Crime

Here’s what happened when CMPD tried new approach at racially-tinged encounter

CMPD SWAT members and other officers in the 900 block of Sparrow Valley Way Tuesday morning.
CMPD SWAT members and other officers in the 900 block of Sparrow Valley Way Tuesday morning. WBTV

The community activist looked right at the cop near the crime scene tape on a northwest Charlotte street Tuesday and demanded that police take responsibility for killing another black man.

At a nearby house, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police said, an 18-year-old armed robbery suspect whom police were looking to serve with a warrant was barricaded inside before he fatally shot himself.

Ashley Williams insisted the police killed the teen, Timothy Andre Davis.

“That is completely false,” Lt. Zeru Chickoree responded, as another activist captured the interaction on a Facebook Live video. “And I hope you don’t cause anyone to get hurt in the name of lying. We absolutely did not kill this black man.”

While the back-and-forth remained pointed at times, there was no yelling and no arrests of any of the handful of people who stood in the chilly street.

The goal was to listen to the community, Chickoree said, while challenging the authenticity of some of the information they were putting forward.

The activists are demanding answers – and proof.

CMPD did not release additional details about the Davis case Wednesday. Chickoree said he understands people want information right away, and some folks had asked for photos of Davis on Tuesday. But the person who died deserves a proper investigation, he said, and the information will ultimately come out.

Chickoree is part of a new CMPD unit called the “Constructive Conversation” team, a group that is supposed to engage with protesters and the public, while building rapport and having what could be difficult conversations with people. The group grew out of the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in September, and the protests and occasional violence that rocked the city.

This marked the second time the unit had been deployed in the street. The first came during protests following District Attorney Andrew Murray’s Nov. 30 decision not to charge the officer who shot Scott.

“It’s good that we’re there to talk,” Chickoree said. “We have a mission, and that’s to get the facts out.”

Challenging police

Police were never able to establish communication with Davis after they arrived, Chickoree said, although some in the community assumed there was a dialogue with him when they saw police outside the house.

CMPD on Wednesday declined to say whether they had body cam video footage of when they found Davis’ body. They previously said Davis had not responded to their attempts to contact him.

Ultimately, police said, SWAT members entered the house with a canine, and on the second floor the dog located Davis on the floor with a gun lying near his feet. A Medic worker who is part of the SWAT team pronounced him dead from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Meanwhile, Wednesday night, protesters outside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center continued to raise questions about police actions in Davis’ death. The protesters held placards also denouncing officer-involved fatal shootings of black men, including Scott in September.

Protester Braxton Winston questioned the efficacy of CMPD’s Constructive Conversation team when asked by the Observer.

“If this is something that has just been given attention to, in one sense that’s troubling, because it’s 2016 and the police department and government have been around a long time,” he said. “It depends on what action is taken. Communication is one thing, but action needs to be taken, policies have to be changed.”

Tuesday, Winston had posted on Facebook: “The facts that I know for sure are that, for the second time in less than three months, CMPD showed up to serve a warrant on people that were alive and when CMPD left there were black men dead. #accountability.”

Heartbroken

Winston filmed the Tuesday encounter between police and activists on Facebook Live.

“Ultimately, we’re heartbroken with what happened” to Davis, Chickoree said then.

Arms folded, Chickoree listened as Williams continued to question police activities. Williams is one of the founders of Charlotte Uprising, activists who have been critical of CMPD’s use of lethal force.

Ashley Williams and other group members call for release of accused murderer Rayquan Borum and other 'freedom fighters' in wake of shootings of Keith Scott and Justin Carr

At one point, Williams said, “How can (police actions) be good when the history of policing is slave catching? How can anything that came after that be good?”

“That’s incredibly inaccurate,” Chickoree said.

Williams said police lied about what happened, just like they lied about what happened with Scott.

As upset as Davis’ mother was, Chickoree said, she’d be more distraught about people spreading lies about how he died.

“She’d be upset because y’all killed her son,” Williams said.

“To draw out emotions based on a false narrative is a terrible thing to do,” Chickoree responded.

Williams: “Y’all disrespected him by killing him.”

‘Trying to do things better’

When Murray exonerated Officer Brentley Vinson in the Scott shooting, the prosecutor also denounced pervasive rumors about the case that had spread on social media.

On Wednesday, Chickoree spoke about the damage that can be done by putting out misinformation. “You are preaching a false narrative to a young group of people who are typically their followers, and they’re very impressionable and often emotionally charged.”

The Conversation Unit wants to be out in the community to challenge some of the statements while also providing accountability and having dialogue with people in a respectful way. There are 15 people on the unit, with another 50 to be trained in the new year.

“This team is a result of us trying to do things better,” Chickoree said. “Once we can get folks to speak to us and communicate with us, that’s the end goal.”

Asked if he would have done anything differently Tuesday, Chickoree said the police were “kind of slow” in approaching the traditional media with a press release about the suicide. He said police wanted to ensure they had significant facts to include in the release.

And he said police didn’t anticipate the degree to which they would be challenged over their statement to the traditional media that the shooting was self-inflicted. After putting out the press release, police “assumed it would be accepted, and it wasn’t.”

One more thing. The reason Chickoree had his arms folded almost the entire time: to keep his hands warm. “We’re all human.”

Adam Bell: 704-358-5696, @abell

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