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Meet Brandon Saenz: Dallas Protester Who Lost Eye After Police Shot Him with “Less Lethal” Projectile

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As a new Amnesty International report documents at least 125 instances of police violence against Black Lives Matters protesters in 40 states from May 26 to June 5, we speak with Brandon Saenz, a 26-year-old Black man shot in the face by Dallas police with so-called less-lethal ammunition that shattered his left eye and fractured his face. We also speak with his lawyer, Daryl Washington, about how he has since helped to win a 90-day preliminary injunction against the police use of chemical agents and rubber bullets in Dallas.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. We’re looking now at the violent police crackdown on mass demonstrations against racism and police brutality that continue nationwide. A new Amnesty International report documents at least 125 instances of police violence against protesters in 40 states and in the District of Columbia between May 26th and June 5th, where officers responded to peaceful protests with unlawful beatings, tear gas and rubber bullets.

In one case, police in Dallas, Texas, shot 26-year-old African American Brandon Saenz with so-called non-lethal ammunition at a peaceful protest, shattering his left eye, knocking out several teeth, fracturing his face. A warning to our audience: We’re about to show images of graphic police violence. The shooting happened May 30th, but police have not disclosed which officer shot him. Calls are growing for the Dallas police chief to resign.

For more, we are joined by Brandon Saenz. He’s joining us from Shreveport, Louisiana, where he has been recovering. His lawyer, Daryl Washington, is also joining us, but from Dallas, where he helped win a 90-day preliminary injunction against the police use of chemical agents and rubber bullets in Dallas.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Brandon, let’s begin with you. I’m so sorry this has happened to you. And thank you so much for joining us. I know this isn’t easy for you. If you could start off, if you wouldn’t mind — and if you don’t want to go through it again, don’t. Can you tell us what happened on that day in Dallas?

BRANDON SAENZ: OK. I was at a dog park at lunch time. And then, so I so happened to just walk up, down the street, and I seen a bunch of crowd, and they was out there protesting, so I joined the protest, because I’ve been hearing about all this, like George [Floyd], all the stuff that’s been going on. So, I so happened to join. And I so happened to walk up on the officer, Dallas PD, and they had their little shields and everything. And I so happened to walk up, and I stopped for a minute. I just paused.

And then I heard a loud noise go boom, and I got hit in the — and it hit me. But I didn’t know it hit me at first, until something started feeling weird to me. And then, that’s when I just seen all the blood just gushing out. And I just put my hand over my eye and just took off down the sidewalk. And that’s when all the people came, and they had asked me, did I need any water. I said, no, I didn’t — well, I didn’t say nothing, and I just kept going. And that’s when they came around me and surrounded me and started doctoring on me. Then that’s when that guy put the wrap around my head. I was losing a lot of blood.

And when I was laying on the ground with all the people surrounding me, the laws, the Dallas PD, they — I guess they were trying to force us to move, while we was right there on the ground, while I was bleeding out. And they didn’t want to let the ambulance through for a minute. So I was just sitting there bleeding out. So I told one of the people that was around me, I said, “Well, can somebody just take me to the hospital? Can somebody please just take me to the hospital?” So, we sat there for a little bit. Then, all the sudden, they just — that’s when the laws started coming over and trying to force us to move. They just picked me up and put me in the car. Then, once they put me in the car, the ambulance have arrived. And then they came and got me out the car and put me in the ambulance.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, Brandon, at no time did anyone, any police officer, even after you were down, come over to offer you assistance or even to call an ambulance themselves?

BRANDON SAENZ: No.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And when you got to the hospital, what happened?

BRANDON SAENZ: When I got to the hospital, they took me in the room. They put IVs in me, gave me some medicine, pain medicine. Then, after, they took me into surgery. And that’s when they told me — when I woke up out of the surgery, that’s when they told me I lost my eye. And I fractured — my jaw was twisted. My nose was broken. And I got metal plates right here, metal screws in my nose and a plate right here on my cheek.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And clearly — have you gotten any sense of the medical expenses? Because you were not arrested at any time, were you?

