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Authorities release police radio calls from Charleston protests and riot

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Protest41.JPG (copy)

Charleston police officers build barriers downtown on May 30.

Authorities on Wednesday released more than six hours of law enforcement radio communications from Black Lives Matter protests and a riot that broke out in Charleston on May 30.

The 6½ hours of audio represent a condensed version of the actual time covered by the recording: about 13 hours, from 2 p.m. that Saturday to about 3 a.m. the following day, according to a memo by Heather Mulloy, assistant city attorney.  

Together, the radio calls paint a picture of officers who were eventually hemmed in as the protest turned violent after several hours. Trapped on several sides by crowds, officers were unable to respond quickly to calls from business owners and residents after looting started downtown around 8 p.m. 

Around 3 hours, 17 minutes into the recording, protesters had already started vandalizing businesses, breaking windows and looting. 

Officers could be heard calling for backup and trying to coordinate a response for some time. 

But protesters had broken into separate groups and officers feared they were doubling back and getting around law enforcement. 

"Can we get the air unit to give us an idea of what the crowd is doing, because I feel like we're chasing each other," an officer says. 

"They're turning onto King Street from George Street," an officer in the helicopter says. 

"Captain, we've got multiple units at East Bay and Wentworth. I don't think we need them there," an officer says.

"Go ahead and move them. Wentworth, head toward King. We're bringing in all of midnight shift over the King Street, also," the captain says. 

"Just so you know, they're breaking into stores up and down King Street," the officer in the helicopter says. 

For roughly the first 2½ hours of the recording, law enforcement radio calls have to do with crowd control, keeping protesters out of the street and monitoring general public safety concerns. 

But tensions rose throughout the afternoon.

Rioting started in the Charleston City Market. 

About 2 hours, 35 minutes into the recording, an officer asks, "Should we shut the Market?"

"They just changed directions. They're going through the City Market," an officer says around 2 hours, 38 minutes into the recording. "They're starting to flip tables in the City Market."

"Be advised, they started smashing windows in the Market," an officer says. "They're throwing water bottles down here at officers. Just keep your heads up."

Commanders tell officers to keep eyes on protesters engaging in vandalism because they want to start making arrests once they have the manpower. 

"I'm telling you right now, you need to get as many units into the Market to help clear it out right now," an officer says. "This needs to be shut down."

By the 3 hour, 15 minute mark, officers can be heard trying to block protesters.

"Any units paralleling them, please make sure they don't take side streets. We don't want them going down King Street at all," an officer says.

Another officer says a group of protesters broke off earlier and was "prowling King Street."

Around the 3 hour, 16 minute mark an officer says the Apple store at 301 King St. and a clothing shop at 220 King St. were being broken into. 

"Door's been broken, possible theft," an officer says, of the Apple store.

Around the 3 hour, 21 minute mark, officers can be heard forming a plan to gather forces on King Street and push north. 

Officers report protesters are inside of a Walgreens. Commanders tell them to get ready, not to go in without backup and be prepared to make arrests. 

"We'll be pushing north," an officer says shortly after. "We'll be deploying gas ahead of us. We'll be deploying gas ahead of us at King and Calhoun."

Around 3 hours, 22 minutes, an officer calls for help. 

"I need units at King and Calhoun right now," he says. "They are chasing officers. They're (unintelligible) throwing water bottles."

As the night progresses, officers slowly began to push looters out of downtown.

It was a process that involved officers forming lines and marching in formation, while using tear gas and pepper spray balls on looters who did not disperse. 

By 3 a.m., the last of the rioters were cleared from downtown. 

In all, 238 officers from multiple agencies responded to quell the violence, according to the memo by Mulloy, the assistant city attorney. Officers arrested 10 people that night. 

Since then, 74 arrest warrants were issued, 27 suspects have been identified and 65 warrants have been served. 

As of now, 23 people have been arrested in connection with the rioting.

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Reach Gregory Yee at 843-937-5908. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.

Gregory Yee covers breaking news and public safety. He's a native Angeleno and previously covered crime and courts for the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, CA. He studied journalism and Spanish literature at the University of California, Irvine.

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