The special called meeting of the Greensboro City Council on Monday, Sept. 26 revealed that, without the benefit of an election, Greensboro has a new mayor – Rev. Nelson Johnson.
The event appeared to be orchestrated by Johnson, pastor of Faith Community Church, and, shockingly, while some of the orchestration was done behind the scenes, some of it was done right out there in public with Johnson shouting directions from the audience. In the past, some people shouting at the City Council from the audience have been removed from the chambers, and some have been arrested. But when Johnson shouted instructions, the elected mayor, Nancy Vaughan, did what he asked.
There was in fact no reason to hold the special called City Council meeting. At last Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting on Sept. 20, the council met in closed session for over two hours and then voted to release the police body-cam video of Officer Travis Cole attacking and arresting Dejuan Yourse on June 17. There is no doubt that Cole was out of line. Cole suddenly attacked Yourse for making a telephone call when Yourse had made several calls, and earlier had handed his cell phone to Cole so that Cole could talk to his mother. Yourse’s mother, Livia Yourse, didn’t answer. But to go from handing the cell phone back and forth to attacking Yourse for making another call was shocking. From the video it appears the attack comes out of nowhere. There is no defense for what Cole did, but what the incident proves is that the current system is working.
When the body-cam videos worked their way up to Deputy Chief James Hinson, Cole was immediately taken off the street and put on administrative duty. He was later suspended with pay while the Police Department investigated his case. Cole resigned before the investigation was complete. But after he had resigned the process went forward and the administrative charges against Cole were “sustained,” which means he was found guilty of violating several department policies including one on the use of force. The Police Department had no authority at that point to punish Cole because he was no longer an employee of the department.
The findings of the criminal investigation of Cole were turned over to the Guilford County district attorney’s office, but the district attorney did not bring charges against Cole.
Cole resigned from the Greensboro Police Department during the investigation and maintained his state license to be a law enforcement officer.
City Councilmember Sharon Hightower said she learned about the event on Monday, Sept. 19. Other councilmembers said they didn’t know anything about it until the Tuesday evening City Council meeting.
So the City Council heard about the event, voted on Sept. 20 to release the video to maintain public confidence in the Police Department, and the decision was made to release the video on Monday, Sept. 26 at 1 p.m.
However, instead of simply releasing the video, Vaughan decided to call a special City Council meeting for 1 p.m., and prior to that there was a crowd of over a hundred protestors in Phill G. McDonald Plaza in front of the municipal building demanding that the video be released.
The start of the City Council meeting was delayed for over 20 minutes so the protestors could get through security and into the meeting.
At the meeting it became evident who was running the show, and it wasn’t Vaughan. There was no item on the agenda for “speakers from the floor,” where the public is allowed to come to the podium and speak. However, Johnson talked to Vaughan before the meeting was called to order and she decided to allow speakers from the floor.
Then, after the meeting started, Vaughan called for speakers from the floor and Johnson stood up in the audience and said they wanted to see the video first and then speak. Instead of telling Johnson he was out of order, Vaughan followed his direction and moved the speakers to after the video was shown.
The purported reason for the meeting was for the City Council to pass a resolution asking for the Guilford County district attorney to review the incident again and to send a letter to the state Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission to ask for a suspension of Cole’s certification as a law enforcement officer.
But there was no reason why the resolution, which is essentially meaningless, couldn’t have been passed at the next regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 4. A few weeks ago, when some on the City Council wanted to pass a resolution opposing the state body-cam video law, Vaughan said that a resolution was just piece of paper.
City Councilmember Mike Barber, who was out of town and couldn’t attend Monday’s meeting, said Tuesday, “In closed session I said no less than six times, do not have a meeting with the release of the video.”
Barber noted that the City Council had no authority to bring charges against anybody, nor did it have the authority to take away someone’s certification to be a law enforcement officer.
Barber said, “Why was there a resolution that goes far beyond our authority?”
The district attorney is an elected official just like the members of the City Council. I can’t remember a time when the district attorney has tried to tell the City Council what to do, but this City Council likes to try and tell other elected officials what to do.
There was a lot of shouting going on during much of the meeting, at the very beginning of the meeting some of the protestors were shouting, “Release the tape.”
Vaughan responded, “I will clear the room. We’ve already said that we are going to release the tape.”
