COLUMBIA — Members of the Citizens Police Review Board sent a letter to Police Chief Ken Burton saying they believe there is enough evidence to conclude misconduct by a police officer.
The complaint stems from an incident at Nephew’s Night Life in December 2009. Derek Billups complained about officer Nathan Turner, who threw him to the ground and handcuffed him after responding to a complaint about Billups from the night club's owner.
The complaint went through an internal investigation in which the Police Department determined there was insufficient evidence to determine misconduct. Billups appealed the decision to the review board.
The board heard testimony from both Billups and Turner, as well as several witnesses and Turner’s accompanying officer, over the course of two different meetings. After listening to the testimony the review board concluded there is enough evidence to determine Turner acted improperly.
"Police officers are often required to make split-second decisions in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving," the letter, signed by board chairwoman Ellen LoCurto-Martinez, stated. "In this case, however, Officer Turner failed to take the time to observe the situation and decide what action to take. It was Officer Turner's haste to handcuff Mr. Billups that escalated tension, added uncertainty and forced the situation to evolve rapidly."
The board also found that Turner did not clearly identify himself and that he approached Billups from behind rather than from the front.
"The Board believes that a reasonable officer on the scene would have exercised restraint and simply asked what the problem was before aggressively using force to handcuff the presumed source of a disturbance who was not engaged in disruptive behavior at the time," the letter stated.
The board initially reached its decision during a meeting on Nov. 10. Although two members dissented, LoCurto-Martinez said in the letter that “all Board members agreed that they had sufficient information to make a determination on the complaint.”
The ruling triggered an angry response by the Columbia Police Officer’s Association, which claimed that it was based on an “evidentiary circus.”
Eric Dearmont, executive director of the association, said the group still disagrees with the decision but felt the board's letter to Burton presented its case better than board members did on the night they voted.
“The letter shows more thoughtful reflection,” Dearmont said.
Burton has 10 days to respond to the board’s recommendation.
Review board member Steve Weinberg was taken aback by the tone of the news release Dearmont issued the day after the board's decision in the Billups case. He said he hopes to talk with Dearmont and other officers about the situation but emphasized he wouldn't be representing the entire board in doing so.