Citizens Police Review Board hears first appeal, tables until August

Wednesday, July 14, 2010 | 10:36 p.m. CDT; updated 1:05 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 15, 2010

COLUMBIA — The Citizens Police Review Board spent most of its meeting Wednesday night debating whether it should discuss its first appeal, which it did briefly before tabling the discussion.

Ed Rosenthal, a California-based marijuana activist, filed the review board's first appeal June 10 after viewing a YouTube video of the Feb. 11 SWAT raid in which officers killed a dog at 1501 Kinloch Court. The SWAT team also injured another family dog and a child was present during the raid. Police found a small amount of marijuana in the house.


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Rosenthal is a representative of Green Aid, a medical marijuana defense and education fund. The group tries to use the court system to change marijuana laws.

According to a previous Missourian article, Rosenthal filed an appeal with the review board after Police Chief Ken Burton sent him a letter rejecting the initial complaint he sent to the police department. Rosenthal said his complaint takes issue with police department policies.

The board's problem stemmed from the complaint coming from so far out of its conceived jurisdiction.

"No one envisioned a complaint coming in from California," board Chairwoman Ellen LoCurto-Martinez said.

According to the city ordinance that established the review board, the board is supposed to review appeals from the police chief's decisions about alleged police  misconduct. The ordinance makes no mention of jurisdiction or who can file an appeal.

Board member Susan Smith questioned Rosenthal's standing to submit an appeal because he was not present for the raid and does not have a personal stake in the raid.

"The complainant admits that he only knew of the incident from a public Internet site that he voluntarily visited," Smith said. "He has no known relationships to any parties in the incidents."

City attorney Fred Boeckmann suggested it would be a good idea for the board to recommend that the Columbia City Council pass an ordinance outlining who is eligible to appeal to the board. As the ordinance reads now, Rosenthal's appeal is valid.

"I think under the current ordinance, you have a duty to hear the appeal," Boeckmann said. Boeckmann's statement prompted applause from some of the 10 people who attended the meeting.

The board agreed to have LoCurto-Martinez form a committee to address the issue of standing for future appeals.

After staying the issue of standing for appeals, the board questioned Burton about his reports on the raid. Board member Steve Weinberg asked Burton why it was necessary for four police officers to draw and perhaps use their weapons during the raid. Burton said because of the department's lack of surveillance prior to the raid, officers didn't know if the dogs were aggressive animals, and each of the four officers involved felt threatened.

After personally reviewing the warrant and the YouTube video, board member Stephen Alexander said the police department's response to a minor drug crime seemed a little extreme.

Burton said lax decision making in the past led to  the raid, but he has since rectified those loose policies.

"I think that — in fact I can guarantee you that — in the same set of circumstances tonight, we would not have run a dynamic search warrant," Burton said.

After nearly an hour and half of discussion, the board decided to table the issue. Board members agreed to meet at 7 p.m. Aug. 4 to continue discussing this appeal and the raid.

Toward the end of the meeting, Burton gave a presentation about police department policies and procedures.

Burton has introduced a force control form to the department. As part of this form, every time an officer uses force against a Columbia resident, that officer has to articulate why it was used and why it was appropriate. That form then makes its way through the entire chain of command, eventually finding its way to the chief's desk.

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James Smith July 14, 2010 | 11:33 p.m.

Of course no one from around here would file a complaint, that would just ensure that your door will be the next one kicked in. And next time, they'll make sure to shoot everybody, drop a couple guns on the ground, and say job well done. The police are a uniformed gang sanctioned by the city government to do whatever they want, and they recruit accordingly. The idea of the "good cop" is long dead, along with innocent before proven guilty. Let's change the tagline from "Protect and Serve" to "Shoot First, Ask Questions Later."

(Report Comment)
Holly Henry July 15, 2010 | 9:30 a.m.

While I recognize that the first comment represents an exercise in hyperbole, I wanted to offer a different view as one of the citizens who has been publicly expressing concern over the February incident. First, it is my understanding from an article published in the other paper last week that Dan Viets is filing a complaint with the CPRB as a local citizen, which would eliminate the "out of town" jurisdictional issue with which the board seemed so preoccupied last night.
Second, while I don't doubt that there are some grains of truth to what the first commenter said in terms of what certain officers would _like_ to do in response to all of the noise about the CPD these days, I am placing some amount of confidence in the measures that CPD Chief Ken Burton is implementing in the department. Burton has been very active in reaching out to the community, listening to concerns, implementing appropriate policy changes, and seeking to bring new cultural norms to the CPD based on thoughtful consideration of both the community's concerns and current literature and research in police-community relations. While his motivations may differ from mine, I believe that he is sincere about ensuring that nothing like the February raid will happen again on his watch.
As for the CPRB, I believe they should address this case. While I believe that Chief Burton has implemented reasonable policy changes to address some of the most important issues brought to light by the publicity surrounding the Kinloch Court incident, there are still concerns in the community about the number of shots fired inside the residence, the policy toward pets in dynamic entries, the way the principal subject of the warrant was treated after he seemed to be subdued, and the lack of adequate intelligence to both justify the raid and to prepare those carrying it out for what they would encounter in the house.
It could well be that the CPRB would review the case and simply decide that the policy changes already implemented are sufficient. However, review by a body outside of the police department, particularly one with a mandated responsibility to represent the interests of the citzenry with regard to the actions of law enforcement, is still important. Even a finding that the newer policy fixes what was previously flawed policy could at least help relieve some of the mistrust and poor perception in the community toward the CPD.

(Report Comment)
James Smith July 15, 2010 | 3:40 p.m.

I would like to reference this video. This is what happens when you try to file a complaint against the police and you are not considered "important" by the police. This wasn't in Columbia, but it was in Missouri, and since I'm not a lawyer I would not be surprised at all if something similar would happen here.

(Report Comment)
Virgil Sollozzo July 15, 2010 | 4:08 p.m.
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