Charlotte’s Citizens Review Board was created to protect the public from police misconduct. The chair wants residents to know how to navigate it.
Tonya Jameson breathed a sigh of relief along with much of America Tuesday afternoon, when a Minneapolis jury found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of the murder of George Floyd.
She wants people to know there’s a way for people here in North Carolina to help keep officers like Derek Chauvin off the street.
Jameson chairs the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Citizens Review Board, which handles appeals when people make allegations of police misconduct. She applied for the position after her own close call in 2017, when she purchased an SUV on a trip through Knoxville, Tenn. An off-duty officer pulled his gun on her as she installed license plates but refused to run the tags or look at her registration.
“I was glad to walk away alive,” Jameson told Cardinal & Pine, “and I made as much noise as I could so people in the community would know this was someone they needed to watch.”
After filing a complaint with the Knoxville Police Department, an Internal Affairs review ruled that the officer was justified. Jameson appealed to the Knoxville Police Advisory and Review Committee, driving back to Tennessee with her parents for hearings. Ultimately, she won the case, with the panel recommending more anti-bias and de-escalation training.
“When police step out of line, we lose our lives. Prayer vigils and marches come after the fact,” Jameson told Cardinal & Pine, “but it is critical we take advantage of things like community review boards and file complaints and make these appeals to nip this kind of behavior in the bud.”
Stepping Up for Justice
Jameson returned to the Queen City determined to do her part. She applied to be a part of the Citizens Review Board and after completing training was appointed in 2018.
Charlotte’s board, founded in 1997, is an 11-member board made up of unpaid volunteers appointed by the mayor, city manager and city council. The complaint process has five stages. A citizen files a complaint alleging officer misconduct with either the Internal Affairs Division or the Community Relations Committee. Internal Affairs investigates and renders the filing. If the citizen disagrees with the ruling, they have 30 days to appeal.
The CRB can only hear the case if the offense involves use of force, unbecoming conduct, arrest, search and seizure, or arbitrary profiling. If an officer discharges a firearm resulting in death, the victim’s next of kin may appeal on their behalf. The CRB deliberates whether or not enough evidence exists to warrant a full hearing and, if it progresses, something very similar to a closed trial takes place. Complainants testify, the city attorney defends the officer, and witnesses are called. The CRB asks questions and has access to all body cam footage, audio interviews, and other sealed information, and is bound by confidentiality to not disclose any information that is not already public. The board then decides on recommendations together.
Charlotte’s board has more leverage than most other CRBs in the state. Municipalities can form citizen review boards, but most of those boards are unable to call witnesses and review disciplinary records. Charlotte’s CRB has access to complete files, not just police internal affairs summaries, as in other places, and they are pushing for the state legislature to grant subpoena powers.
Raleigh just approved a CRB in 2020, but it cannot conduct investigations or collect data. Durham’s can only review how the police investigation was conducted, not look into the complaint itself, and doesn’t have subpoena power for witnesses. Fayetteville has not yet officially established one.
Barriers to Accountability
Of course, there are built-in flaws to Charlotte’s process as well. The police department is in charge of classifying the complaints, which determines if they go before the CRB at all. The CRB cannot initiate investigations and, because they are an advisory body, their recommendations are not binding.
In the 24 years Charlotte’s CRB has been in existence, they’ve only sided once against the police. That was the case of Danquirs Franklin, a 27-year-old Black man shot by police at a Burger King in 2019. Despite the review board ruling that the shooting was unjustified, the officer faced no consequences.
Jameson believes having more engaged citizens on both sides of the table could change that. More board members who are aware of or live in communities affected by over-policing make for more robust questioning and investigations. As well, a volume of complaints and appeals help departments identify problematic officers.
“The board makeup is a huge factor. Its early formation saw many more cop-friendly people on the board,” she told Cardinal & Pine. “The more diverse it is, the better.”
She also hopes more citizens follow through with the complaint and appeal process.
“The number of complaints is shockingly low. There were only three or four cases in 2019, and during the civil unrest of 2020, we had no cases,” Jameson said, despite numerous reports of excessive force against protesters. “There were complaints against officers, but no one appealed to the CRB.”
Within hours of the Chauvin verdict, an officer in Columbus, Ohio, put four bullets into 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant’s chest, killing her on the spot. Wednesday, an Elizabeth City deputy shot and killed Andrew Brown while serving a search warrant.
“We shouldn’t wait for a situation where we’ve been roughed up, shot or killed by a police officer to react,” Jameson said. “Shining an early light on bad actors can hopefully prevent someone’s death in the future.”
Editor’s note: This article has changed from the original to reflect that Charlottes’ Citizen Review Board does not have subpoena powers currently.