Citizens suggest SWAT changes to Columbia City Council

Monday, May 17, 2010 | 11:07 p.m. CDT
Greg Williams attended the Columbia City Council meeting on Monday to make a stand against the Columbia Police Department. After the release of a video showing the SWAT team entering a house in Columbia, Williams has tried to start a new group, "Stop Brutality."

COLUMBIA — The recent public outcry over a Feb. 11 SWAT raid by the Columbia Police Department shows signs of coalescing into a sustained community discussion.

Two citizens told the Columbia City Council their ideas for changing the Police Department as part of the council's scheduled comment session Monday. Later in the meeting, Mayor Bob McDavid called for a report on the incident and a review of the department's policies, saying they need "to be formally presented and articulated."


Related Media

Related Articles

By rule, the council can only hear a scheduled comment from two speakers on a single issue. But when MU student Spencer Pearson, 19, asked a packed audience to stand up if they came to hear about Columbia's SWAT team, almost half the room got out of their seats.

Most remained standing as Pearson acknowledged that he was a single advocate speaking on behalf of a big tent — one that includes animal lovers, marijuana advocates, defense attorneys and taxpayers, among others.

Pearson noted each group's disparate concerns regarding confidential informants, violent tactics and the use of limited police resources to fight nonviolent crime.

"We want to be able to trust the police to protect us and to serve us, and we’ve come up with simple, straightforward policy changes ... that we believe will ensure incidents like this one won’t happen again," Pearson said.

His remarks transitioned into those of Holly Henry, who presented the following suggestions and changes:

  • An independent investigation into the Feb. 11 SWAT raid on Jonathan Whitworth's house, which resulted in the shooting death of Whitworth's pit bull;
  • Disclosure of any evidence or results that can be released from the internal investigation of the incident;
  • Accountability for a "shoddy investigation" leading up to the raid on Whitworth's home;
  • Limitations on the deployment of SWAT; and
  • Requiring video documentation of all raids and monthly reports on SWAT deployment

After giving their remarks, Henry and Pearson said they met the day before through a Facebook group created for Monday night's meeting. Henry said the wide range of interests — and the limited time available at the meeting — forced the two to develop a plan and synthesize specific policy proposals.

"It was kind of a lot of pressure to represent all these diverse voices that were coming out on the Tribune's comment section, the Missourian's comment section, on Facebook," Henry said.

Henry and Pearson's collaboration was a vivid reminder of the Internet's ongoing role in fostering public debate about the raid, for better or for worse.

A YouTube video of the incident had reached more than 1.2 million views by Monday night, bearing a caption saying Whitworth's dogs were in cages — a claim unsubstantiated by any source. Recent commenters on the Missourian's and the Columbia Daily Tribune's websites have posted Deputy Police Chief Tom Dresner's home address as part of a planned protest.

Columbia Police Department spokeswoman Jessie Haden said Thursday that two officers involved in the SWAT incident had temporarily moved their families because of the outcry.

During the open comment portion of Monday night's meeting, Greg Williams — who told the council about a similar raid he'd suffered in 2004 — talked about being recently featured in a Tribune article and believed information from a supposedly sealed juvenile record had found its way into the site's comments section.

But beside the influence of the Web, others are still pushing for change the old-fashioned way.

Among a smattering a protesters holding anti-SWAT placards, Lindsi Tobkin, 27, and Donald Warren, 32, handed out fliers in front of City Hall announcing a meeting of the "CoMo Citizens" at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Columbia Public Library. They said the group, newly-minted, was aimed at maintaining oversight of local law enforcement.

As for Henry and Pearson, they swore diligence.

"We will be back until we see that action will be taken," Pearson said.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Greg Williams May 18, 2010 | 12:18 a.m.

thank you for your very articulate article, and honestly for being honest about what was said by citizens. great job missourian, you get a standing ovation from my friends, family, myself, and hopefully the rest of the community. keep up the good work, and i will keep fighting for all of our rights that are being trampled not only by the police, but possibly our new mayor

(Report Comment)
Greg Williams May 18, 2010 | 12:24 a.m.

i think you have a good future in the journalism biz mr.pearce....great reporting and follow through.

(Report Comment)
Greg Williams May 18, 2010 | 12:47 a.m.

join the stop brutality movement!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am in the process up setting up a website, any who have any suggestions, as this will be a citizen based movement, for citizens, by citizens, not only my views and opinions, are very encouraged to do so. I plan to have a discussion board, with maybe a weekly/bi-weekly or whatever-new-topic, and sections where links can to posted for info/evidence into police brutality. Also there will be numbers listed to aclu, norml, free columbia, CAPA (if these org's are in agreeing to do so) and numbers to all state, and federal legistlatures/reps/sens, etc. Any who have suggestions as to what should or shouldnt be on the site, and how the movement should please come forward to me and help, as a one man movement doesn't do much.

(Report Comment)
Kip Kendrick May 18, 2010 | 4:48 a.m.

I think Mr. Williams is right! Another great article. You're going to extend your studies another two years, correct?

(Report Comment)
Greg Williams May 18, 2010 | 11:29 a.m.

Boo on KOMU for a horrible news report of lastnights events. KOMU gets a huge two thumbs down and poop in their wheaties for such a bad job of yellow journalism.....maybe they should take a lesson from the fine writers here at the Missourian or some writers at the Trib (not all though).

(Report Comment)
JIM KUHN May 18, 2010 | 9:16 p.m.

Thank you for sticking up for citizens rights. Police brutalities and infringing upon our constitutional rights is a big problem throughout the United States. I have posted these links on Facebook for my 500+ friends to follow and become involved.

Please check out the Libertarians views on major issues at We are dedicated to strive for 'lower taxes, less government and more personal freedoms'. If we don't work to protect our freedoms, those freedoms will be lost.

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.