The monthly Greensboro City Council town hall meeting Tuesday, Dec. 4 was unusually heated, with a lot shouting and noise from the audience. Near the end of the meeting two councilmembers got into a heated exchange over a statement made by Mayor Nancy Vaughan that the city would hire mental health professionals to assist police.
There were 45 speakers and the majority spoke about the death of Marcus Deon Smith, who collapsed while police were attempting to restrain him in the early morning hours of Sept. 8. After he collapsed, Smith was transported to the hospital by Guilford County Emergency Medical Service where he died.
The North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has ruled the death a homicide. Both drugs and alcohol as well as evidence of cardiovascular disease were found as contributing factors in his death.
On Friday the Greensboro Police Department released the body worn camera videos of the entire encounter with the police. Those videos are posted on the city’s website.
Smith had been running in and out of traffic on Church Street in a mentally distressed and disoriented state when the police apprehended him. Several times he said someone was trying to kill him and he also said he was going to kill himself.
Many of the speakers said that the police officers who were attempting to restrain Smith “murdered” or “killed” him. Numerous speakers called for Police Chief Wayne Scott to be fired. Some insisted that Scott, City Manager David Parrish and Interim City Attorney Jim Hoffmann all be fired and said that the City Council should be forced to resign.
There was a lot of extremely heated rhetoric coming from the speakers and no one was there to defend the actions of the police officers involved in the incident.
After the City Council had heard the last speaker, Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter made an attempt to defend the actions of the police officers. Abuzuaiter was repeatedly shouted down and Vaughan pleaded with the crowd to allow Abuzuaiter to speak.
After many attempts Abuzuaiter finally made a couple of statements about the actions of police. She noted that Smith was allowed to sit in the back of a police car unrestrained until he started trying to break the windows. Abuzuaiter pointed out that if he had been successful in breaking the window Smith likely would have been injured.
She also noted that the Emergency Medical Technician who arrived on the scene insisted that Smith be restrained before he was transported to the hospital.
Abuzuaiter finally said, “I really can’t judge in this that the officers did wrong.”
Councilmember Justin Outling asked questions about a comment made by Vaughan before the public was allowed to speak. Vaughan had said that not only would the police officers receive more training in handling people with mental health issues, but also that the city would hire mental health professionals to assist police officers.
Outling who said he didn’t know anything about that plan until he heard it had been announced at a public meeting on Monday night, asked where the five votes were to approve it. Vaughan had stated the city was going to start hiring mental health professionals as a fact not as something that was under consideration.
Outling asked how it was going to work. How much it would cost and where the money was coming from.
Councilmember Michelle Kennedy defended the mayor’s statement that Greensboro was going to hire mental health professionals and Outling tried to get answers out of Kennedy. The two ended up in a heated exchange. Since people in the audience joined in with their shouted comments it was difficult to hear what anyone was saying.
Kennedy said that she watched the police body worn camera videos with Vaughan, and Councilmembers Sharon Hightower and Nancy Hoffman and they decided to start hiring mental health professionals to work with police.
Four councilmembers holding a secret, closed, unofficial meeting can’t legally decide the City Council is going to do anything.
The cost of creating a Greensboro mental health department with a staff that would be on call to assist police officers whenever they were involved with people with mental health issues would be astronomical and would most likely require a considerable tax increase.