community trust that SPD and partners have worked tirelessly to improve is absolutely paramount," the spokesperson added.
Online, the disturbing images of the child caused uproar and a demand for answers. Many said the images prove the excessive force and brutality of protest policing.
Some critics, however, argued that a parent should not have brought their young child to a contentious protest.
But others quickly retorted, saying a child should have the right to attend a peaceful demonstration and to protest without fear of police.