The recent Citizens Police Review Board public hearing and subsequent work session was nothing short of entertaining. Outside of Bill Easley’s cantankerous rant and Marlon Jordan‘s “klan” theatrics, the public hearing was moving. The overwhelming majority of the nearly 80 in attendance, and the 15 or 20 folks who addressed the board in 3 minute increments, were there to ask that the board reject the changes proposed by Chief Burton and the Columbia Police Officers Association. [See our previous blog on the proposed changes] There were a handful of seats occupied by current and former police officers or police volunteers, two of whom addressed the board in support of Chief Burton and the CPOA, but there were no civilians who voiced approval for the ordinance change.
When the public hearing came to a close, after a 30 minute extension, the board’s work session began with an invitation for Chief Burton and CPOA representatives, Eric Dearmont and Ashley Cuttle to take a seat on the stage. Much to the chagrin of the citizens in the crowd, public comment was stifled as these three were given unlimited time to rebut and refute any and all input from the public.
It is important to note that while the Chief is a public employee and an argument could be made for him having a seat in the work session, neither Eric Dearmont nor Ashley Cuttle are public employees and are instead paid employees of the CPOA. The CPOA, while comprised of citizens employed as police officers and attorneys hired to represent them, is not a public entity. It is a private organization, not subject to sunshine laws or official public scrutiny. In reality, the CPOA is no different than any of the other reputable organizations that were in attendance at the hearing and limited to only 3 minutes of input each.
The message sent by allowing the CPOA unlimited and unrebutted input into the proceedings is undeniable. The review board has been labeled as sympathetic to the police since its inception, and allowing the CPOA a bully pulpit at a work session only serves to bolster the label. The reaction from the crowd in attendance was also undeniable as eruptions of vocal discord periodically interrupted the work sessions with shouts of “bullshit” (disguised as sneezes) and loud demands for public rebuttal to the misleading and outright false claims made by both the Chief and the CPOA.
In an interesting turn, one board member, Susan Smith, who this blogger previously derided as a police stooge, heroically stood her ground against the unencumbered onslaught from Chief Burton and the CPOA, and forcefully repelled the attack with well reasoned arguments. This180 degree about face caused several jaws to drop in the audience. It was a truly pivotal moment as Ms. Smith informed the Chief that it was the City Council and not the CPRB who had already ruled on who might have standing in front of the board so asking for another change would be futile. Not only had the City Council ruled on standing, they had broadened the scope of who can file a complaint after the board suggested it be tightened. Smith made it clear that the board would not be making the same request twice. Ms. Smith went on to point out the many holes in how the Chief described the board’s rulings. Kudos to you, Ms. Smith.
There were two more vocal heroes who piped up during the work session. Betty Wilson continued her stalwart support of the citizenry as she made it clear that she was having none of what the Chief and the CPOA were offering. Even Rose Wibbenmeyer, in her role as city legal council for the board, pointed out why a charter city like Columbia does not need to adhere to State definitions of misconduct and went on to refute several other disingenuous legal arguments made by Eric Dearmont. Rose maintained her professional distance and did not offer an opinion,merely facts.
Even newcomer and former LAPD officer, Roger Dowis, challenged a few of the Chief’s points, seemingly finding his voice on the board. Strangely, many for the other board members spoke only once, or for procedural rules of order, or not at all.
Enjoy a few videos from the hearing, most of which are courtesy of the amazing folks over at Citizens for Justice.