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Richmond Police officer recounts being injured during violent protest

"You have to keep your head on a swivel."
Posted at 10:59 PM, Jun 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-19 07:42:38-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- While standing in the police line he felt a splash of what he thought was water, but hours later Richmond Police Officer Duane Peppel would find himself in a doctor’s office, asking what was making him itch and burn.

"You have people yelling obscenities at you, shooting lasers at your eyes, hitting you with high performance led flashlights that just blind you," Peppel said Thursday about the Sunday clash.

Many protesters said they were demonstrating peacefully when police attacked them.

But police say body camera footage released Thursday showed a chunk of asphalt being thrown at a state police sergeant Monday, sending him to the hospital.

Laser pointers were aimed at officers, and bottles of liquid chucked at troopers as Richmond Police stood their ground outside police headquarters on West Grace Street.

"We were outnumbered 10-1 at best, and doing our best to keep the crowd calm," said Peppel.

The calm turned chaotic, when officers say Michaela Hatton, a protest organizer, broke the police line and assaulted an officer with a bull horn.

Then police say bricks and bottles filled with liquid were hurled at officers.

Peppel took one bottle to the shoulder.

"We were forced to use our foggers to give us some space,” he said. “When I was deploying it, a bottle hit me on the right side and splashed. I thought it was water at the time."

Peppel says he went home after a mentally and physically exhausting 12-hour shift. with an itchy rash and a burning sensation on his skin.

That's when he knew that the bottle didn't contain water.

His doctor diagnosed him with a chemical exposure.

“He said, ‘Here are some oral steroids, take the Benedryl and keep your body covered with the Hydrocortizone to help the burning, itching and swelling," Peppel recalled.

A Marine Corps veteran, a National Guardsman, and a police officer, Peppel says he knows the freedom of speech includes listening and he's hoping all future protests are peaceful.

"You have to keep your head on a swivel. You look at each and every person, try and figure out what they're intentions are,” Peppel said. “What they're trying to say and what will they do to you? When I go home at night, I switch into gym clothes because I can't guarantee someone isn't following me to cause harm to my girlfriend or my family."

Sunday night four officers were injured during a riot, including two state troopers.

Interim Chief Jody Blackwell said at a news conference Thursday that he and the police department are going to get the city back under control.