City Attorney: Omaha Police didn’t surveil local Black activists

Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 4:56 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 25, 2021 at 5:09 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The City Attorney on Thursday denied accusations made by ACLU of Nebraska that the Omaha Police Department was conducting surveillance on Black activists in the community.

“The ACLU takes issue and alleges that people were targeted because of their beliefs. That is not the case,” Interim Omaha City Attorney Matthew Kuhse said in a Thursday afternoon news release.

According to a Thursday morning news release, emails obtained by the ACLU of Nebraska show OPD was “prepared to repeat militarized tactics they used at some of the largest 2020 protests.”

The ACLU said the emails show the peaceful protesters and organizers trying to bring change to the city last summer were watched without reasonable suspicion or reason to believe they were engaged in illegal activity.

“These folks are being considered threats and potentially dangerous for no other reason than the fact that they called for change with respect to the manner in which their brothers and sisters of color are policed by the Omaha Police Department,” said Adam Sipple with ACLU of Nebraska.

Kuhse says OPD conducted no surveillance on individuals.

“Phones were not wiretapped, residences were not monitored, and people were not followed,” he says in the release.

Rather, he says, local law enforcement personnel were keeping an eye on open source intelligence, like social media posts that also included Facebook events, in order to know where events were going to be so that they could staff them in order to maintain public safety.

“As opposed to many planned events that occur in the City of Omaha, some groups chose not to give the Omaha Police Department any advance notice,” Kuhse said in the release. “In learning about planned events, the Omaha Police Department is better prepared to serve all the citizens in Omaha.”

Police also stated that they were aware of counter-protesters meeting who may have tried to disrupt some events.

One of the documents obtained by the ACLU detailing OPD preparations for a Zachary Bear Heels memorial walk on June 5, 2020, advises officers to wear sunglasses or safety glasses because “intel from ANTIFA shows they are promoting gouging officers [sic] eyes to permanently injure them.” It also states expectations of officer conduct at protests:

“Officers shall not take a knee, and avoid interacting with protesters/debating the issues. The Chief has explicitly said we will maintain our professional bearing at these events. We can be cordial, but do not be baited into anything. We are not there to get into a confrontation with the crowd, and will let them voice their opinions and frustration peacefully on the incident.”

That document also included an officer assigned to “PEPPERBALL & TANK.” It doesn’t detail anything about the “tank” beyond its inclusion in an officer’s assignment, but there is an item detailing how officers were to utilize pepper balls:

“Officers must use discretion in deploying pepperballs [sic] and if feasible, wait until command authorizes the use of force. There is obviously a lot of emotion surrounding this memorial walk, and we do not want to inflame it even more. We also need to be aware of flying objects towards us. Expect harsh words, and to be baited into confrontation. BWC and MVR needs to be on and recording.”

The ACLU of Nebraska sent a letter to OPD Chief Todd Schmaderer on Friday asking for an explanation of police policy on “monitoring lawful activities of advocates”; whether police surveillance on those associated with local racial justice movements had been authorized by OPD command staff following the May 2020 protests; and whether “surveillance of Black Lives Matter activists” had drawn from public safety or investigative resources assigned to “serious crimes like sexual assaults or homicides.”

“Almost a full week later, Omaha Police have not replied,” the ACLU release states.

This is a developing story. Stay with 6 News for updates.

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