COLUMBIA — None of the more than 30 people who attended the Citizens Police Review Board meeting Wednesday night — including two California residents who filed the first appeal the board received — were allowed to speak before the body made its decision regarding a February raid by the Columbia SWAT team.
The board voted 4 to 3 to accept Chief Ken Burton's findings that the officers involved in the raid acted appropriately.
Commission on Human Rights and Citizens Police Review Board member Mary Bixby resigned her post from the commission Tuesday night. In a short e-mail, she said she resigned because of personal reasons, City Counselor Fred Boeckmann said.
The commission appoints one member to the board, so when Bixby resigned from her position on the commission, her seat on the board was vacated. She was not immediately available for comment Wednesday night.
Ed Rosenthal and Angela Bacca, marijuana law reform activists from California, filed an appeal of Burton's internal investigation of the Feb. 11 incident at 1501 Kinloch Court in which a pit bull was shot to death by SWAT officers. A small amount of marijuana was found in the house. A 7-year-old child was also present during the raid.
But the activists weren't allowed to address the board before it voted.
In the pre-meeting gathering, board member Susan Smith vehemently argued against allowing Rosenthal to speak before the board rendered its decision.
"We didn't ask for him to come," Smith said.
"I don't feel like this guy is going to tell us a thing that we don't know," board member Stephen Alexander added. "I don't think I want to talk to him."
The board eventually agreed.
Once the official meeting began, after more than an hour of discussion the board approved another of Smith's recommendations: that the board accept Burton's findings that the officers involved in the raid acted in accordance with the law and Police Department policies when they killed the dog in the raid.
Smith also said the board should accept the policy changes Burton has since instituted in the department and recommend that the City Council officially adopt those policy changes. Board member Steve Weinberg proposed an amendment that in future raids, a specific officer needs to be in charge of making every effort to know beforehand whether children or animals are on the premises.
But before the vote, board member Betty Wilson argued that Burton's findings about the officers' actions and the policy changes he implemented are two separate issues. She asked that the board put off a decision so Burton could provide more information about certain aspects of the department's internal affairs investigation.
"The investigation by the chief was very narrow ... " Wilson said of the department's investigation. "All I'm saying is, it should be broadened."
Ultimately, Wilson suggested splitting the motion into two separate votes. It was one of many instances during the meeting when the board seemed confused about proper procedure.
Wilson, board member John McClure and board chairwoman Ellen LoCurto-Martinez voted against accepting Burton's assessment that the officers acted within the law and department policies at the time of the raid.
Weinberg voted yes, but said he did so "with a troubled mind."
All seven board members in attendance voted to accept Weinberg's amendment and Smith's recommendation about department policies.
Some board members also indicated they'd like to move on from the Feb. 11 SWAT raid and focus the board's attention on other issues. Many said they appreciated the changes Burton put in place.
After the board made its decision regarding the raid, it briefly debated whether to allow public comment. Weinberg said he wanted to give Rosenthal 10 minutes to address the board, since he was an official complainant. He also wanted to give other members of the public time to speak.
Once again, Smith argued against allowing public comment.
"I don't think we need to hear any more, and especially from Mr. Rosenthal," she said.
Finally, the board voted to allow Rosenthal five minutes to speak and other members of the public three minutes.
Nearly all of the people who came to the microphone had praise for the changes Burton has implemented since the incident drew an international audience on YouTube.
But the board also heard frustration about its decision not to hear from Rosenthal and Bacca, the two complainants, and other members of the public who had come to talk to the board about the SWAT raid.
Rosenthal, during his comments, acknowledged that the board faced a difficult decision Wednesday night. But he criticized the board for not conducting its own investigation of the incident.
"Why didn't you hire a private investigator?" he asked.
He also said the officers involved in the incident could have been suffering from post traumatic stress disorder at the time of the incident, or could currently be suffering from psychological disorders stemming from the raid, that could make them a danger to the community.
And the board has an obligation to Columbia residents to take another long look at the raid, Rosenthal said.
Mitchell Richards, who spoke as a representative of local activist group Keep Columbia Free, said he was proud to have a police chief who could admit the department made mistakes. He said Burton's policy changes were a step in the right direction.
However, he said he was disappointed the review board was acting as advocate of the Police Department and not hearing from the public.
"There are two police media spokesmen here, they can speak for the police," he said. Police spokeswomen Jill Wieneke and Jessie Haden were in the audience.
After the meeting, Rosenthal said Smith acted as if she were a spokeswoman for the Police Department during the meeting. He said she should resign.
Burton was out of town and did not attend the meeting. Deputy Chief Tom Dresner, who was in attendance, said he had a hard time following the board's debates.
"I feel like we don't have a clear sense of direction," he said.
Will Guldin contributed to this report.