DENVER — Mayor Michael Hancock and city officials praised police officers for their "tremendous restraint" during protests in the city for George Floyd on Thursday night, and said officers had to use less-lethal force because a small group of protesters created a dangerous situation by throwing rocks at officers.
"Our officers reacted to violent and dangerous behavior," police Chief Paul Pazen said at a news conference with Hancock on Friday morning.
Both Pazen and Hancock emphasized the importance of the protest in demanding justice for Floyd, the black Minnesota man who died after an officer was seen kneeling on his neck.
Hancock became emotional while addressing Floyd's death and said he and city officials — including Pazen and Murphy Robinson, the city's department of public safety director — "resolved that we needed to support the public protests and demonstrations," hours before they began Thursday.
"It is vitally important [protesters] get their voices heard," Pazen said.
But as the protests unfolded, Hancock and Pazen said, a small number of protesters, some wielding baseball bats, began to incite violence and tried to get officers to react.
Shots were fired near the State Capitol, and one group of protesters marched onto Interstate 25, forcing police to disperse crowds off the highway.
At one point, an officer was struck in the head by a rock and was taken to a hospital. Pazen said the rock incident forced police to begin firing less-lethal rounds of pepper balls to disperse the crowds. Officers also reportedly sprayed tear gas to break up the crowds.
"Our officers showed great restraint throughout the evening and took action when danger occurred," Pazen said.
In total, 13 protesters were arrested in incidents of burglary, criminal mischief and assault, Pazen said. Other protesters could be seen being detained by police during the protest, but they were released.
Hancock said officers were forced to don riot gear as tensions escalated.
"They did not show up wearing the riot gear," Hancock said. "They had to put it on when they came under attack with bottles and rocks thrown at them."
More protests for Floyd were planned in Denver for Friday and Saturday. Hancock and Pazen said the city would support the protesters but emphasized the need for the rallies to be held peacefully.
"Like many people in our community I am outraged at the death of George Floyd," Hancock said. "I am proud that many in Denver want to join the chorus [in response] to his life being taken too shortly. When people choose the path of violence, it drowns out the message. This morning we wake up not talking about the need for swift justice. No, we see headlines about the violent protests that occurred in our city and other cities across our nation."