During the meeting Vaughan repeatedly threatened to clear the room and asked people to “Please” be quiet.
It appeared that in this case the City Council had done everything it was asked to do. Police Chief Wayne Scott said that he found out on Monday, Sept. 19 from Faith Community that there was a lot of interest in the video. Scott went to City Manager Jim Westmoreland, who went to the City Council, and on Sept. 20 the City Council voted 7 to 2 to release the video to the public as soon as it was ready.
Government can move slowly, but to hear about the public wanting to see a video and have it released in a week is galloping for a large bureaucracy.
This could not have been a big issue in the community because even Councilmembers Sharon Hightower and Marikay Abuzuaiter, who seem to attend every event where more than three people are gathered, didn’t know about it until last week. Councilmember Jamal Fox, who is also plugged in to the community, said he didn’t know anything about the incident until last week.
When Lewis Pitts spoke, he said the community found out about it because police officers leaked the information. It appeared that the Faith Community Church found out about it and put the pressure on the City Council to release the video and then hold a special called meeting.
It’s pretty obvious that the City Council can’t be expected to release a video it doesn’t know exists, but also, according to the City Council’s policy, it can only release videos for specific reasons, and one of those is to maintain public confidence. In this case, since most of the public didn’t know about the video, it’s tough to argue that it had to be released to maintain public confidence, but the City Council made that decision.
Vaughan noted at Monday’s meeting that it is difficult to talk about a video right after you have seen it for the first time. Hightower said, “I was OK with no comments until the next meeting.” That had been the plan for the meeting until Johnson objected.
Outside, Johnson had told the protestors that they were going into the people’s house but the people would not be allowed to speak. It turned out they were allowed to speak and to speak when they wanted to.
Everyone on the City Council and in the audience seemed to be in agreement that Cole had used excessive force for no apparent reason. The two councilmembers who had voted against the release of the videos did so, not because they didn’t think Cole had used unnecessary force, but because they didn’t think the video of the other office on the scene, Officer C.N. Jackson, should be released without her consent.
After the video was shown, Vaughan said, “Mr. Yourse, as mayor I want to apologize for this incident. It was ugly and brutal and unnecessary.”
All the other members of council added their own apologies or agreed with the statement.
Fox, who participated in the meeting by phone, asked why Cole wasn’t terminated and why he was suspended with pay before he resigned.
Chief Scott explained that that was the city policy of the Human Resources Department. When asked later when an employee could be suspended without pay, Scott said only if it was punitive, which would mean after the investigation was complete.
A number of speakers questioned Cole being suspended with pay, but like in all large organizations there is a process. Cole had not been found guilty of anything when he was suspended. He was simply under investigation. Just because someone looks guilty from watching a video doesn’t mean they are guilty. Certainly, something that wasn’t seen in the video could have happened that might have justified Cole’s actions. The investigation didn’t find any such evidence, but the investigators didn’t know that going in.
If the City Council were to pass a policy that, if an employee were even suspected of wrong doing they would be suspended without pay until an investigation was finished, it would make recruiting police officers far more difficult, because the police are often accused of wrongdoing by people they arrest when it turns out the police behaved properly.
Fox also wanted the officers charged with filing false charges because the charges against Yourse were dismissed. Charges are dismissed frequently. The police officer may think that there is enough evidence to win a case in court and the district attorney’s office that actually has to try the case disagrees. To start charging officers who file charges that are later dismissed with filing false charges would make the job of a police officer, which is already difficult, impossible.
Fox also brought up what many of the speakers also expressed concern about, and that is the two months that it took for this case to work its way through the system and for Cole to be taken off the streets.
Chief Scott had said that he agreed the process took too long, that it should have been completed in 30 days and it wasn’t. He didn’t make any excuses but said they would look into it and work to move investigations along faster.
Here’s an excuse Scott could have used: This happened in the summer when most people around here go on vacation; it’s really hard to get things approved by organizations in the summer because invariably something ends up on a desk for two weeks while that person is on vacation.
No one has said that’s what happened here, but it seems likely.
Hightower in particular doesn’t seem to understand that there is a chain of command in the Police Department and Scott doesn’t personally deal with every police officer who has used force or is accused of misconduct.
