Body camera footage of the Oct. 12 protest against the “Soldiers’ Monument” shows how a peaceful protest disintegrated into violence, as several Santa Fe police officers attempted to disperse a large crowd of protesters surrounding the obelisk in the Santa Fe Plaza.
The footage, released to the Journal nearly three weeks after the original incident, shows officers struggling to maintain control, as protesters crossed metal barricades and approached the obelisk, resulting in frequent shoving and screaming between the two sides.
On multiple occasions, police tried to remove protesters from the scene, only for others to block their path and surround those who were under arrest. Often, it was the same group of protesters each time.
Much of the footage shows officers being surrounded by large numbers of protesters telling them to leave.
Police would eventually leave the scene after having arrested two men, Dylan Wrobel and Sean Sunderland, with protesters toppling the controversial obelisk only minutes later.
The obelisk has long been a lightning rod in the community, primarily due to an inscription on one side that referred to “savage Indians.” Many over the years had advocated for it to be taken down.
Officers arrested Wrobel for battery on Officer Javier Vigil. The footage shows Wrobel attempting to get close to the obelisk and saying he needs to be near his friends.
“Just let me be with my friends,” Wrobel said, as he tried to move forward.
“Tell me what’s going on, I want to help you,” Vigil responded, his hand on Wrobel’s shoulder.
Things quickly escalated, however. The dialogue becomes blurred, but shoving between the two soon begins.
“Are you going to arrest me now?” Wrobel asked.
Another angle shows Vigil and Wrobel falling to the ground, grabbing each other’s collars. Vigil then pepper-sprayed Wrobel’s face; Wrobel laid on the ground, his shirt torn, with Sunderland beside him.
Other footage shows people screaming, throwing part of the barricade at the obelisk and officers scrambling to maintain a sense of order.
“At that point, we had lost any form of control and our well-being was in jeopardy,” Sgt. Nicola Butler wrote in his report.
Some officers reported hearing Butler screaming for assistance as the situation eroded.
Incident reports state many officers had to drive from outside the city limits to assist, with one body camera showing an officer entering the city at 122 miles per hour on Interstate 25. A large percentage of SFPD officers live outside the county.
Chief Andrew Padilla said at a press briefing the next day that police did not expect the situation to be violent and had deployed the standard six officers. On the ground, though, officers said they quickly felt overwhelmed.
“It was obvious to me that, due to the sheer number of protesters, we would not be able to contain the situation,” one officer wrote.
Officers eventually left the scene to regroup at a nearby fire station. The Emergency Response Team, armed in riot gear, reentered the Plaza hours later to supervise the obelisk’s clean up.
None of the reports specifically mention injuries to protesters beyond those who were pepper-sprayed. But many protesters later alleged they were physically injured by police.
“The Santa Fe Police Department inflicted serious harm, concussive blows and broken bones to demonstrators exercising their First Amendment rights,” protesters said in an Oct. 14 release.
In some footage, protesters appear to be reeling in pain, although the nature of their injuries is never specified.
One man in a yellow shirt was shoved by police against spiked green fencing surrounding the obelisk, and is later seen holding his chest in pain. The man was seen earlier throwing fencing at the monument.
It took weeks for the department to release any documentation of the incident. The city denied the Journal’s first request for footage, saying the footage did not exist at all.
However, hours after the obelisk came down, Mayor Alan Webber told city councilors they would be given footage of the incident, with many commenting on it at subsequent meetings.
Footage captured on security cameras placed around the obelisk still hadn’t been released, as of publication.