On June 1, between midnight and 1 a.m. in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, a group of law enforcement officers fired flashbangs at the owner of an LGBTQ bar who said he was standing in the parking lot of his own business, the News & Observer reports.
Tim Lemuel, the owner of the bar Ruby Deluxe, told WRAL that he had been standing in front of his business to deter vandals, working with employees to clean up shattered glass and graffiti — including, he alleged to the N&O, what appeared to be a spray-painted white power symbol — from the previous night. They had also set up a street medic station in the parking lot, where they passed out water, first aid supplies, hand sanitizer, and snacks to protesters, the bar owner wrote on Instagram.
And then the authorities, later identified as Wake County sheriff’s deputies by a department spokesperson, approached. In a video that has been viewed more than 160,000 times on Twitter, Lemuel is shown gesturing to the bar and calling to the officers, “This is my business. I rent this place.”
“Move! You’ve been told!” an officer can be heard yelling in the video. “I don’t care where you go, you’ve gotta go.” The sound and flash of two shots fired in succession, followed by, in an increasingly aggressive tone: “Move it! The game is over! Get out!”
RALEIGH POLICE JUST FIRED FLASH BANGS AND LESS LETHAL ROUNDS AT MEDICS, INCLUDING THE OWNER OF RUBY’S DELUXE, A QUEER BAR WHERE THE MEDICS WERE STATIONED. pic.twitter.com/sGckVjRC1e
— film pigs not ppl ☭ (@bennykoval) June 1, 2020
A sheriff’s department spokesperson, Eric Curry, told WRAL that the deputies fired “two audible charges” containing “no projectiles” from a shotgun. He said the deputies had seen people congregated outside the bar, giving out supplies to people who were later seen “throwing rocks and other projectiles” at the deputies. The same spokesperson told the N&O that the deputies had been responding to an anonymous tip that people were supplying water and other supplies to protesters.
According to Curry, the use of “less-lethal force” was appropriate: “Once deputies urge the crowd to disperse several times and there is non-compliance, the next step is to disperse the crowd.” In this case, the tactic — firing on a business owner for handing out water in his own parking lot — worked, in that the group of people dispersed.
But the group had not been violating curfew, which wasn’t put into place in Raleigh until the evening of June 1, and the officers’ use of force doesn’t seem to be in line with the sheriff’s office policy: “It is the policy of the Wake County Sheriff’s Office that no weapon, either deadly or less-than-lethal will be used against any subject that is offering only passive or verbal resistance.”
“We weren’t chanting. We weren’t yelling. We weren’t gesturing to them. There was nothing that we were doing to instigate a response like that,” one member of the group, Jen Varani, told the N&O.
Plus, according to Lemuel, if the officers had been so concerned about the group, why didn’t they approach them earlier without escalating to force? Ruby Deluxe is near the Wake County Justice Center; Lemuel told the N&O that the deputies had been watching them for hours and had ample opportunity to tell him of law enforcement’s concerns.
“They just chose not to. And at some point they just went straight for guns blazing,” he said.