Hightower actually suggested that Scott look at all the body-worn camera videos when a police officer files a use-of-force report. Scott said that happened about 200 times a year. She also wants the City Council to be informed of every instance where a police officer uses force. It sounded like Hightower wants the City Council to run the Police Department.
After the video was shown, Rev. Cardes Brown was the first of 15 speakers from the floor. They had two minutes each to speak.
Brown said that he had been concerned about Cole’s behavior for some time since the incident with the Scales brothers. Cole arrested Devin and Rufus Scales in August 2014 for public intoxication, blocking a street and resisting arrest. After a video of the arrest of one of the brothers was made public, the charges were dropped, Cole was investigated and suspended for two days without pay, the city apologized to the Scales brothers and paid them $50,000.
Brown said about the Cole incident, “I can’t believe that even our chief didn’t have any knowledge until this late hour.”
He added, “If you think for one minute we are satisfied because you suspended Officer Cole that is not true.”
Rev. Clarence Hunt said, “I know that this happens all the time to people of color. We have a problem; we have a systemic problem.”
He also said that Officer Jackson, who was the first officer to respond and was not on the porch when Cole attacked Yourse, “should be subjected to the same punishment as officer Cole.”
After the City Council watched the video last week, the councilmembers were in agreement that Jackson did nothing wrong and her behavior was appropriate.
Hunt was the first to say that Jackson should also be punished, but others followed saying the same thing.
Johnson said, “If this were just about Officer Cole, it would be simple. He would be terminated and that would be it.” But he said it was about much more.
Johnson – who had lobbied for and been given the right to speak when speakers weren’t on the agenda and then got the time for speakers moved to after the video was shown – said, “Your not helping your standing to stop people from expressing themselves in here.” Evidently he was speaking of the people who were shouting out from the audience like he did, but were being told repeatedly by Vaughan that they had to be quiet or she would clear the room.
Johnson, who has long fought for a citizens’ police review board suggested that the city establish a citizens’ independent inquiry board that would be given all the documents associated with the case to do an independent investigation.
People in the crowd demanded that Deputy Chief Hinson get up and speak because he is over the patrol division.
In keeping with the way the meeting was being run – by the audience instead of by the mayor and City Council – Hinson was invited to the podium by Chief Scott. Hinson said that he first became of the incident and the video on August 9 and he immediately determined that Cole should be removed from the streets and informed Scott of the incident.
Hinson said, “I became aware of this on August 9 and I took immediate action.”
Hightower said that action should have been taken sooner.
City Councilmember Justin Outling said about the Cole incident, “Too many people in our country can personally relate to that experience.”
He said that it didn’t change when you got elected to City Council and didn’t change when you became an attorney.
Outling said that it was not only an offense to the victim but harmed the Police Department and entire community.
He added that this type of behavior did not start with this City Council or with this police chief but had been going on for decades.
Outling said, “Institutions are not built in a day and they are not reformed in a day.”
He credited the Police Department with being leaders in the fight against biased-based policing and said that Scott had been very strong against it.
He said, “There are many issues on which we can improve.” But he said that the city was moving in the right direction and that the City Council had taken a legal risk in passing the resolution.
The City Council also unanimously passed a resolution to do what it could to help Yourse get his arrests expunged from his record at the prompting of Hightower.
Police Promotions Become An Issue
Wednesday, Sept. 28, there was another twist to the former Greensboro Police Officer Travis Cole story.
It was revealed Tuesday, Sept. 27, that while Cole was under investigation for the June 17 incident, a promotion that had been approved by Police Chief Wayne Scott on May 18 went into effect on August 1.
On Wednesday, City Manager Jim Westmoreland issued a statement that the promotions of four officers who were scheduled to be promoted in a ceremony that day and who were involved in the investigation of Cole be put on hold for 30 days while Police Chief Wayne Scott prepares a report on the investigation of Cole and why it took so long to come to the attention of the command staff.
The ceremony took place at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, but Capt. Joel Cranford, Capt. Mike Richey, Lt. Jill Gladieux and Sgt. Stacy Morton, who reportedly were all involved in the investigation of the Cole incident, were not promoted.
