PHOENIX - Protests outside the Arizona Capitol over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade that ended with a volley of tear gas were variously described Saturday as either peaceful or driven by anarchists intent on destruction.
Republican Senate President Karen Fann issued a news release describing it as a thwarted insurrection, while protesters called it a violent overreaction by police who they said acted without warning or justification.
Arizona Department of Public Safety statements said state troopers launched the gas as some in a group of 7,000 to 8,000 people that rallied at the Capitol on Friday night were trying to break into the state Senate. Lawmakers were working to finish their yearly session.
The vast majority of people were peaceful and state police said there were no arrests or injuries. While both abortion opponents and abortion rights backers were there, most of the crowd opposed the high court’s decision.
Police fired tear gas at about 8:30 p.m. as dozens of people pressed up against the glass wall at the front of the Senate building, chanting and waving signs backing the right to abortion. While most were peaceful, a handful of people were banging on the windows, and one person forcefully tried to kick in a sliding glass door.
That’s when SWAT team members with the Department of Public Safety stationed on the second floor of the old Capitol building fired the tear gas.
Video taken from inside the Senate lobby by Republican Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita showed the scene. Another she took moments later showed state police in riot gear forming a line inside the building, facing protesters on the other side of the glass.
She said in an interview with The Associated Press on Saturday morning that the protesters were clearly trying to enter the locked building.
"They were aggressively banging on the windows in a way that at any moment it could break," Ugenti-Rita said. "This wasn’t a knock on a window. I mean, they were trying to break the windows."
Hundreds of protesters could be seen in her videos milling about the plaza between the House and Senate buildings, while about a hundred were closer, near the glass wall at the front of the Senate building.
"There was no other conclusion than they were interested in being violent," she added. "I have no other takeaway than that. I’ve seen many protests over my years, in many different sizes and forms. I’ve never seen that ever."
Democratic state Rep. Athena Salman of Tempe, however, said those gassed were peaceful.
"A bunch of House and Senate Democrats voted to give these cops a huge pay raise," Salman said on Twitter in a post showing police firing tear gas. "Some even called it historic. Remember that every time the cops gas peaceful protesters."
State police said in a statement that what "began as a peaceful protest evolved into anarchical and criminal actions by masses of splinter group." And they said they had issued multiple warnings for people to leave.
Police said gas was deployed "after protesters attempted to break the glass" and was later deployed again in a plaza across the street. Police said some memorials at the plaza were defaced.
No broken glass was visible at the Senate building after the crowd dispersed.
Republican lawmakers had enacted a 15-week abortion ban in March over the objection of minority Democrats. It mirrors a Mississippi law that the Supreme Court upheld on Friday while also striking down Roe. A law dating from before Arizona became a state in 1912 that bans all abortions remains on the books, and providers across the state stopped providing abortions earlier Friday out of fear of prosecution.
The protester incident forced Senate lawmakers to flee to the basement for about 20 minutes, said Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada. Stinging tear gas wafted through the building afterward, and the proceedings were moved to a hearing room instead of the Senate chamber.
Fann was presiding over a vote for a contentious school vouchers expansion bill when she abruptly halted proceedings. Speeches backing or supporting the bill expanding the state’s school voucher program to all 1.1 million public school students were cut off, and the bill passed.
"We’re going into recess right now, OK?" Fann announced. "We have a security problem outside."
The building was never breached, said Kim Quintero, a spokesperson for the Senate GOP leadership.
After the tear gas sent protesters fleeing, the Senate reconvened to vote on its final bills before adjourning for the year shortly after midnight. A faint smell of tear gas hung in the air.
The next day, on the night of June 25, DPS said four people were arrested.
"Troopers arrested four people on charges of rioting, disorderly conduct, trespassing and criminal damage," DPS confirmed on June 26.
DPS released more information saying, "On Saturday, June 25, 2022, approximately 1,200 people attended a protest at the Arizona State Capitol Complex following the United States Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade. The protest and march through downtown Phoenix was peaceful."
However, just before midnight, DPS claims after nearly everyone left, 50 people remained at the capitol.
"Numerous agitators forcefully tore down and damaged the fence that was set up around the House and Senate Plaza. Throughout the day, troopers had given numerous warnings not to touch the fence. Earlier in the day, lawful protestors kept agitators from tearing down and damaging the fence. After the fence was torn down, troopers responded and took four people into custody as they were in the process of breaching another. The suspects fled on foot when responding troopers arrived."
Those who were arrested on June 24 are: Hayes Dunn, 34; Kaitlin Auditor, 19; Taro Schmeeckle, 26 and Alex Pinon, 19.
"Their actions were reckless and otherwise disturbed a lawful and peaceful assembly," read a portion of court documents. The four were booked on suspicion of rioting, disorderly conduct and trespassing.
On June 26, DPS says Aiden Starkey was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and vandalism. Four others were arrested, with DPS saying they failed to identify. They are, Kyla Ford, 20; Taylor Calderson, 20; Sage Myers, 19 and Brianna Ford, 19.
A judge found no probable cause to keep 8 of the 9 in jail, so the judge dropped their charges. We haven't been told who the 1 person is who is still being charged.
By day 2 of the protests, razor wire was put up around the capitol building.
‘She’s going to have less of those rights’
Protestors say they didn't hear a warning before the tear gas was deployed near the Senate building on Friday night.
"We weren’t even directly close to that area, but the smoke had come close to where we were," says Natacha Chavez, who was protesting with her young daughter. "There was no warning there was no, ‘Hey, this is your last call,' order to disperse."
DPS says in a statement that there were multiple warnings of unlawful assembly announced near the Wesley Bolin Plaza, but did not address a warning or lack thereof when tear gas was deployed near the senate building.
Natacha says the tear gas hit her and her 8-year-old daughter Amelia, the great-granddaughter of civil rights activist Cesar Chavez. Natacha says people questioned why she brought Amelia to the rally, to begin with.
She says it’s because this landmark decision affects her generation even more.
"In the next 10 years, where she’s having those thoughts about contraceptives or abortion, and also the fact that she’s going to have less of those rights going into her teenage and 20 years than I did …," Natacha said.
There was "significant criminal damage" to the following memorials, according to DPS:
- Wesley Bolin Memorial Amphitheatre
- 158th Regimental Memorial
- Arizona Peace Officers Memorial
- Korean War Memorial
- Arizona Law Enforcement Canine Memorial
- Operation Enduring Freedom Memorial
- Lt. Frank Luke Jr. Memorial
Graffiti at the Arizona State Capitol (Arizona DPS)
Authorities said there were no injuries or arrests.
The incident sent Senate lawmakers into the basement for about 20 minutes, said Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada. Stinging tear gas wafted through the building afterward, forcing the Senate to move its proceedings to a hearing room instead of the Senate chamber.
In a tweet, State Sen. Kelly Townsend said "we are currently there being held hostage inside the Senate building due to members of the public trying to breach our security."
However, Graves said there were no lawmakers being held hostage.
Republicans had enacted a 15-week abortion ban in March, and a pre-Roe law that bans all abortions remains on the books, forcing providers across the state to stop providing abortions earlier Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.