Editor's Note: This is a copy of a letter from California marijuana reform law activists Ed Rosenthal and Angela Bacca to Columbia City Manager Bill Watkins. It appeals the decision by the Citizen Review Board to exonerate members of the Columbia Police Department SWAT team who took part in a raid in which a dog was killed.
30 August 2010
City Manager, Columbia, MO
PO BOX 6015
Columbia, MO 65205
Dear Mr. Watkins,
In May 2010 we filed a complaint with the Columbia Police Department about the officers involved in the February SWAT raid at 1501 Kinloch Ct. that was recorded and uploaded to Youtube.com, where it has been viewed by almost 2 million people.
Chief of Police Ken Burton responded to my complaint in a letter dated May 28, 2010 that the officers had done nothing wrong or outside of standard procedure, and he exonerated the officers involved.
We appealed this decision to the Civilian Police Review Board, where the appeal was overturned in a 4:3 vote. Much of the focus of the CPRB has been that we reside in California. We have reason to believe that federal funds were used in this raid, therefore this matter concerns us as federal taxpayers and we are choosing to appeal to you to hear this case (City Code of Ordinances CPRB: Section 21-53.)
Here are the following reasons we are appealing the decision of the Civilian Police Review Board:
1. In reading the file kept by the Columbia Police Department, it is clear that the investigation was conducted with no regard to our original complaint. Additionally, the outline of the Scope of Investigation clearly states that the following would not be taken into account: Columbia’s marijuana lowest priority law, probable cause to issue the warrant, whether a SWAT team should have been used to issue the warrant, the timing of the search warrant (8 days late), and the use of “dynamic entry” tactics by the SWAT team.
2. The CPRB decision made was not based on our appeal. No one from the CPRB contacted us to discuss our appeal and we were illegally barred from addressing the board during the hearing of our appeal.
3. We have reason to believe that the CPRB has a bias to the police department. Boardmember Susan Smith likely taught two of the officers involved in the incident at Columbia College.
4. In the City Council Minutes for a Special Meeting Dated June 8, 2009, it was noted that in the writing of the ordinance that created the CPRB that the board was expected to contact yourself to contract an independent investigator to investigate complaints.
5. The warrant was issued based on two anonymous phone calls received by the department one year apart. It is highly unusual for the police to receive anonymous tips regarding marijuana. Did a member of the Police Department actually make these phone calls? We can find this out by checking the sound on the recordings to see if police personnel made the calls, and to see if the telephone numbers they were made from were government offices. An independent investigator (outside of CPD) would be an appropriate means of investigating this claim.
6. There was no indication of sales by the suspect only use, which is protected by Columbia’s lowest priority initiative. Did the judge (Hon. Leslie Sneider) commonly issue warrants based on such flimsy evidence? Was the judge colluding with the police to violate peoples’ rights to be secure in their homes? This also warrants an independent investigation.
7. The Whitworth family’s rights and reasonable expectation to be safe in their home violated? Additionally, this violation of their rights directly violates the rights of all other Columbia residents or visitors to Columbia who have a certain expectation of their rights under Columbia laws.
8. Our personal investigation shows that this was not a lone incident and other incidents like this have happened before. What were the circumstances? Were these same personnel involved? It would behoove City officials and the police department to answer to citizens and visitors of Columbia on this manner.
9. Did the SWAT Team have training in working in civil matters or did they just have paramilitary training? (Which was inappropriate for this situation.)
10. Were the officers given any type of personality test to make sure they had personalities that could cope reasonably with stressful situations such as these? We have reason to believe that these officers could have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the police procedures and should be psychologically evaluated to determine if they are fit to carry guns and enact SWAT raids.
11. Although the Chief of Police has determined they did nothing wrong and at the time it was standard procedure to serve narcotic search warrants with a SWAT team, the behavior of the officers was beyond reasonable discretion. The suspect was compliant, the dogs injured and killed were non-violent and there was a 7-year-old child present. These officers should have used reasonable discretion and not fired their weapons. This child will likely be traumatized for years to come and the family and community have lost their faith in law enforcement.
12. Why did the police violate City policy regarding “lowest priority” for marijuana cases?
It is clear that as the City manager you have the right and duty to investigate any incident and its circumstances to find the truth, wherever it may lead. We believe that this incident deserves a full investigation to find out why citizens’ rights are being violated.
Media Coordinator, Green Aid
Executive Director, Green Aid