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Oversight board bemoans APD’s continued foot-dragging
Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington undercut an oversight board last week by refusing to discipline officers who won’t answer the panel’s questions, the board’s chairman complained Thursday.
Pennington had promised in September to establish procedures requiring officers to cooperate with the Atlanta Citizen Review Board and to discipline those who don’t. But the new procedures, released Nov. 12, call for discipline only if “an employee refuses to report before the CRB when requested to do so.”
About a dozen officers have shown up when the board asked, with an attorney present, and then refused to answer any questions about the case in question, executive director Cristina Beamud has said.
Board chairman Rod Edmond, an attorney, wrote Pennington on Thursday to express his “disappointment” with Pennington’s position:
“You assured the members of the board that the department will also develop a discipline component for officers who do not cooperate with the review board. I cannot imagine that cooperation would be limited to the officers’ appearance without the requirement that they submit to an interview. This is a very strained reading of the ordinance and of your previous commitment to the oversight system.”
The Atlanta City Council created the board in 2007 after a botched drug raid in which 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston was killed while trying to defend herself. A federal investigation led to convictions, prison sentences and/or probation for five APD officers.
Edmond said Pennington’s approach will handcuff the review board:
“We strive to ensure a thorough, rigorous, unbiased, and timely investigation of every complaint that falls within the Board’s jurisdiction. Without the ability to interview officers, it will be very difficult to accomplish our mission.”
The Atlanta police union has urged members to resist the review board’s questioning. The union’s leaders argue that officers’ rights to due process would be at risk if they were forced to disclose information in an administrative inquiry while they might also be facing criminal prosecution.
Many cases taken up by the review board are also under investigation by APD’s internal affairs unit and Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard.