By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
A Manchester Police sergeant assigned to protecting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis got suspended from VIP duty after he threw a can of Red Bull energy drink at documentary filmmaker Rod Webber.
Sgt. Mark Harrington was a SWAT team leader assigned to DeSantis’ motorcade during a first-in-the-nation primary event in April when he threw the can at Webber as his SUV drove past. The incident was caught by Webber’s camera.
“I was obviously surprised by that,” Webber said.
Harrington didn’t immediately return call seeking comment.
More surprising is the fact Harrington was not, technically, disciplined for throwing his can of Red Bull at a member of the media. According to Captain Ken Loui, with the department’s legal affairs division, Harrington got in trouble for simply having garbage in his hand while he was on duty.
Harrington and other members of the department’s SWAT team were assigned to protect DeSantis while the Republican governor from Florida and presidential candidate was in the city. The department often assigns the SWAT team for VIP protection details, and Harrington was in his “SWAT attire” for the assignment.
Harrington was disciplined for violating department policies regarding conduct unbecoming an officer and neglect of duty, but those violations are not directly tied to his throwing the can at Webber.
“‘Conduct Unbecoming’ stems from the fact that he was acting as a SWAT element leader at the time of the incident, acting to protect a U.S. Presidential candidate, yet he was holding garbage from his meal break in his hand,” Loui explained to InDepthNH.org via email. “When he had to deal with an unexpected threat, Sgt. Harrington was holding garbage in the hand that he needed to use. This reflects poorly on him and the Manchester Police Department. ‘Neglect of Duty’ stems from the fact that Sgt. Harrington failed to properly document the incident with the requisite reports.”
That means that Harrington did not get in trouble for the trash throwing, as he deemed Webber as “an unexpected threat.”
Webber is a musician, actor, and film maker who mixes his left-wing political activism with film making. He is currently working on a follow up to his last movie, “2020: The Dumpster Fire,” a documentary about the last presidential election.
Webber also has a history with the Manchester Police Department. He sued the department and former President Donald Trump after he was assaulted at a Manchester campaign rally in an incident caught on video. The Manchester Police Department settled the lawsuit for $15,000, and Trump agreed to pay Webber another $20,000.
“It’s not my first rodeo with the Manchester Police Department and their complete lack of scruples,” Webber said.
At the time of the April trash throwing, Webber was standing in the street outside the Manchester DoubleTree Hotel where DeSantis had an event. Webber, who presented himself as a member of the media, had been turned away by the DeSantis team.
Webber does not consider himself a member of the mainstream press corps, though he and his work are well-known. His film, “2020: The Dumpster Fire,” plays on Apple TV’s streaming service.
In the street, Webber is seen shouting taunting slogans at the DeSantis motorcade, “Rapists for Ron.” Webber said he was riffing on and protesting the Florida abortion ban law DeSantis had signed that day. The law requires the victims of rape, incest, and human trafficking to provide proof of their status as victims in order to obtain abortions at up to 15 weeks.
The video shows several black SUVs passing Webber as he shouted “Rapists for Ron.” All of the windows on the vehicles were rolled up until the SUV with Harrigton turned the corner. The window was down and an arm is seen throwing something at Webber. It was later identified as a can of Red Bull.
According to Loui, Harrington did not throw the garbage at Webber intentionally, but reacted out of surprise.
“The evidence from our Internal Affairs investigation strongly suggests that Sgt. Harrington was startled by a person appearing so close to his open window, while he was seated in a moving vehicle, protecting a U.S. Presidential candidate. In reaction to being startled, Sgt. Harrington extended his arm to put distance between himself and the perceived threat. The position of MPD Administration is that he should NOT have been startled, given his 14 years of SWAT experience and his responsibility that night as the SWAT element leader, Loui wrote. “Instead, he should have been prepared to act against any perceived threats, and when he needed to extend his arm as part of a startle response, his hand should NOT have been holding garbage in it. Because it obviously was, this has created a situation that reflects poorly on Sgt. Harrington and the MPD (i.e., Conduct Unbecoming).”
Harrington had no way of knowing that the distinctive looking man in the street filming the motorcade strongly resembled the man who made national headlines for suing the department, according to Loui. As far as Harrington knew, Webber was simply a political protestor or a member of the general public.
“At that moment in time, in the darkness, how was Sgt. Harrington to know that this person was simply ‘a working journalist documenting the event?’” Loui wrote in response to InDepthNH.org.
Webber has not made up his mind about pursuing the matter in court. After reporting the incident when it happened in April, Webber did not get notified about the result of the Internal Affairs investigation until Oct. 11. He’ll plot his response to the can throwing once he’d done gathering information. He does want the public to know what happened.
“If they’re gonna (expletive) with me I’m not gonna have it,” Webber said. “I’m gonna try my best to tell the truth as I know it.”
The Manchester Police Department’s Internal Affairs investigation cleared Harrington of any criminal wrongdoing. His formal discipline for the “conduct unbecoming” and “neglect of duty” violations is a written reprimand for each violation. Harrington is also suspended from VIP details for six months.