A monument to Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Va., is covered with graffiti on Sunday, May 31, 2020, after overnight protests over the death of George Floyd.
A monument to Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Va., is covered with graffiti on Sunday, May 31, 2020, after overnight protests over the death of George Floyd.

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA - Police officers in Virginia's capital city are facing disciplinary action after they were filmed using tear gas on a group of peaceful protesters.

The Richmond Police Department initially defended its use of tear gas shortly before an 8 p.m. curfew Monday night, tweeting that some officers "were cut off by violent protesters" and the tear gas "was necessary to get them to safety."

About two hours later, the department retreated from that position after Chief William Smith reviewed video of the incident. In a tweet, the department apologized "for this unwarranted action." The tweet said the officers who used the tear gas "have been pulled from the field" and will be disciplined "because their actions were outside dept protocols and directions given."

Mayor Levar Stoney also apologized on Twitter and invited protesters to a meeting at City Hall at noon Tuesday.

"Words cannot make this right, and words cannot restore the trust broken this evening," Stoney tweeted.

The tear gas was used on a group of protesters gathered near Richmond's statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee during the fourth night of protests over the killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck for more than eight minutes as he pleaded for air. The officer has been charged with murder.

On Monday, the Richmond protesters had marched from downtown to the Lee statue on Monument Avenue.

Video posted to social media showed a line of police launching tear gas toward a group of protesters, who appeared to be yards away from the officers and peacefully gathered on the grass near the statue.

Clouds of white gas surrounded demonstrators as they scattered, and one video appeared to show an officer chasing and spraying a protester.

The department did not say how many officers were involved or what kind of discipline they face.