A City Council committee on Monday moved ahead with significant changes to Charlotte’s Citizens Review Board that would give the panel more power to review complaints of police misconduct.
The recommendations come seven months after an Observer investigation showed the board had never sided with citizens in its 16-year history.
One proposed change addresses what critics have called one of the board’s biggest failings: Citizens who appeal to the board no longer would have to meet an unusually high bar to have their misconduct cases heard. Instead, they would have to provide “substantial evidence that an error occurred” in a police investigation or the department’s decision to discipline the officer.
Another recommendation would allow the board to directly question Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers about their conduct in a case. Current rules typically allow only the board to question department representatives.
The 12 recommended changes advanced by the Council-Manager Relations Committee go further than a report released to the media Friday by Mayor Patsy Kinsey’s office.
If the Council-Manager Relations Committee sticks to its timeline, the full council could vote on the recommendations by November. The committee voted to have city staff draft a statute incorporating the recommendations, and could vote on those changes at next month’s meeting.
The committee accepted every recommendation from a task force that City Council asked in April to gather community input.
The task force did not suggest that the board be given subpoena power or independent investigative power, authority advocates have said were key to determining whether an officer acted improperly. City Attorney Bob Hagemann told committee members that giving the board those powers would require new state legislation, which could take months or years to get enacted.
Task force members said they opted instead to include recommendations that could be put in place immediately.
“The subpoena power, the investigative power, those things mean we have to go before the statehouse in Raleigh. Who knows how long that could take?” said Patricia Albritton, a member of the task force and chair of the city’s community relations committee. She said recommendations submitted Monday are “things we can put in place now.”
Julian Wright, an attorney for the Citizens Review Board, said he doesn’t believe the board needs subpoena and investigative powers, since it handles only appeals from citizens unhappy with the outcome of an Internal Affairs probe.
Board members, he said, also have access to the police department’s entire investigative file in almost every case. The Citizens Review Board can ask the police department to conduct an additional investigation.
Matt Newton, one of the organizers for CRB Reform Now, who had criticized the task force in the past for taking too long, said he was pleased with the recommendations. “We actually found a lot of common ground,” he said.
Other recommended changes:
• If a complainant’s appeal is denied or doesn’t result in a hearing, the board would provide a letter explaining why.
• The city would create a website with information about the internal affairs and review board processes. The site would also include an appeal form that could be completed electronically.
• The board would give complainants information about people who could help them navigate the internal affairs process and any appeals to the Citizens Review Board. That would include information about where to find pro bono legal representation.
In April, then-Mayor Anthony Foxx asked a task force to evaluate the Citizens Review Board.
The task force met with groups of residents and stakeholders – members of the Charlotte School of Law, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and a group advocating for reforming the review board. In a memo to City Council members, police Chief Rodney Monroe said he didn’t believe the board needed to be changed, saying his department does a good job of policing itself.
Monday’s meeting was attended by nearly 30 members of the group Citizens Review Board Reform Now and members of the NAACP. Many were galvanized by the Sept. 14 shooting of an unarmed man by a CMPD officer. Officer Randall Kerrick is charged with voluntary manslaughter in connection with the death of Jonathan Ferrell.
Among the crowd were people who had tried unsuccessfully to navigate the Citizens Review Board process.
Melissa Brown appealed to the board after her 16-year-old son, Hykeem, was shot twice and killed by a police officer in 2007. Police said he had a gun as he fled officers at an apartment complex off Albemarle Road in east Charlotte.
But Brown was not holding a gun – and likely had a cellphone in his hand – when he was shot to death, sources told the Observer.
Brown said she unsuccessfully sought answers by appealing to the Citizens Review Board.
On Monday, she told the Observer if her case were heard under the proposed changes, the result would “probably be different.”
Under current rules complainants must show by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the police chief abused his discretion in deciding an officer’s discipline. The proposed changes lower that standard.
“I didn’t get any recognition,” she said. “I never was heard. I never really got to find out what happened. I never saw the face of the two cops that did it.”
Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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