Charlotte kin of those killed by police seek tougher civilian oversight

A member of SAFE NC speaking to Charlotte City Council on Monday.
A member of SAFE NC speaking to Charlotte City Council on Monday.

Following the decision that the officer who killed a black Charlotte man won’t face criminal charges, relatives of people killed by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officers called Monday for more transparent investigations and tougher civilian oversight of officer-involved shootings.

The group, brought together by SAFE Coalition NC, told Charlotte City Council their concerns at the council’s regular public forum. They called for making more information about police misconduct investigations available to the public, strengthening the city’s civilian police review board and making the process of filing and following up on police complaints easier for citizens.

One of their main demands: subpoena power for the Citizens Review Board, a group established in 1997 to restore public confidence in the city’s police after three unarmed African-Americans were killed by white officers. The review board has been criticized for consistently siding with police in its investigations of citizen complaints. Critics also say the group needs the power to compel witnesses to testify and conduct its own, independent investigations instead of relying on CMPD’s internal affairs unit.

“Without witnesses, the CRB is basically left to choose whether to believe the police or the complainant,” said Paris Hopkins. Her cousin, Janisha Fonville, was shot and killed by a CMPD officer in 2015, in what police ruled was a justified killing. “You will continue to get false narratives.”

City Council seemed open to the idea.

“We’re going to be looking at subpoena power for our Citizens Review Board,” said council member Julie Eiselt, who chairs the board’s public safety committee, at a meeting before the forum.

Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray announced last week that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer who fatally shot Keith Lamont Scott, 43, won’t face charges. Murray said Scott was armed with a handgun, didn’t comply with orders to drop it and that officer Brentley Vinson’s shooting was legally justified.

“I’m extremely convinced that Mr. Vinson’s use of deadly force was lawful,” Murray said of the Sept. 20 shooting.

Days of sometimes-violent protests followed the shooting, erupting within hours and sweeping from University City, where Scott was killed, to uptown in the following days. One protester, Justin Carr, was fatally shot during the unrest (police have charged Rayquan Borum, another protester, in that killing), windows were smashed, stores were looted and the National Guard was called in after two nights of tear gas and riot police.

Since then, City Council has voted to endorse an outside review of CMPD policies, as well as setting a goal of creating 5,000 affordable housing units over the next three years to help address underlying social inequalities in the city. The city is also reviewing its internal policies, such as hiring, to boost economic opportunities for local residents.

Assistant City Manager Debra Campbell said city staff are also looking at the possibility of creating a new website to provide updates to the community and plan to hold more community forums to listen to people’s concerns, including “pop-up” forums at places such as street corners and beauty salons.

“We are in this for the long-haul,” said Campbell.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo