A Temple University grad school student is planning on taking legal action after he was pepper sprayed in the face by a Philadelphia officer during a protest on I-676 earlier this month.
Diamonik Hough, of Oakland, California, was part of the crowd of thousands who marched through Philadelphia on June 1 to protest the murder of George Floyd. Hough told NBC10 the demonstration started out peacefully as they walked through Center City.
“It was really nice,” Hough said. “Really beautiful.”
Things quickly turned chaotic however when some of the protesters made their way onto Interstate 676 in the middle of the afternoon. Hough said he followed the crowd as police responded.
SkyForce10 was over the scene that day as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the protesters who rushed for the fences. Officials said a Philadelphia police commander gave the order to use the gas to disperse the crowd.
“People are running scared and it’s very frightening,” Hough said.
Video shows Hough in the roadway throwing a can of tear gas toward the police. He then sits down. Hough claimed that was his way of defusing the situation.
“The ultimate way for me to show it’s a peaceful protest is to sit down,” he said. “When I threw it I thought the main goal was to get us off the highway. I thought that was the problem.”
The video then shows an officer approach two women sitting in front of Hough.
“He goes up to the first girl, pulls down her mask, sprays her,” Hough said.
The officer then pepper sprayed the second woman as well as Hough before pushing him down. Hough also told NBC10 he was struck by rubber bullets.
Hough’s attorney Kevin Mincey provided photos of his client’s injuries and plans to take legal action.
“The conduct of the officer was so egregious and intentional that it has to draw the attention of other law enforcement officials who see that and know that conduct by anyone else would certainly be criminal,” Mincey said.
Mincey, along with Riley Ross, are representing more than a dozen protesters. They are still working to identify the officer who used the pepper spray and are unsure whether he was a Philadelphia police officer or a Pennsylvania State Trooper in tactical gear. Mayor Jim Kenney said earlier in the week that the Philadelphia police department’s response to the protests and use of force will face an independent investigation.
As for Hough, he doesn’t believe that walking on the highway warranted the police response he saw that day.
“I think people think we want a purge or some kind of anarchy,” he said. “That’s not what we want. We want a better system for the cops.”
Philadelphia Police told NBC10 they were aware of the video involving Hough and Internal Affairs is currently investigating. A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office called the video “disturbing” but said they were unable to comment due to the ongoing police investigation.
During budget hearings at City Council earlier in the month, managing director Brian Abernathy, acknowledged that Kenney and a small group of the mayor's top advisors pre-approved the use of tear gas and other "less lethal munitions" at the start of the protests on May 31.
The controversial pre-approval was made by a group called "Unified Command" that included the mayor, police commissioner, Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel and several other high-ranking members of Kenney's administration, according to Abernathy.
The Unified Command group gave the approval after seeing footage of violent confrontations between police and crowds in West Philadelphia during the first weekend of protests, a city spokesman said.