Live 5 Investigates: Charleston Police turn mistakes during riot into lessons learned

VIDEO: Live 5 Investigates: Charleston Police turn mistakes during riot into lessons learned

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - It’s been nearly five months since rioters overtook the streets of downtown Charleston.

It started as a scheduled protest over the death of George Floyd. But at about 8 p.m. on May 30, another group came in set on wreaking havoc. Many restaurants, bars and businesses along King Street were damaged, windows shattered, items stolen and people were terrified.

“We had a small fire lit in that corner,” Ken Schneider, the owner of Uncork Charleston, says. “Three out of these five machines were broken, thrown on the face onto the floor, all the windows and doors broken, cash drawer taken, all the spirits were taken, glasses of wine broken and destroyed and some graffiti and of course, all the furniture needed to be cleaned or replaced due to smoke damage.”

Schneider says his business sustained about $70,000 in damage which is something, he believes, could have been avoided.

“It was a total drop the ball incident,” Schneider says. “I think the city knew what was coming, the leadership especially, and they kind of took a hands off approach.”

But a new report released, called the After Action Review, is detailing the decisions that were made by law enforcement that night and what they were up against. Charleston Police Department leaders acknowledge they were not prepared for that magnitude of violence.

“For this event, CPD did not expect civil unrest on this scale,” the report states. “Consequently, available resources were quickly overwhelmed and recall was not as effective as the circumstances required. There is, therefore, a need to improve the recall process to maximize the resources available.”

“I would just say that we have to do better in terms of our intelligence gathering, working with different protest groups,” Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds says. “It’s something that our city expects us to be prepared for and we are.”

According to the report, there were 173 calls for service between 8:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. the night of the riots. By comparison, during corresponding Saturday nights for the previous two years, which were Memorial Day weekends, there were no more than 56 calls per night.

“There was a lot of information coming in very quickly all at one time and making sure that we handled the life safety issues,” Reynolds says. “And there was a lot of people that were very, very scared. There were a lot of people attacked, whose businesses were attacked, who were assaulted, who had damage to their windows to their businesses. Very significant damage. And it happened very, very quickly.”

Reynolds says they are looking at the issues that happened that night and are making sure to turn them into lessons learned so it doesn’t happen again.

“We looked at a whole variety of different things: command and control, internal and external communications, tracking resources, a whole lot of different things not any one singular thing,” Reynolds says.

One of the big things they’re honing in on is forming better relationships with community groups. And business owners we spoke with say they can tell.

“The Charleston Police Department and Charleston County Sheriff has done an incredible job and they built a great rapport with all of us on the street,” Schneider adds. “A lot of us have their direct numbers to text them to call them if there’s any issues and they have responded to everything, since we reopened in July.”

But, the chief says it doesn’t stop there.

“We can’t slow down,” Reynolds says. “We have to learn and we have to adjust. We have to continue to improve. But, we have to focus on every day moving forward. We can’t look behind us, we have to look ahead of us. I think that’s why the good Lord gave us eyes in front of our heads so that we can look ahead and not behind us.”

The After Action Review report can be viewed below.

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