Charges against Jose Charles from July 4 incident dismissed by DA

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Jose Charles and his mother, Tamara Figueroa, flanked by former police complaint review board member LIndy Garnette and the Rev. Nelson Johnson

A district court judge dropped charges against 16-year-old Jose Charles today related to a July 4, 2016 incident at Center City Park in which he was beaten by a group of teenagers and then forcibly restrained by Greensboro police.

Lewis Pitts, a former lawyer and civil rights advocate said charges related to the July 4 incident, including assault on an officer, were dismissed. Lewis said Charles pleaded guilty to at least three additional charges unrelated to the July 4 incident. Judge Angela Fox sentenced Charles to 12 months of probation and 90 days electronic monitoring. The latter provision had been requested by Charles’ mother, Tamara Figueroa. At the request of the district attorney, Charles also received a stayed sentence of 14 days in juvenile detention, which could be instated if he violates his probation.

“Prior to all the public pressure and the exposure that took place, the DA insisted that unless he copped the plea to assault on an officer she was going to urge the judge to sentence Jose to 12 months out-of-home placement in a training school,” Pitts said. “The judge read from a court of appeals ruling that said the purpose of the sentence was the ‘salvation of the child’ and also public safety. There was a letter from a mental health counselor who has been working with the family that said out-of-home placement would be detrimental to Jose. The pressure by the DA to get him to plead to those charges or be locked away was to prevent civil liability on the part of the city and continue the cover-up of police misconduct.”

Charles’ supporters contend that instead of giving aid to Charles, who was 15 at the time, they escalated the situation and handled it with excessive force.  The charge of assault on an officer, which was dismissed today, was lodged against Charles because he alleged spit blood in the direction of an officer’s face. Charles contends the act was not malicious, and that he was merely trying to clear blood from his mouth to avoid choking. A police incident report acknowledges that as a result of the actions of one of the officers lacerations above Charles right eye from the earlier fight with the teenagers “began bleeding rapidly.”

An internal investigation by the police department cleared the officers of wrongdoing, but after reviewing police body camera video of the incident the police complaint review board disagreed with the outcome of the investigation. Lindy Garnette, a member of the review board, was forced to resign from the panel, after speaking out publicly about the incident, and two other members of the nine-member board later resigned as well. After reviewing the matter, police Chief Wayne Scott and City Manager Jim Westmoreland determined that the police acted appropriately.

Charles’s supporters have pleaded with Greensboro City Council for months to review the police body camera video and make a formal request to the district attorney to withdraw charges related to the July 4 incident. During a May 2 city council meeting dozens of supporters angered by perceived inaction by council took over the meeting and occupied council chambers for almost 30 minutes, after which eight people subjected themselves to arrest by blocking Friendly Avenue near the spot where Charles was arrested last July.

After completing a review of the police body camera video on May 3, Mayor Nancy Vaughan, along with council members Marikay Abuzuaiter, Justin Outling and Nancy Hoffmann, said they backed the city manager and police chief’s determination that the officers acted appropriately. Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson told Triad City Beat: “There could have been in one instance better discretion; other than that, the police did act fine.”

Councilwoman Sharon Hightower said she disagreed with the statement made by Mayor Vaughan, along with council members Abuzuaiter, Outling and Hoffmann.

“I think we could have arrived at a different place, a different resolution,” she said.

Pitts said he thought the outcome in court was positive because Charles took responsibility for his conduct after the July 4, 2016 incident, and will receive treatment and structure that will be beneficial to him.

“What was highly disturbing is how much there was a refusal or unwillingness of anybody in official positions to acknowledge the dismissal of the Fourth of July charges, which was the cause of the controversy,” Pitts said. “There was nothing done today which would redress the false charges and the unwarranted pressure from the DA’s office to make him plead to the charges he didn’t do.”

Pitts said Tamara Figueroa, Charles’ mother, has committed to continue a struggle to get the police body camera video of the July 4 incident released to the public and to address lack of transparency and accountability.

“But for the ever-growing involvement of citizens in our town who have become active and at times disruptive,” Pitts said, “justice would not have been served.”