COLUMBIA — Two California marijuana activists plan to come to Columbia this week to talk to the Citizens Police Review Board about February's SWAT team raid and warn the community against the dangers of becoming a police state.
The board received an appeal in early June from the activists, Ed Rosenthal and Angela Bacca, about the Feb. 11 SWAT raid in which a pit bull was shot to death by police. A small amount of marijuana was found in the house. A 7-year-old child was also present during the raid.
According to a previous Missourian article, Rosenthal filed a complaint with the Columbia Police Department after watching the YouTube video of the SWAT team's actions during the raid at 1501 Kinloch Court. After Police Chief Ken Burton found the actions of the officers involved in the raid to be justified, Rosenthal filed an appeal with the review board.
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. Columbia residents voted in 2004 to decriminalize possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana and to make marijuana enforcement a lower priority for the Police Department.
Green Aid is arguing that the raid shows the department is not listening to Columbia voters.
Rosenthal said he and Bacca are traveling from Piedmont, Calif., to Columbia to attend the meeting because the role of the review board — and the decision it makes regarding his appeal — is important for both the community and the entire country.
Rosenthal said SWAT raids are very dangerous and foster a police state. The people of Missouri and the U.S. as a whole need to decide whether such raids are defensible.
"This society has a choice to make," he said. "Are we going to be a civil society, or a police state?"
And if the review board won't hear his appeal, Rosenthal said it's time for new review board members.
"This is really a test of whether this board is going to be effective or whether it will protect the police," he said.
At its July 14 meeting, the board discussed Rosenthal's appeal and whether he had any grounds to file it. According to a previous Missourian article, review board member Susan Smith said Rosenthal did not have standing to file an appeal because he was not present during the raid and doesn't have ties to the city or to anyone affected by the raid.
"The complainant admits that he only knew of the incident from a public Internet site that he voluntarily visited," Smith said at the meeting. "He has no known relationships to any parties in the incidents."
After the review board debated the merit of his appeal because he is from California, Rosenthal filed another complaint with the board, trying to bring the focus back to the raid and the police policies that allowed the raid to happen.
In an interview Monday, board Chairwoman Ellen LoCurto-Martinez said that under the current ordinance, the board must address Rosenthal's appeal.
According to the city ordinance that established the review board, the group 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.
But LoCurto-Martinez said Rosenthal won't necessarily be able to speak at the meeting. The review board hasn't officially decided whether it will let him or the police speak, she said.
The board might not reach a final decision about Rosenthal's appeal at the meeting. Members might request more information from the Police Department.
"The only thing we have on the table right now is the shooting of the dog that the police investigated," she said.
Following the meeting, there will be a rally held outside City Hall, sponsored by CoMoCitizens, Keep Columbia Free and other citizens' activist groups.
The review board plans to meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall. The meeting is currently scheduled to be held in conference rooms A and B, the rooms adjacent to City Council chambers. The meeting might move to council chambers depending on turnout, LoCurto-Martinez said.