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.
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.