BEFORE THE TEAR GAS


BENTONVILLE — Sam Lopez joined a peaceful protest on the Bentonville square for two hours June 1. Suddenly, as many as 40 law enforcement officers wearing gas masks, helmets and other protective gear poured out of the Benton County Courthouse’s front door.

Most carried riot batons — 3-foot long sticks made of hardwood.

“We saw all those deputies come out, and we’re all saying ‘What’s going on? They didn’t have to do that.’ We saw it as a power move,” Lopez of Springdale said. “Nobody communicated with us, they just came out in riot gear.”

Neither Lopez nor any protesters on the town square could have seen the narrow escape of a police pickup, video from that night shows. The pickup was the second of two vehicles surrounded and damaged by a fraction of the protesters, who were north of the square.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVDMpiJGJW0]

The confrontation on the courthouse steps escalated quickly, according to video, police records and witnesses.

The protest was one of hundreds nationwide and internationally after the May 25 choking death of George Floyd, 46, by a Minneapolis Police Department officer. Estimates of how many attended the Bentonville protest range as high as 2,000 at its peak.

The officers in riot gear, the Benton County sheriff’s “mobile field force” as described in police records, came out from the courthouse at 9:16 p.m., according to the time stamp on video taken from courthouse security cameras. The main body of protesters crossed the street in front of the courthouse, demanding to know what the show of force was for, audio from other video reveals.

This face-off between the main body of protesters and authorities on the courthouse steps offered the opportunity wanted by those trying to escalate the situation, Benton-ville Police Chief Jon Simpson said. Provocateurs threw water bottles, including…



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