COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Officers Association is outraged at a ruling by the Citizens Police Review Board that an officer used excessive force. The association's statement says that the decision was based on an "evidentiary circus" and that it undermines the board's credibility.
The association issued its statement Thursday after the board's decision Wednesday night on a complaint by Derek Billups about an incident on Dec. 13, 2009.
Billups, who worked at the nightclub Nephew’s Night Life, complained that officer Nathan Turner dealt with him in an "improper way" after Turner approached him from behind, threw him up against a van and then to the ground. The club's owner had called police during an argument between him and Billups.
The board has spent two meetings in the last two weeks investigating this incident. The board concluded that Turner acted inappropriately at its Wednesday night meeting. Six board members voted in favor of a motion to rule there was misconduct on Turner's part; two voted against it.
Eric Dearmont, executive director of the police officers association, issued a statement Thursday, expressing the association's discontent with both the outcome of the investigation and the way it was conducted.
"The board’s decision was rendered after a two-week evidentiary circus, in which the board publicly obsessed over hours of redundant, speculative and wholly irrelevant 'testimony,'" Dearmont said in the statement.
Review board members who voted in favor of recommending that Turner used excessive force, the CPOA wrote, based their decisions on facts that the officer did not know at the time of the incident. Moreover, they wrote, the decision went against both the Police Department's policy and "Constitutional standards that guide all courts in their determinations."
"Both the lack of thoughtful contemplation present in the board’s decision and the nonchalant approach to applying well-established Constitutional standards completely undermines the board’s credibility with officers while still in the infancy of its existence," the statement said.
Review board Chairwoman Ellen LoCurto-Martinez felt that the CPOA response was overly harsh and that it attacked the board. She said she anticipated disagreement but was surprised by the level of anger in the response.
“I believed they were going to respond negatively; I didn’t think they would be so abrasive,” LoCurto-Martinez said.
She also took issue with Dearmont's remark about the "evidentiary circus" that preceded the board's ruling.
"They kind of called their own internal affairs investigation an evidentiary circus because the testimony we received matched up well with reports given to us," she said.
As for allegations that the board chose to ignore constitutional standards, both LoCurto-Martinez and City Counselor Fred Boeckmann noted that it is not the job of the board to interpret constitutional rights and that whether there was a violation of those rights was not the question before the board.
“I think the board acted reasonably in reaching their decision,” Boeckmann said.
The CPOA response said the review board disregarded a test of "reasonableness" governing police behavior established in the Supreme Court decision Graham v. Connor. But LoCurto-Martinez said that Turner would have failed the “reasonableness” test established in that case.
“The majority believed that a 'reasonable' officer would have asked some questions before immediately pushing Mr. Billups against the van in order to handcuff him,” Locurto-Martinez said.