A semi-impromptu press conference was held Wednesday, May 3, shortly after 3 p.m., outside the Council Chambers by Mayor Nancy Vaughan and Councilmembers Marikay Abuzuaiter, Nancy Hoffmann and Justin Outling.
Vaughan read a prepared statement about the body-worn camera video of the arrest of Jose Charles on July 4, 2016. The other councilmembers said they agreed with the statement and answered questions from the members of the media who had found out about the press conference, although there was no official notification.
Vaughan said, “In view of the premature end of our City Council meeting last night, we wanted to reassure the citizens of Greensboro that we have taken the time to extensively review the body-worn camera video of the July 4, 2016 incident involving a minor.”
Vaughan continued that while the City Council had seen the video, most of the people commenting on the incident have not. She also mentioned that the court order stated that while the City Council could view the video, it could not comment on the video.
Vaughan then said, “Today we support the manager’s decision. In the past we have never avoided making hard decisions. Though we cannot comment on the specifics of this incident, we do recognize and support our manager’s decision and his support for the Greensboro Police Department’s initial determination in this matter.”
Although the City Council had planned how to handle the meeting Tuesday night – because they knew a large number of people would be there who want the council to take action to prevent Charles from going to court – Vaughan said there was no plan to comment at Tuesday’s meeting on the council’s determination to support the decision of the manager and the police chief after viewing the videos.
It might seem to some that the time to talk about what the council was going to do in the case was when there was a room full of people who were so interested in the case that they came to a City Council meeting to speak or support speakers who were asking the council for action. But according to Vaughan that was not the plan.
Although members of the council have been explaining for some time that they were under court order not to talk about the video, they did. Vaughan said that they watched both the compilation that the Police Department had prepared, which was about 20 minutes, and the full, uncut body-worn camera videos, which took several hours, before making their decision.
Outling said, “It was not a close call,” on supporting the city manager and police chief after viewing the videos, which at least gives people some idea of his interpretation of the content of the video.
The court order states, “No councilmember shall discuss, comment on, or disseminate any content or depiction contained in the body-worn camera recordings in open session or to any member of the public.”
At least one attorney, City Councilmember Mike Barber, said that in his opinion the mayor’s statement was skating too close to violating the judge’s order for comfort. Vaughan said that some councilmembers were “scared” to be at the press conference because of the judge’s order not to talk about the video, but she didn’t mention any names.
The press conference was held after the closed session that was recessed at the beginning of the council meeting on Tuesday, May 2 and set to come back into session at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, which was later changed to 3 p.m.
Vaughan, Hoffmann, Outling, Abuzuaiter and Councilmember Yvonne Johnson were in the Council Chambers to vote to reopen the closed session at 3 p.m. Then Johnson went in the City Council office, reportedly to view more video footage, and the other four came out in the hallway for their press conference. Johnson could easily have attended the press conference but chose not to.
The four members of the council made it clear they weren’t speaking for anyone else but that they all agreed with the statement read by Vaughan.
Barber did not attend the press conference but he had a few comments of his own about the recent conduct of the council. Barber said, “In spending all of our time on this one incident we have completely abandoned the business community, completely abandoned the other 300,000 residents of the city and completely abandoned common sense.”
Barber said, “We have spent 3 percent of our time on the $600 million budget coming up and 97 percent of our time on this one issue.”
More specifically, about what happened at the meeting that resulted in the room being cleared, he said, “If one person had been removed from the meeting three months ago, we wouldn’t have had the debacle last night.”