It’s always a mistake to bet on a short City Council meeting.
The meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 20 had the Lake Brandt and Trosper Road rezoning on the agenda that was going to take some time, but that was postponed for 30 days, leaving the City Council with one resolution about bias-based policing that had sparked a lively debate at a work session, mainly because all the councilmembers were trying to be more supportive than the others.
And, in fact, the public portion of the Sept. 20 meeting went pretty quick – two hours. But it was preceded by a nearly two-and-a-half-hour closed session that even Mayor Nancy Vaughan said she didn’t see coming when she apologized to those in the Council Chambers for keeping them waiting for over two hours.
The result of the closed session was that the City Council voted 7 to 2 to release two police body-worn camera videos of an incident that happened on June 18, which most councilmembers knew nothing about until shortly before the meeting. City Manager Jim Westmoreland said the videos would be released at 1 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 26.
In three years, the City Council has released one police body-cam video, so releasing two more is historic.
This video is being released under the policy passed by the City Council in June that will be superseded by a new state law on police body-cam videos that goes into effect on Oct. 1 and takes away the City Council’s right to release videos and gives that power to North Carolina Superior Court judges.
If it takes two hours to decide to release the videos from one event, the City Council should be thankful that the new state law is going into effect, because as more are released there will be pressure to start releasing even more. In this case, no one was injured, no complaint was filed and very few in the city had any idea that an incident had taken place.
The city policy maintains that the police body-cam videos are a part of a police officer’s personnel record and can only be released with the permission of the officer, or if the city manager and the City Council determine that releasing the video is “essential to maintaining public confidence in the administration of city services.”
Since city councilmembers – who are far more plugged in to what is happening in the community than the average citizen – didn’t even know about the incident three months after it happened, it seems like a tough argument to make that this incident was damaging public confidence in the Police Department. One of the reasons that that Councilmembers Mike Barber and Tony Wilkins said they voted against the release is that releasing the second video without the permission of the officer based on maintaining public confidence wasn’t necessary and could cause problems.
Two officers were involved in the incident. Officer Travis Cole, who has since resigned from the Police Department, and a second unnamed female officer. Cole gave permission to release his body-cam video; the female officer did not. Both Barber and Wilkins said they believed the video from Cole’s camera should be released, but not the video from the female officer, who, according to everyone who spoke, behaved appropriately and professionally.
The discussion was supposed to start with a brief description of what happened by Police Chief Wayne Scott. However, shortly after Scott started speaking, Councilmember Justin Outling interrupted and said he didn’t think it was appropriate for Scott to give a description of the incident, which Outling said was “inconsistent with what I personally saw on video.”
The result was that there was never a description of what happened other than in the remarks made by councilmembers, mostly about how horrible it was, without supplying many details.
However, according to councilmembers who spoke after the meeting, plus the curtailed description by Scott and information on the the police website, the incident began as a call about a breaking and entering or a suspicious person on the porch of the house at 2 Mistywood Ct. on June 18. When the police arrived, Dejuan Yourse told the officer it was his mother’s house, but she wasn’t home. The female officer went back to her car to check out the information Yourse had supplied and Cole continued to question Yourse.
At some point Yourse started to make a phone call and Cole told him to stop and ordered Yourse to hand Cole the cell phone. Yourse refused and the two ended up on the ground fighting over the phone.
The female officer returned from her car and helped Cole get Yourse under control. It was reportedly mostly a wrestling match, but councilmembers said Cole did hit Yourse several times.
Yourse was charged with three counts of assault but, reportedly, the charges were dropped. On June 18, he was also charged for two counts of failure to appear for outstanding warrants.
Yourse reportedly was not injured and didn’t file a complaint against the Police Department.
The Police Department determined that Cole used an “inappropriate amount of force.” Cole was placed on administrative duty on August 10 and resigned from the Police Department on August 19.
Outling described the actions by Cole as “reprehensible.”
Councilmember Jamal Fox said, “I was sick to my stomach when I saw that video.”
Councilmember Yvonne Johnson said, “After watching this video you couldn’t help but be deeply disturbed by what you saw.”
Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann said, “The beauty of the body-worn camera and video is that the camera doesn’t lie.”
She said the video showed, “One officer acting inappropriately and the other officer acting in an appropriate manner.”
Both Councilmembers Sharon Hightower and Fox complained that the process had taken too long and that this should have been handled in less than three months.
Scott said that the goal was to get investigations like this completed in 30 days but clearly that didn’t happen.
Hightower also said about Cole, “This was not his first time but his second time having a negative interaction with a person in our community.” She added that if the problem had been fixed the first time, the council wouldn’t be facing the decision on releasing the video.
The first time Hightower was speaking about was the incident in 2014 when Cole arrested Devin and Rufus Scales for blocking traffic, public intoxication and resisting arrest. The police dropped those charges. Westmoreland issued a written apology and the brothers said they reached a $50,000 settlement with the city.
In other business, Wilkins asked if there was anything that the city could do about the cancelled contracts for events at the Coliseum with the Atlantic Coast Conference and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. City Attorney Tom Carruthers said that there was an out clause in the contracts that in his opinion applied.
Barber used that introduction to launch into the entire House Bill 2 (HB2) issue. He said, “The Charlotte City Council passed an ordinance to solve a problem that didn’t exist and that they didn’t have the authority to do.”
He noted that the Republican legislature had extended a hand to Charlotte, agreeing to repeal HB2 if Charlotte would repeal its ordinance, but Charlotte rejected that offer.
Barber said, “At this point we’ve got to put the adults in the room.”
Vaughan argued that Charlotte did have the authority to pass the law and noted that the temporary workers at the Coliseum, the restaurant employees and “the little people who work paycheck to paycheck for an hourly wage are the ones being hurt by this bill.”
Wilkins said, considering the cancellations at the Coliseum, should the city reconsider building a new performing arts center. Wilkins has consistently voted against the performing arts center.
Vaughan replied, “We have to show that we have the backbone to make a bold investment.” And she noted that the city was getting a building for 50 percent off and it would be foolish to pass up a deal like that. The Greater Greensboro Community Foundation has raised half the cost of the performing arts center in private donations.
Outling disagreed with Barber and said he didn’t think it was “the Charlotte City Council who were not being the adults in the room. The legislature in Raleigh could end this tomorrow if they so desired.”
The problem with the legislature ending this tomorrow and the stumbling block that Barber was talking about is that if the legislature repealed HB2 and the Charlotte ordinance remained in effect then every private business in Charlotte and every company that does business with Charlotte would have to have gender-neutral bathrooms and locker room facilities. School facilities were exempted. It is the part of the law that the mainstream media refuse to report.
The Charlotte ordinance is not about transgender bathroom use; it requires private companies to eliminate even signage that indicates a facility is designated for men or women. Restrooms and locker rooms could not even have a graphic of someone in pants on one door and of someone wearing a skirt on the other.
Needless to say, the City Council didn’t solve the HB2 dilemma before the meeting ended at 9:20 p.m.