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CMPD Citizens Review Board needs investigative power, professor says

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

A board that reviews residents’complaints against Charlotte-Mecklenburg police needs structural changes if it’s going to provide true due process, a Charlotte School of Law professor told members of the American Civil Liberties Union on Sunday.

The board, which has come under public and political scrutiny recently, should have the ability to conduct independent investigations, Jason Huber told the nearly 50 people gathered Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte. It also needs to focus investigations and inquiries on whether the “complained action actually occurred.”

In 16 years, resident have filed 79 complaints about police misbehavior with the Citizens Review Board. But an Observer investigation showed that the 11-member volunteer board, after meeting behind closed doors, first with the residents, then with the police, has voted to dismiss almost every case without holding a hearing.

At an April meeting attended by dozens of sign-waving residents, the City Council voted to examine the mandate and powers of the board, a decision that could ultimately give residents a better chance of proving that they’ve been victims of police misconduct. A task force has scheduled community forums to seek input into how to change the board.

The task force also wants input from three stakeholder groups, including Huber and the law school.

Huber said Sunday that the board makes it hard for residents to get a fair hearing before police from the outset. People who appeal to the review board must meet an unusually high standard of proof before it will hold hearings on their allegations of police misconduct.

Huber said that process hinders due process.

“It’s at this stage that the fundamental decision is made as to whether they’re going to get due process,” he said.

Huber and the school’s Civil Rights Clinic have also drafted a report based on a three-year study of the board.

The report says procedural barriers and limited investigatory powers have stopped the board from ever ruling in favor of residents’ complaints.

It says the review board is weak because it can’t investigate cases on its own or compel people to testify.

“While this model is often utilized because of its inexpensive administrative needs, a major drawback of this form of oversight is the lack of power afforded to the review committee,” the report says. “Without the investigative and subpoena powers necessary to engage in fully independent fact-finding, review boards such as the CRB in Charlotte must rely on the investigative reports developed by Internal Affairs and the goal of independent neutrality is compromised.”

People who feel they’ve been victims of police misconduct can appeal to the Review Board if they are not satisfied with the results of a CMPD investigation into their complaints.

The board has only held four hearings in 16 years. After each hearing, the board ruled in favor of the police.

In a memo to the council, Chief Rodney Monroe said he doesn’t think the makeup or powers of the board need to be changed. He has told the Observer that he believes his department does a good job of policing itself and that the Review Board has been responsible for department policy changes that have held police more accountable.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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