Deputy Chief James Hinson said at the City Council meeting on Monday, Sept. 26, that he first learned of the June 17 arrest of Dejuan Yourse by Cole on August 9. Hinson said that after he viewed the videos he took immediate action, removing Cole from the streets and notifying Scott of the incident. The question seems to be, why did an incident that happened on June 17 take nearly two months to get to the command staff.
Cole resigned during the investigation of his actions on June 17, but the internal investigation did find him guilty of violating police policies, including one on use of force.
At least three city councilmembers, Mike Barber, Marikay Abuzuaiter and Tony Wilkins, were not pleased with Westmoreland’s decision to postpone the promotions of those four police officers for 30 days.
Barber, in an email to his fellow councilmembers and Westmoreland wrote: “Policy direction should come from the majority of council. The delay paints these officers negatively. We need to make sure their salaries are increased as of today -when whatever you appear to be doing is done. This is classic guilty til proven innocent. … This is knee jerk and not methodical, professional or responsible.”
Abuzuaiter, also to Westmoreland and her fellow councilmembers, wrote: “If there was no criminal investigation called for on Officer Cole until August 10, how can this be perceived as a delay or wrongdoing on the part of several officers who would have been promoted today?”
Abuzuaiter continued, “I only learned about this when I saw the email this morning although I know there were discussions with certain council members prior to today about delaying the promotions ceremony. Talk about being the last to know…as an at-large councilmember I believe communications and discussions concerning something this serious should have occurred prior to my finding out about it in an email.”
Both Barber and Abuzuaiter also asked for their apologies to be conveyed to the four officers who weren’t promoted today.
Wilkins, also to Westmoreland and his fellow councilmembers, wrote, “I am just now finding out about this and want to express my strong agreement with Council members Barber and Abuzuaiter. While you could have easily made this a city wide policy until after any investigation is completed you have now put a target on the backs of these officers you have named.
“Did you have a consensus of council before making such a decision?
“We’re finding out that a select few had input on the resolution passed Monday. Now it appears a select few are being consulted with before making such a very poor decision.”
Wilkins added, “This is the worst leadership action I have seen you make since I’ve been on this council. I would hope that in the future you would include all of council before finalizing such an important decision.”
Councilmember Sharon Hightower responded to the email from Westmoreland announcing his decision to suspend the promotion of the officers involved in the investigation for 30 days with this email: “What exactly does this mean? Can you contact me? How many are involved? Can this information be revealed?”
Wednesday afternoon Westmoreland responding to the criticism of his decision to postpone the promotion of four officers sent an email to city councilmembers offering some explanation for the decision.
He said that with the inquiry into the investigation of the Cole incident incomplete, he thought it would be better to wait until it was finished and presented to City Council before promoting the officers involved.
He also said that he was concerned that the promotion ceremony for the Police Department would be subject to protests and wanted to “eliminate the potential for a protest” and believed that postponing four officers’ promotion was the best way to avoid one.
If this was an attempt to calm the waters on the City Council, it wasn’t entirely successful. Wilkins responded to Westmoreland’s email with an email asking how the protestors would know which officers were involved in the investigation since the City Council wasn’t informed who the four were until after the postponement of their promotions was announced.
There is a good reason why City Council business is supposed to be conducted at a public meeting. This is an example of the City Council conducting business by email. Although the emails are public records, it is extremely difficult for nine people to discuss an issue and reach a consensus by email.
It appears Westmoreland is under pressure from all sides, and whatever action he takes some councilmembers are going to disagree. However, the promotions ceremony has been scheduled for some time. If there was a perceived problem with going forward with promotions, it could have been discussed by the full City Council on Monday. At least then Westmoreland would know what the consensus of council was before he took action.
It seems the Cole incident is a long way from over, and at least some councilmembers are not at all happy with this latest turn of events.
As we were going to press, Westmoreland informed the City Council by email that officer C.N. Jackson had resigned from the Greensboro Police Department. Jackson was the officer on the call with Cole, and after the City Council viewed the body-cam videos of the arrest of Dejuan Yourse last week, several councilmembers commented that Jackson behaved appropriately at all times in a difficult situation.
Jackson did not consent to the release of her body-worn camera video, which the City Council voted 7 to 2 to release without her permission. Both Wilkins and Barber, who voted against the motion to release the videos, said they did so because, since Jackson had not agreed to the release and had done nothing wrong, they thought the release it was uncalled for.