Cop oversight panel seeking subpoena power — and more
UPDATE: The City Council voted 13-1 today to grant the Citizen Review Board subpoena power and to require that the police chief discipline officers who won’t cooperate with the board. I couldn’t be there, but the AJC was.
A citizen oversight panel could learn today whether it may compel Atlanta police officers to appear to answer investigators’ questions.
The Atlanta Citizen Review Board, if it does not win subpoena power, may file suit to force officers to cooperate. Maybe even if it does, judging from an emotional debate last week on the board’s limited success.
The City Council today will consider whether to allow the CRB to subpoena officers who refuse to appear before it. Now the board must persuade a council committee to approve those subpoenas.
The proposal would also require the police chief to discipline officers who won’t cooperate with the CRB’s inquiries. City ordinance requires cops to cooperate with the board, but the Police Department has never punished an officer who refuses.
“We’re asking them to pass a law that requires the chief of police to simply follow the law,” said Seth Kirschenbaum, the board’s vice chairman. “Police departments ought to follow the law. They are the enforcers of it.”
Subpoena power and enforced discipline still may not be enough. Last week, member Rod Edmond asked the board to sue the Police Department for violating the 2007 law that created a process for citizen oversight.
“The ordinance is the law. The Police Department, when they come in here and won’t cooperate, they are violating the law. It does not get any clearer than that,” Edmond said. “Police officers are still parading up with a lawyer present and saying they’re not going to answer any questions.”
Resistant officers contend they would be waiving their right against self-incrimination if they were forced to answer questions from the CRB. They say a city attorney’s opinion, holding that their answers could not be used in future criminal proceedings, does not satisfy those concerns.
Kirschenbaum advised the board to proceed with extreme caution.
“This is still a very young administration,” Kirschenbaum said. “Mayor Reed has only been in office since January. He came into office with a lot of big problems to solve and the workings of our board were not understandably at the top of his list.”
Suing the city, he said, would be like “dropping a nuclear bomb … I think this would be the biggest mistake we ever made as a board.”
Edmonds withdrew his motion last week, but only until the full board could be present to debate the matter in June.
The Citizens Review Board was created after police shot and killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston in a bogus drug raid. Four officers were sentenced to federal prison, and a fifth to probation, for their roles in the Johnston case and related wrongdoing.