by Eric Ginsburg
Residents differ on whether city council should enhance police oversight through the complaint-review committee.
The first meeting of a Greensboro City Council subcommittee reviewing the police complaint-review process ran smoothly, except for one hitch.
The Feb. 26 meeting, designed to review the way the city’s complaint-review committee functions, was sparsely attended. Speakers, including sitting committee members, lauded the process and complimented the police department’s cooperation with the review process. The four council members on the subcommittee showed little signs of dissension. Only one resident provided a counter-narrative.
Lori Walton, who has a case pending with the complaint-review committee, told the city council subcommittee that she felt “ambushed” in her meeting with the police department about her complaint. Speaking after Human Relations Director Love Crossling referenced an outreach plan to educate people about the complaint process, Walton said the city failed to communicate clearly with her.
“I am imploring that you make a greater effort to educate the public on making a complaint,” she said. “I just think that there’s a lot of complaints out there and this process can be very gruesome and very stressful.”
Councilman Tony Wilkins, one of the subcommittee members, asked Walton if her case had been resolved yet.
“I couldn’t answer that,” she said. “I haven’t the slightest idea.”
Crossling said her department had been in communication with Walton since she filed a complaint in January, meeting earlier in the week of the subcommittee meeting.
After the meeting, Walton said Human Relations Supervisor Allen Hunt and Crossling were very helpful when she brought her complaint forward, adding that Mayor Nancy Vaughan and Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson — who are on the subcommittee — expressed concern and tried to help her, too. Walton’s frustration with the process began when she met with the police department itself, she said.
Walton said her complaint stems from two incidents involving Guilford County Schools. First, an employee pushed one of her 4-year-old sons on the bus, she said. Soon after, she said her sons were missing on their bus route for hours and a different employee allegedly sexually assaulted her son.
Walton said she wants answers about why no arrest was made and wants to see any files pertaining to the case, but criticized the police department’s response as hostile and dismissive.
“The fact that these are my children and my children were violated is totally lost,” Walton said in an interview. “I’m going to scream justice to the high heavens until I am satisfied. The process is heavily flawed. We have a problem… with community trust in the police department.”
Capt. Mike Richey said the cases involving Walton’s sons have been “completely adjudicated,” adding that Walton still has the ability to appeal the department’s findings to the complaint review committee.
“Her cases are closed with us and that’s been explained to her,” he said. “The [district attorney] concurred with the findings that we could not prosecute in either case.”
Like other proponents of altering the complaint-review committee process, Walton said it’s challenging to take concerns to police when the complaint is about the department. Walton has been in touch with the Beloved Community Center, a nonprofit that has spearheaded local police accountability work in recent years.
Other speakers at the meeting spoke highly of the existing process and the police department. Michael Picarelli, the chairman of the Guilford County Republican Party and a Human Relations commissioner, addressed the subcommittee after Walton and said, “Sometimes you can’t please everybody.”
“You guys are doing a fine job and you’re making us very, very proud of this city,” he said. “I do believe that the [complaint-review committee] is making the right steps.”
The city recently implemented several minor changes to the complaint-review committee and recently created the council subcommittee to consider enhancing the process after persistent community concerns about police oversight.
Johnson asked Chief Miller how he felt about the existing process. Miller responded that he oversaw an overhaul of the department’s internal complaint-review process, adding “greater degrees of thoroughness… but also fairness,” and that there is no backlog of complaints.
“As you know it was my first item to tackle as police chief here: How we investigate ourselves,” Miller said. “I don’t believe that if we’re doing things right we should be ashamed of it.”
Complaint-review committee member Paul Ksieniewicz applauded Miller’s cooperative stance towards the committee, and suggested council allow the recent changes time to work out before implementing further changes.
Council members on the subcommittee didn’t comment much on the current process, instead asking several questions and emphasizing that the first meeting was designed to outline the process. The next meeting, on March 19, will focus on gathering community feedback and input on the complaint process, Vaughan said.
Wilkins indicated some concern about the way complaint-review committee members are appointed. Crossling explained that the chair of the human relations commission selects the committee members, and Wilkins suggested it might make sense for council to appoint people directly. Johnson said she is inclined to keep the process intact, and Wilkins asked staff to look into why the process was created as such.
Though his comments were brief, Councilman Jamal Fox made the strongest statement from a council member during the meeting but remained cautious in his remarks.
“I still believe that we can look forward to strengthen and review this process more,” Fox said, especially considering the volume of community concerns.