The duplicity of the four members of the Greensboro City Council who held a press conference on Wednesday, May 3 to divulge information about the Jose Charles video is disturbing but not shocking.
At the City Council meeting on Tuesday evening, May 2, all members of the City Council – with the exception of Councilmember Yvonne Johnson – had watched as much of the body-worn camera videos of the Charles incident as they needed to make a decision. Johnson was the only councilmember who went into closed session on Wednesday to watch more videos.
So eight of the nine members of the City Council knew what their decision was on the Charles case at the City Council meeting on May 2.
Charles was arrested near Center City Park on July 4, 2016, after a series of fights broke out in the park. He was 15 at the time. Nelson Johnson and others have raised questions about the arrest and accused the police officers involved of police brutality.
At the May 2 meeting, the City Council faced 150 people who were intensely interested in the case.
The City Council had made its decision, yet with all of the advocates for Charles in the room, the city councilmembers hid behind the court order that prevented them from making a statement about the videos they had watched.
The court ordered the City Council not to talk about the videos because Charles was a juvenile when he was arrested.
It’s easy to see why the City Council hid behind the court order, because the people in the room wanted the City Council to take action and the majority of the City Council had decided not to take any action and to let the Charles case go forward.
Announcing that decision at the meeting would have been highly unpopular, so the City Council punted and claimed that they could not say anything because of the court order.
But on Wednesday, in front of a select group of media who were notified or found out about the press conference, Mayor Nancy Vaughan and Councilmembers Marikay Abuzuaiter, Nancy Hoffmann and Justin Outling deemed that the restrictions on speaking about the videos no longer applied and they could make a statement about their decision to uphold the findings and conclusions of the city manager and police chief.
The findings of the city manager and police chief have not been officially released, but the city manager and police chief found that no disciplinary action should be taken against the police officers making the arrest. In essence, that no laws or city policies were violated.
The judge’s order had not changed. If it was illegal for the mayor and city councilmembers to talk about their decision on Tuesday night, as they said, then it was illegal on Wednesday afternoon.
Outling did want to make a statement about the council’s decision to uphold the findings and conclusions of the city manager and the police chief at the Tuesday, May 2 City Council meeting after everyone had been forced to leave the building and the City Council chambers were empty. But the majority of the City Council wanted to adjourn without making a statement, so that is what happened.
Outling, who is an attorney, said that in his opinion his statement concerning the City Council’s decision about what action to take after viewing the police body-worn camera videos of the arrest of Charles did not violate the judge’s order not to speak about the video.
City Councilmember Mike Barber, who is also an attorney, strongly disagreed. Barber said that the City Council was ordered not to talk about the video and the statements made by Vaughan, Outling, Hoffmann and Abuzuaiter violated that order.
The City Council can’t have it both ways. If the court order not to talk about the video outside of closed session means that they can’t talk about the video then four councilmembers should not have held a press conference to talk about the video.
If the City Council can in fact talk about the video, the time to do it was when the council chambers were full of people who came to talk about the case, having not had the privilege of viewing the video.