As Greensboro City Council releases footage of a police officer assaulting a black resident on his mother’s porch and votes to pursue ramifications for the officer, residents demand deeper change in the police department and insist council’s action amounts to window dressing.
Monday marked the second time the Greensboro City Council shared police body camera video from an incident that’s caused public outcry, this time showing former officer Travis B. Cole assaulting resident Dejuan Yourse on his mother’s porch.
Cole, who is white, rapidly escalated an interaction with Yourse, who is black, grabbing Yourse’s phone out of his hand before attacking him and wrestling him to the ground.
A new state law takes effect Saturday that will limit the release of police body camera footage across North Carolina, though Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said Monday that won’t stop council from voting to release footage of critical incidents in the future.
Council — with the support of Police Chief Wayne Scott — went a step further, unanimously approving a resolution that seeks the indefinite suspension of Cole’s certification as an officer “so that he will not be eligible to serve as a law enforcement officer in the future” and instructing the police department to ask Guilford County District Attorney Doug Henderson to “review this incident again to ensure the entire investigative file is duly considered.”
Cole quit the force in August amid two departmental investigations into the June 17 incident, including a criminal investigation. The department eventually determined that Cole violated the department’s directives for use of force, courtesy towards the public, arrest, search and seizure and also compliance to laws and regulations. All charges against Yourse stemming from the incident, including assault and resisting arrest, were dropped, but the district attorney’s office chose not to pursue charges against Cole for the assault. During the department’s investigations, Cole was placed on administrative leave with pay on Aug. 10 before he resigned Aug. 19.
In a special meeting called Monday afternoon, Greensboro City Council members and Chief Scott apologized directly to Yourse — who sat in the front row — for the incident before voting on the resolution that pushes for Cole to be charged and seeks to prevent him from working as a police officer elsewhere.
But hundreds of residents who marched to the meeting — including many students from NC A&T University, local clergy and Black Lives Matter supporters — reamed the process that council and the chief agreed took far too long and condemned the handling of the incident in general.
Though it wasn’t raised at the meeting Monday, Cole’s employment history reveals that the former officer was actually promoted to Police Officer III on Aug. 1, well after the incident with Yourse and the beginning of the department’s first investigation into the use of force. Yourse also called the department to file a complaint about the incident on July 20, Scott said.
Cole, who was hired in 2008, had been suspended without pay for one day in mid 2015 over an incident with brothers Devin and Rufus Scales the year prior. After significant public pressure, the city issued a formal apology to them and the Scales brothers received a $50,000 settlement.
In October 2015, the Scales brothers’ case appeared prominently in a front-page investigative New York Times piece about race and policing in Greensboro, helping to make it one of the most well-known and most frequently cited incidents of police misconduct in the city’s recent history. (The author contributed reporting to the article.)
Given Cole’s history with the Scales brothers, speakers during the public comment section of the meeting lambasted the city for acting so slowly. It is not immediately clear why Cole received a promotion in the middle of the department’s investigation, but spokesperson Susan Danielsen said officers are presumed innocent until an investigation determines otherwise.
“Cole and all of his other academy graduates were promoted on the same day,” she said via email. Cole’s salary went up from $46,592 to $48,067 with the promotion, Danielsen said.
The tense Monday meeting involved frequent warnings from Vaughan that she would kick people out of the council chambers as attendees repeatedly interrupted the proceedings to demand greater action, including the desire to see Officer CN Jackson — a female officer who responded to a possible break-in call with Cole and who claimed Yourse assaulted her in a report — similarly punished.
In the charging documents, Jackson accused Yourse of “using his shoulder to press her wrist against a doorframe.” The charge was also dropped.
Scott said in a press conference following the council meeting that Jackson is still under internal investigation for use of force in the incident, but she is still on duty and the process may not be complete for another two weeks. Jackson did not agree to the release of her body-camera footage and neither did Cole, Scott said.
Former lawyer Lewis Pitts, a vocal police-reform advocate, said at the council meeting that the only reason the issue became public is that other officers leaked the information, which eventually made its way to clergy including the Rev. Cardes Brown, another tireless reform advocate. Multiple speakers said the investigation should not end with Cole; the Rev. Nelson Johnson specifically asked for an official inquiry into the case and the unduly long process.
“If this were just about Officer Cole, it would be fairly simple,” he said. Instead, he elaborated, the department’s handling of the case is a microcosm of other issues plaguing the department.
Kiera Hereford, a leader in Black Lives Matter Greensboro, said black council members aren’t doing enough to address systemic police abuses, also criticizing police surveillance of local activists and adding that she is “tired” and “frustrated.”
“We’re fighting for your lives, too,” Hereford said, addressing black council members.
Mayor Vaughan, who is white, said later in the meeting that, “We as a city council agree: Black lives matter,” and Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann attempted to explain all the ways she thinks the council has been proactive and has set an example for other cities. Activists repeatedly interrupted Hoffmann, Vaughan and other aspects of the meeting, but as Yourse himself approached the podium to thank the crowd for their support attendees chanted, “We love you, we we love you.”
Council also voted unanimously to provide financial assistance to Yourse to go towards expunging his record of the bogus charges he faced. Councilman Mike Barber, who voted against the release of the footage last week, was absent and didn’t participate in the vote or the previous one Monday on the Cole resolution.
Attendees vowed that the matter isn’t settled with council’s actions Monday, and while Vaughan and others said they agreed, Councilwoman Sharon Hightower spoke most vocally against the department’s handling of the investigations and the June 17 incident itself.
“There’s something wrong here, ladies and gentlemen,” Hightower said, adding that she is “very disturbed” at the lack of information provided to her and council on the matter. “It doesn’t smell right to me.”