Tuesday night, May 16, Mayor Nancy Vaughan had another tough City Council meeting, but this one had a much better outcome than the City Council meeting two weeks ago.
Vaughan took control, had three people removed from the Council Chambers and, for the rest of the meeting, there were no more outbursts.
Two weeks ago I wrote that if Vaughan was unable or unwilling to do her job and run the City Council meetings so that the business of the city could be conducted, then she should resign. This week Vaughan made it clear she intends to run the meeting. She told the people disrupting the meeting she would have them removed one by one if they continued to be disruptive, and she did.
After Vaughan had the third person removed, she ordered the security staff and police to remove anyone else who yelled from the audience without her specifically pointing them out. No one else was removed.
It made an incredible difference because City Council meetings have been getting out of hand for a while. Two weeks ago when the City Council ran off the dais and left the room to the hooligans who were disrupting the meeting, it was embarrassing for the City Council and for Greensboro. That is not the way the majority of the people of Greensboro want their government run.
To her credit, Vaughan realized that she had not handled that meeting well and decided not to make that mistake again. With the first outcry from someone in the audience, Vaughan said the next person shouting out would be removed and then had a woman removed, then a man was removed and finally one more man decided to try Vaughan’s resolve and he too was removed.
The people in the audience got the message and the City Council was allowed to continue its meeting uninterrupted. Boy Scout Troop 244 was in the audience observing the meeting and they got to see a much more interesting one than most.
During all of the interruptions, City Councilmember Mike Barber was speaking about the Jose Charles case.
Barber has been largely silent about the case and has said that in his opinion Vaughan and City Councilmembers Nancy Hoffmann, Marikay Abuzuaiter and Justin Outling violated the court order not to speak about the contents of the video of Charles arrest, which the council had viewed in closed session when they held a press conference to state that they supported the actions of Police Chief Wayne Scott and City Manager Jim Westmoreland.
Scott and Westmoreland took no action regarding the police officers who arrested Charles after a large fight in Center City Park on July 4, 2016. By taking no action the police chief and manager confirmed that the police officers had acted in accordance with city policy and state law in making the arrest.
Barber said his comments were not based on anything he saw in the video but on Charles’ recent court case, which, at the request of Charles’ mother, was open to the public. Charles was a juvenile when he was arrested and the court cases for juveniles are ordinarily closed to the public and the court records are sealed.
Barber said, “The representation of the convicted juvenile were grossly inaccurate by the people who have come up here repeatedly to speak.”
He said, “The headline that talked about the charges being dropped was the most inaccurate headline we have ever seen.”
The headline was in the News & Record and read, ”Judge dismisses charges against teen from festival.”
He noted that the lesser charges against Charles were dropped and Charles pled guilty to two counts of breaking and entering and one count of conspiracy to commit breaking and entering, which are felonies. This is fairly common in court – lesser charges are often dismissed if the defendant will plead guilty to the more serious crimes.
Charles pled guilty to three felonies it was also revealed in court that he is a gang member and will soon be a father. The Charles that stood in court is a far cry from the innocent child that speakers have been describing at City Council meetings.
None of the many followers of Nelson Johnson who have come to speak to the City Council in the past couple of months about how Charles was mistreated by police, with the exception of his mother, had seen the video and none of them were present when Charles was arrested. They have no idea what happened other than what they had been told.
The City Council, which has seen the video, including Outling – who didn’t hesitate to say that he believed Dejuan Yourse was mistreated by police after the City Council viewed the video of the incident involving Yourse – agreed that the police followed the law and police policy in arresting Charles. After seeing the video, Outling said, “It wasn’t close.” He added, “There is zero doubt in my mind.”
Barber at Tuesday’s meeting had a few more things to say. He said that the people who had done the most damage to Charles were the people who came to the City Council and, at meeting after meeting, said his name publicly. Barber said that the political and legal philosophy governing juvenile offenders is that they should be protected from the public so that a mistake made in their youth doesn’t follow them when they are an adult.
Barber also said that after the Charles case, “there’ll be another one. It may or may not be a juvenile, but it will be just as specious.”
Barber was interrupted by Brian Watkins, who has regularly been yelling and disrupting council meetings for months.
Vaughan ordered Watkins removed and as the security guards and police were removing Watkins, Barber said, “Aren’t you the Brian Drew Watkins from Texas? Aren’t you a registered sex offender?”
Watkins replied, “What does that have to do with anything.”
Barber said, “Weren’t you at the YWCA last night.”
Watkins said, “So what. It was a public meeting.”
Barber then asked City Attorney Tom Carruthers to review Chapter 27 of the North Carolina General Statutes. Barber noted that Watkins was often in the Council Chambers where there are children and added, “He certainly should not have been at the YWCA where he was last night.”
Barber asked Carruthers to determine whether or not Watkins was violating state law regarding registered sex offenders and to inform the council how it should proceed going forward in regard to Watkins.
Barber also asked the people who were there to speak about Charles and disrupt the meeting to do something useful with their time. He suggested that instead of following “false prophets” they volunteer to work with one of the organizations in the city that provides food for children who otherwise go hungry over the weekend.
Vaughan and Barber may not think that having people shouting at the City Council or speakers who they disagree with is the proper way to run a meeting, but Councilmember Sharon Hightower disagrees.
Hightower said, “To remove people is wrong.”
Earlier, Hightower, ignoring state law and the court order, said, “I’ve said all along we should have released the video.”
The North Carolina General Assembly passed a statute last year governing the release of body-worn camera videos. The City Council no longer has the authority to release any police body-worn camera videos. According to state law the videos can only be released by a Superior Court judge. In the Charles case the judge said that the City Council could view the video in closed session and added that members of the City Council could not speak about the contents of the video.
Any release of the video by the City Council would be in direct violation of state law, which is what Hightower is advocating.
Outling did make a motion that if Charles’ mother, Tamara Figueroa, petitioned the court to release the police body-worn camera video to the public that the City Council would join in that request. Outling’s motion passed 8 to 1 with Councilmember Tony Wilkins voting no.
This appears to be a case like the body-worn camera video of the shooting of Chieu Di Thi Vo, where releasing the video showed that the police officer was right. It seems unlikely that Figueroa would want to have the video released to the public, particularly since Charles has been to court.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Vaughan had to remove a couple more people from the next City Council meeting. But it won’t take long before people realize that if they purposefully disrupt the meeting they will be removed, and the City Council should be able to do the business of the city without being interrupted by people who attend the meeting for the purpose of being disruptive.