Tuesday, March 8, 2016

CMPD announces no criminal wrongdoing by officers in Elliot arrest

Posted By on Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 5:11 PM

CMPD officials held a press conference at the department’s training academy on Tuesday afternoon to announce that no criminal charges would come as the result of an incident last week during which a man was struck numerous times by an officer during his arrest. 

A bystander video, first released by WSOC, showed numerous CMPD officers holding down 26-year-old Malcolm Elliot, who allegedly ran from police after being involved in a hit-and-run on March 1, while one officer struck him in the back. At Tuesday’s press conference, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney said the following investigation, which included looking at footage from body cameras on the officers involved, will not result in any criminal charges for officers.

He added that the investigation is ongoing and no decision has been made on whether any CMPD policy was violated or whether there will be any internal disciplinary action for officers. He said he would expect the internal investigation to be wrapped up “very soon.” 

click to enlarge CMPD training officers led a demonstration of proper use of the "force continuum" as it relates to last week's arrest of Malcolm Elliot during a press conference today. - PHOTO BY RYAN PITKIN
  • Photo by Ryan Pitkin
  • CMPD training officers led a demonstration of proper use of the "force continuum" as it relates to last week's arrest of Malcolm Elliot during a press conference today.

The video’s release sparked multiple protests throughout the city among those who believed the officers used excessive force during the arrest. In a statement from activist Ashley Williams, released before she and others led a march from Marshall Park to the CMPD headquarters on March 4, she recalled the CMPD’s “reputation for using excessive force within our communities” and demanded that CMPD officials answer questions regarding body cam footage and any history of excessive force by officers involved in the incident.

Some – but not all – of those questions were answered on Tuesday. Putney said he believes the body cam footage justifies the officers’ use of force, as Elliot was allegedly resisting arrest at the time the video in question was shot. He also stated that CMPD would not be releasing any of the body camera footage, as the absence of any criminal behavior makes it solely an internal personnel issue from here on out. The only way any footage could be released now would be if city council voted to approve its release and the officer signed off on it, Putney said.

To emphasize their point about when and why officers need to use force in some situation, training officers held a demonstration following the press conference that allowed two reporters, David Sentendry of Fox46 and Glenn Counts of WCNC, to try placing CMPD recruit DeAndree Watson under arrest while she laid in a “defensive resistance” position, which is what Elliot was said to be doing at the time the video was shot. A training lieutenant that introduced the demonstration said officers encounter defensive resistance in about 80 percent of physical encounters with suspects.

Francisco White, a Charlotte-area activist who attended the march on Friday and later wrote an open letter to CMPD and city leaders inspired by the incident, said he would still like the questions about the history of those involved answered and the footage released. 

“The officers' names not being made public immediately is a problem. They're public servants and we have concerns,” White said after hearing of Putney’s announcement. “Do any of the officers have a history of excessive or deadly force, considering only black people were killed by CMPD last year? And body cam footage should be available upon request as well.”

For Putney, the incident had the potential to reignite tensions in the community and deepen a divide within the department, both of which have remained under the surface since a judge announced the mistrial of Randall Kerrick last August in the case of Jonathan Ferrell's death. Putney admitted that when he first saw the video of Elliot’s arrest, he believed it was a major issue. 

“I’ll be honest, when I first saw that video I knew I was going to lose sleep for quite a while. I knew we had a lot of work to do,” Putney said. “When you layer race on it and you talk about the history of policing, all of those things matter. When certain segments of the population see white officers striking a black [person], it’s a problem; it’s problematic. It’s a throwback, and initially, I had that same issue. I’m thinking, ‘Here we go again, we have issues.’ But then I stepped back, and you have to really deliberately walk through the law and our policies and make a more informed decision.”

Putney also addressed the importance of not alienating officers within his department by reacting to public pressure. Many reports have told of a split within the department between officers who disagreed over former chief Rodney Monroe’s quick decision to arrest Kerrick following Ferrell’s death in 2013.

“We talk about public trust; there’s an internal trust, too,” Putney said. “The reason we’re going to take this out to the community to have the conversation is that we do need to build public trust. I also need the trust of our officers that we’re going to do right by them. When it’s an internal investigation, I’m going to be true to that. I’m not going to violate personnel laws. I’m not going to violate trust within the organization because I do need people to do this work. At the end of the day, when there’s a criminal suspect who flees, the cops have to go get them. I’ve got to support them in doing that. I can’t handcuff them and handicap everything they do because of external pressure. I’ve got to balance both.” 

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