Cleveland Cops Pepper Spray Protesters

Clashes broke out between police and protesters who gathered near the Movement for Black Lives conference at Cleveland State University on Sunday. Footage purporting to show officers using pepper spray on demonstrators was posted on Twitter, sparking public backlash. Police later confirmed a transit police officer used "a general burst of pepper spray in an attempt to push back the crowd," according to an official statement. Police said they "peacefully removed" a 14-year-old male who was allegedly "intoxicated to the point where he was unable to care for himself." The teen, who witnesses had earlier reported seeing officers slam to the ground, was escorted to an EMS unit and released into the custody of his mother, police said. The officer deployed pepper spray after a crowd prevented a police vehicle from leaving the area and attempted to remove the juvenile from the car, according to the police statement. Authorities added the incident is under investigation.

CLEVELAND -- Several streets were closed late Sunday afternoon near Cleveland State University after a crowd of people were pepper sprayed by local law enforcement.

Activists from around the country met in Cleveland for a "Black Lives Matter" conference this weekend. Also in the conference were local activists and even members of the Cleveland 8: the 8 people who instead on waiting for a grand jury in the Tamir Rice case, went straight to a judge.

"I was told the police are pepper spraying people down the street and I'm seeing people run for milk so they can be protected from pepper spray all because people are asking what happening to a young man," said Rhonda Y. Williams, history professor at Case Western Reserve and member of the Cleveland Eight. "When we have an officer who comes out of nowhere and is pushing people and then takes out and just starts spraying with his pepper spray, that's not deescalation."

RTA police tell WKYC they removed a drunk 14 year old from a bus and were about to transport him to the police station.

At the same time, the Black Lives Matter national conference in Cleveland just ended.

"Folks were asking what is going on? Why are you trying to arrest this young man? All of us just saw what happened to Sandra Bland in Texas so forgive us if we are a little concerned," said Edward Little, criminal and juvenile justice consultant and member of the Cleveland Eight.

Within minutes a few officers turn into several, and a few activists turn into a crowd.

"They begin to form a barricade around the car urging the police to let the young man go but they wouldn't and when they were linking arms and doing chants one of the police officers began pepper spraying the whole line," said conference attendee Destinee Henton. "They were on the ground covering their faces. He was still spraying them toward the ground so that's when more more people started coming out."

Police say they escorted the juvenile to a waiting EMS and then released him to his mother. But for this group, the questions remain.

"We need to train police departments that sometimes actors within the organization can be out of control," said Little. "In this particular case it was the RTA."

"A moment where de-escalation should've been taken place in escalation happened," said Williams. "This is a classic example of why the DOJ had to come in and investigate and why we have a consent decree and why we need community voice and input."

Despite folks getting pepper sprayed, no one retaliated and no arrests were made.

"There was a lot of support and support from folks from out of town who said we are not going to have this today," said Little. "We always get this narrative of out of town agitators but folks were here in Cleveland and saying we are not going to have this today."

RTA released a statement on the incident. It reads:

At 4:40 p.m. today, July 26, Transit Police officers on routine patrol peacefully removed a intoxicated 14-year old male from a bus. Police said the juvenile was intoxicated to the point where he was unable to care for himself.Police escorted the youth from the bus to a bus shelter on Euclid Avenue at East 24th Street.

Transit Police followed normal procedure, which is -- after police collect pertinent information, juveniles are transported to police headquarters to await release to a parent or legal guardian.

Within minutes, a large crowd had gathered. For the safety of the juvenile, Transit Police moved him from the open shelter area into a police cruiser. The crowd then surrounded the car, and attempted to remove the juvenile from the car. By this time, several other law enforcement agencies had also responded.

The crowd kept the police car from leaving the area. A Transit Police officer used a general burst of pepper spray in an attempt to push back the crowd, to no avail.

The juvenile was escorted from the police cruiser to a waiting EMS unit to be examined at the scene. He was then released to the custody of his mother at 5:47 p.m.

The incident is under investigation.