‘Consistent rejection, lack of cooperation’ from ATL police
By JIM WALLS
Atlanta police are breaking the law that requires them to turn over files to a citizen oversight board that investigates complaints against officers, one of the law’s chief sponsors says.
Police – and Mayor Shirley Franklin’s chief of staff – counter that they’re actually upholding state law protecting open investigative files by hanging on to them until they are closed.
It boiled down to that Friday when the City Council’s Public Safety Committee met with police and the Citizen Review Board to smooth over their differences. The council created the board in response to the 2006 killing of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston in a botched drug raid.
Councilman H. Lamar Willis told police the 2007 ordinance creating the board clearly gives it access to open investigative files.
“It’s about power. The Police Department basically doesn’t want to trust this board to do its job,” Willis said. “The problem is we have an ordinance on the books that is not being followed.”
“It’s being partially followed,” Franklin’s chief of staff, Greg Pridgeon, replied.
Chairman Rod Edmond said the board has “met with nothing but consistent rejection and lack of cooperation from the Police Department” since the board got up and running last fall.
Police resistance to the panel’s inquiries extends beyond access to investigative files, members say. Officers will not give statements to the board, even on complaints that do not allege criminal conduct.
Twice in recent weeks, officers appeared with an attorney and refused to answer questions about citizens’ complaints. One involved alleged excessive force, the other harassment of a lesbian couple. Neither complainant was physically harmed.
The officers “stonewalled them,” Edmond told council members. “Is that cooperation?”
Cris Beamud, the board’s executive director, said she e-mailed Police Chief Richard Pennington twice about the officers’ silence, “imploring him to do something about it because it was my feeling they would never comply unless there were consequences.”
Pennington never replied, she said. “There is no sign the chief is willing to discipline officers who refuse to give statements,” she said.
Today, the Public Safety Committee will again consider the board’s request for a subpoena to force police to turn over files on the fatal Dec. 19 shooting of robbery suspect Pierre George. Police have said George advanced on an officer in a threatening manner and was shot when he reached for his waistband; no weapon was found at the scene.
Mayor Franklin has also asked the committee to back legislation that would give the board access only to closed police files. Pridgeon insisted Friday that she supports the board’s mission.
“The mayor is not trying do away with the Citizen Review Board,” Pridgeon said. “She absolutely is not. She is trying to find a way to make it work.”
Willis says the success of citizen oversight ultimately will hinge on whether Pennington and Franklin support it.
“If they don’t buy into it, it’ll never work,” Willis said. “These officers respond to their leadership.”