Hearing postponed in case of CMPD officer who drew gun, told unarmed man ‘I will kill you’

Charlotte’s Citizens Review Board has postponed action on a complaint involving a former CMPD officer who pressed a gun to an unarmed man’s head and threatened to kill him while three other officers wrestled with the man on the ground.

The complaint, brought by James Yarborough, alleges CMPD officers violated the department’s use of force policy.

CMPD was due to go before the review board on Wednesday for a hearing where board members would issue an opinion on whether Chief Kerr Putney made the right call in not disciplining the officers. But, that hearing has been pushed back until September 26.

An attorney for the Citizens Review Board said the reason for the delay is confidential. Yarborough’s complaint is several months old, following his arrest from June 2016.

Already, the Citizens Review Board has voted 9-0 to proceed with fact-finding hearings and to question witnesses in Yarborough’s case. A majority of the board voted in July in favor of finding initial “evidence of error” on CMPD’s part in the case.

The Citizens Review Board hears appeals when citizens or members of their family disagree with CMPD internal affairs findings. Yarborough’s is the fifth since last August of a citizen complaint going before the board. All hearings are held privately behind closed doors.

In the past year, the Citizens Review Board has voted two other times to move forward with evidentiary hearings in a complaint against CMPD. The most recent case was brought by the family of Keith Lamont Scott, who was shot and killed by a CMPD officer on Sept. 20, 2016.

In that case, the board voted initially 8-2, finding substantial evidence of error in Putney’s decision that the shooting was justified. In later hearings, the board met shorthanded and reached a tie vote, 4-4, in Scott’s case.

‘I will kill you’

Police video from the scene shows CMPD officers punched and elbowed Yarborough on his head while he was on the ground. The officers also used a Taser on Yarborough after he fled a traffic stop and led police on a foot chase through a neighborhood.

Officer Jon Dunham, who said later that he drew his weapon because he believed Yarborough had a gun, left CMPD for a job at Davidson Police Department shortly after the incident. Dunham is seen and heard on police body cam video footage holding a gun to Yarborough’s head and saying “I will kill you.”

The incident led to an internal affairs investigation at CMPD, which concluded the officers acted appropriately. Later, Putney called some tactics used by officers on scene “indefensible” but rejected Yarborough’s claim that officers used too much force.

The department says Yarborough resisted arrest and refused instructions to put his hands behind his back.

Yarborough’s attorney, Luke Largess, says his client was physically unable to place his hands behind his back because he was laying face down on the ground with four officers surrounding him and pinning him down.

The Citizens Review Board’s independent hearings in this case will likely last just one day, said board attorney Julian Wright. Wright said the request for a continuance or postponement of the hearing date came as a joint request from both Largess and an attorney on behalf of CMPD.

Largess told the Observer he could not comment on the reason for the delay. CMPD attorney, Judy Empken, could not be reached.

A spokesman for CMPD said the department will continue to cooperate with the Citizens Review Board in Yarborough’s case.

Anna Douglas: 704-358-5078, @ADouglasNews