Puerto Rico Police chief monitors protests
Defends use of pepper spray during Saturday night’s demonstrations
SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico Police Commissioner Henry Escalera arrived in the governor’s mansion Sunday to monitor the protests underway against Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, whose resignation is being demanded.
Escalera defended the level of force used by officers during Saturday evening’s demonstrations, when pepper spray was used on demonstrators, and urged Sunday’s demonstrators to “exercise their free speech right” and the right to assemble in an orderly fashion.
Visibly agitated, the police commissioner also vehemently stated that he has not started any investigation at the governor’s request.
“I have not started any investigations and that needs to be clear,” Escalera said referring to allegations that the investigation he started into Raúl Maldonado Jr., namesake and son of former Treasury secretary. Escalera had announced the police was investigating Maldonado’s tweets, in which he insulted the governor and claimed Rosselló had mishandled funding for Unido Por Puerto Rico, a hurricane relief campaign, and could be considered a threat to the governor.
As for the increased presence of police agents and barriers blocking different streets, as well as a fire truck, Escalera argued that given that the protest was announced with more time that Saturday night’s, the Department of Public Safety (DSP by its Spanish initials) was able to bring in more resources.
Although he explained that there were more department resources being used in Sunday’s protests, Escalara would not explain the content of bags carried by a police unit when taking their positions at barriers placed as a perimeter surrounding the governor’s residence.
“I have not seen them. I don’t know what that is about. We have a work plan and the tools we have, we are going to use them,” Escalera said, adding that he does not expect that Sunday’s protests would escalate into violence.
Regarding the use of pepper spray during Saturday’s protests, Escalera argued the use was within regulation given the altercations with officers and that, contrary to tear gas, there’s no need for warning before using it.
“Those are different levels of strength that we have. If we have to use them, and I hope we don’t, we will use them. Yesterday, [the demonstrators] passed some security perimeters, they threw the barriers or they moved them, and pepper spray was used, which is one of the levels [of force] that is established in the policy,” Escalera said.
Arguing that the use of pepper spray is at the discretion of individual officers, he added, “It doesn’t have to be announced through loudspeakers. That is a decision for the police officer about how much force they are going to use.”