COLUMBIA – City Manager Bill Watkins, in a Sept. 17 letter to marijuana law-reform group Green Aid, supported a police statement that backed the actions of officers involved in a February SWAT team raid.
The letter, addressed to the group's media coordinator Angela Bacca, informed the group of his decision to take no action against the SWAT officers.
“I think it’s really disappointing that he would do that,” Bacca said. “It shouldn’t be OK that you can do that and get away with that just because you are a cop — you are not above the law.”
Green Aid originally filed a complaint with the Columbia Police Department after an incident at 1501 Kinloch Court in which a SWAT team shot and killed the residents’ dog. The incident was filmed and uploaded to YouTube.com.
After Police Chief Ken Burton stated the officers acted appropriately, the organization appealed the decision to the Citizens Police Review Board, which also sided with the police chief. On Aug. 30, Bacca sent a letter on behalf of Green Aid to the city manager listing 12 reasons for its appeal of the board’s decision.
Watkins said in his letter that he reviewed the complaints, the Police Department’s internal investigation and the recommendations of the board to make his decision. He could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
The city's code of ordinances allowed anyone to file a complaint with the police when Green Aid did so. The code has since been amended to restrict who can file complaints.
“People have been getting really irritated with us because we are from California,” Bacca said. “But it doesn’t just happen in Columbia, it happens everywhere.”
Bacca said she is worried about the message that is being sent.
“By not punishing the officers involved, it’s sending a message to all other SWAT teams and police departments that this is OK, there are no repercussions for your actions,” she said.
The group will continue to appeal to higher authorities, Bacca said.
“If civilians were to do the same things as these officers, they would be charged with assault and battery and home invasion,” she said.
Bacca said Green Aid will wait to appeal the city manager’s decision because the residents of the raided house filed a lawsuit against the city of Columbia on Monday.