BRANDON SAENZ: No, sir.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, then, if you were not arrested or you were not charged by the police with anything, you were basically a bystander —

BRANDON SAENZ: Yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — being assaulted by the police.

BRANDON SAENZ: Yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What have been the medical bills that you’ve gotten so far?

BRANDON SAENZ: There’s been a lot of medical bills, like hospital bills, medicine-wise, paid for medicine out of my pocket. And it’s been a lot of bills coming in, though.

AMY GOODMAN: Your mom set up a GoFundMe page for you?

BRANDON SAENZ: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Daryl Washington into this conversation. Brandon is recovering at home in Louisiana. Daryl, you’re in Dallas.

DARYL WASHINGTON: Yes, ma’am.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the effort you were involved with to stop the police from shooting these, quote, “less lethal” weapons at the protesters. What was Brandon hit with?

DARYL WASHINGTON: Brandon was hit with what is known as a foam bullet. There are a number of individuals who refer to it as a rubber bullet. But we know it as a foam-type bullet that the Dallas Police Department uses. Brandon was hit within 10 feet. So, we now know that what they consider to be a less lethal weapon was used as a deadly weapon.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Daryl Washington, these problems with these less lethal weapons by police departments have been problematic for decades in the United States. I recall way back into the 1970s, when the famous Los Angeles Times journalist Rubén Salazar was covering a protest in Los Angeles. He was killed by a tear gas canister that was fired by a Los Angeles sheriff, and the tear gas canister hit him in the head and killed him instantly. We’ve had many, many examples of these kinds of — the tear gas canisters and the rubber bullets inflicting major damage and even death on people. How were you able finally to get a judge to at least put a 90-day preliminary injunction against this in Dallas?

DARYL WASHINGTON: Sure. Well, in addition to the injuries that Brandon suffered, there were a number of individuals who suffered similar injuries as Brandon did. And we were able to not only get the court to sign this preliminary injunction, but we were able to reach an agreement with the city, because they know the danger of this bullet, and the evidence that we had showing how these officers were using this, these weapons, were very compelling.

The thing that was most disheartening about this entire situation and all the other individuals who were harmed, not one single police officer attempted to intervene and administer any type of medical assistance. And that was in direct violation of the general orders. So, this has been a problem. We know that protesters were out there peacefully protesting and not harming anyone. Brandon was not doing anything to anyone on that day. And the very thing that protesters were letting their voices be heard about, Brandon now became a victim of. So, we were glad that we were somehow able to get a 90-day reprieve, but it’s our hope that we have these less lethal weapons totally banned.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Daryl, if you could talk about qualified immunity of the police and also this call for the police chief to resign?

DARYL WASHINGTON: Sure. You know, one of the great things that have been coming out these protests is everybody now becoming familiar with qualified immunity. Basically, what it has been acting as is an absolute immunity for police officers from having any type of civil liability in these lawsuits that are filed against them for excessive force. We now see that the courts are looking at this a whole lot closer. They are looking at this as a factual issue, something that a jury should be able to determine, and not something that a judge should be able to determine early on in a lawsuit, where all an officer pretty much has to say is that “I was in fear of my life or someone else’s life.” So, there’s been a lot of good communication and a lot of good dialogue about qualified immunity, and it’s really our hope that it’s eliminated totally, so that people can have their day in court.

AMY GOODMAN: And the call for the police chief to resign?

DARYL WASHINGTON: Yeah. There’s been a number of things that have taken place with this police chief. I mean, it started with Botham Jean. When Botham Jean was killed in Dallas by a Dallas police officer, it took a long period of time for this chief of police to take any action. Now here with Brandon, this happened to Brandon on May 30th. This police chief has not apologized to Brandon, has not apologized to any other citizen who has been harmed by a Dallas police officer. And we know —

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but I thank you for being with us, attorney Daryl Washington. Brandon, thank you so much for joining us. I know how difficult this is. Brandon Saenz, shot in the face by Dallas police during a recent protest with a, quote, “less than lethal” weapon, lost his left eye, several teeth, shattered multiple facial fractures. We’ll link to Brandon’s GoFundMe page that his mother has set up to pay for his medical bills. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Stay safe.

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