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Police chief disagrees with review board in Billups case

Burton says there's not enough evidence to find officer guilty of misconduct
Wednesday, December 1, 2010 | 7:53 p.m. CST; updated 11:54 a.m. CDT, Monday, September 19, 2011

COLUMBIA — Police Chief Ken Burton released a memo Wednesday disagreeing with the Citizens Police Review Board’s ruling that a Columbia police officer used excessive force on Derek Billups.

According to a previous Missourian article, the complaint stemmed from an incident in December 2009 at Nephew’s Night Life. Derek Billups complained that Officer Nathan Turner used excessive force by throwing him to the ground.

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Billups complained to the Police Department, sparking an Internal Affairs investigation that exonerated Turner of any misconduct. Billups then appealed to the Citizens Police Review Board, which conducted its own investigation by interviewing Billups, Turner and others. The board decided by majority vote that Turner had, indeed, used excessive force.

The board's ruling prompted further review by Burton, who said in a memo to board Chairwoman Ellen LoCurto-Martinez that “based on relevant facts” he is re-affirming his decision that Turner did not use excessive force.

“There is simply not enough concrete evidence to prove or disprove the allegation,” Burton said.

In his memo, Burton said the review board decided to expand its review beyond the central questions in the case: whether Turner deliberately threw Billups to the ground or whether his fall was a result of resisting arrest, and whether his actions were "objectively reasonable" under the circumstances at the time. The board, he said, chose to delve into "matters of opinion and issues of tactics."

Burton also said that Turner is the only one who knows what happened.

“As to the tactics used in this case the only perspective that matters after the fact is that of Officer Nathan Turner,” Burton said. “He is the only one that knows what he saw and heard and what factors influenced his thought process and his decision to take the action he did.”

In the statement, Burton said that second guessing officer’s decisions could cause major problems and impossible decision making.

“Failure to allow for them to use their knowledge, instincts, skills, intelligence and virtually anything else available to them, will cripple their ability to safely make the critical split-second decisions they are frequently asked to make,” Burton said.

LoCurto-Martinez said that the review board looked at the same documents and interviewed the same witnesses as Internal Affairs.

“We didn’t expand the investigation,” LoCurto-Martinez said. “We looked at all the documents to review the case that were the exact same documents that Internal Affairs had.”

LoCurto-Martinez said that the review board also applied the same police policies to its investigation as the department did.

“(Burton) is alluding to the fact that we didn’t follow the Columbia Police Department policies,” LoCurto-Martinez said, “but we did.”

An Internal Affairs document provided by LoCurto-Martinez shows that when Turner was asked by a police investigator whether he thought he had made any mistakes or could have used any different tactics, Turner admitted he could have acted differently.

“He said that he should have not gotten so excited to approach and put handcuffs on  (Billups),” the Internal Affairs document stated.

LoCurto-Martinez said the review board made a decision after an entirely appropriate process.

“The board did an extremely diligent job,” LoCurto-Martinez said. “We listened to all the witnesses — including three officers — and we came to a decision that it was not objectively reasonable for Officer Turner to take the action for what he did.”

In his memo, Burton also suggested that some of the people involved in the case are not entirely credible.

"I urge you to always consider the background and veracity of those from whom you seek information and opinions," he wrote. Later, he added that "if it were appropriate for me to consider facts other than those relevant to this case, particularly as they relate to the credibility of the persons involved, I would be exonerating Officer Turner."

Burton closed by saying that his decision also re-affirms his commitment to all Columbia police officers.

“As their Chief, I will always judge their actions by their reasonableness in a given set of circumstances, without passion or prejudice,” Burton said.


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Comments

Mark Flakne December 2, 2010 | 8:04 a.m.

It is important to note that Turner either turned off his personal recording device before approaching Billups or erased the recording after the fact so. It’s no wonder that Burton found there was a “lack of evidence”. Turner was reprimanded internally for the missing recording. If he turned it off beforehand it would indicate that he intended to do something that would need to be hidden. If he erased the recording later it would indicate that he knew he needed to hide something. I wonder what sort of trouble a civilian would be in if they were accused of assault and knowingly destroyed evidence regarding that assault. I guess some folks ARE above the law.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley December 2, 2010 | 11:10 a.m.

Chief Burton is never going to agree with the CPRB whenever it rules against the CPD; and he is certainly building a history that indicates this; and Chief Burton admits this by the fact that he stated that he: "re-affirms his commitment to all Columbia police officers".

If we used the same standard for defendants in criminal cases that the Chief has used to defend Officer Turner, then there would never be a conviction for communicating threats or stalking related offenses, after all: The defendant would be "the only one who knows what happened". In reality, this is not an accurate statement by the Chief; there were witnesses to what happened, Mr. Billups knows what happened; and Officer Turner even admits that "he should have not gotten so excited to approach and put handcuffs on (Billups)". In a criminal trial, witness testimony is considered evidence, and with enough of it that all indicates the same set of facts, we have a preponderance of evidence that indicates that Officer Turner acted inappropriately, couple that with an admission from Officer Turner that he could have handled this situation better and we can only conclude that the CPRB ruled correctly.

I want to call a meeting with the CPRB and make some suggestions on how they can enforce their decisions without making any changes to their advisory status. If anyone is interested in hearing about this and helping me to implement these suggestions, please feel free to contact me and discuss it with me at: (888) 571-0958.

Two suggestions would be (1) to maintain a databases of all decisions made by the CPRB and whether or not the Chief complied with the CPRB's recommendations, promote it nationwide, and let the whole world see what is happening here. And (2) to encourage the CPRB to use this database to write Amicus Curiae Briefs to the courts in which the CPD has any pending or ongoing litigation in; particularly in cases involving Federal 1983 Civil Rights Actions filed against the CPD.

I'd be happy to elaborate more if there is an interest in doing this, and the CPRB does not have to do this; the citizens of Columbia can implement these two suggestions also; however I would suggest that we start with recommending that the CPRB consider doing this.

Rick.

(Report Comment)
Jill Wieneke December 2, 2010 | 11:27 a.m.

While I would agree with Mr. Flanke that if an officer purposefully turned off or erased an audio recording he or she should be reprimanded, in this case that is not what happened. Officer Turner was reprimanded for not turning his audio recorder on (he stated this at the CPRB hearing), not for turning it off or destroying the recording.

To clarify how the system works, the audio/video in the patrol units is turned on in one of two ways. 1. When the officer activates the emergency lights on the car it automatically comes on. That recording includes the 10 seconds of video prior to the lights being activated. 2. The officer can manually push a switch on the body mic (worn on the belt usually) or on the in-car camera. If an officer were to turn the audio/video off the a/v file would indicate that. The audio/video files are stored on a secure server and download automatically when the officer arrives at the department, without any action by them. Officers cannot erase or delete video.

Hope this clarifies things for the readers,

Officer Jill Wieneke, Public Information Officer
Columbia Police Department

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley December 2, 2010 | 11:55 a.m.

Jill, what happened in the David Riley case with the juvenile's audio recording that was in the parking lot when the Officer had the confrontation with David Riley?

Just an FYI, David gets out in 5 more days and his attorney (the attorney I found for him) has been waiting to talk to him. I have a feeling that your department may be adding another 1983 civil rights action lawsuit to the list of lawsuits your department is defending against.

Rick.

(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne December 2, 2010 | 2:28 p.m.

Thanks for clearing that up, Officer Wieneke, but I have to say, Rick makes an interesting point. If police recording devices are foolproof, what happened in the David Riley case?

In the interest of fairness, I have amended the Keep Columbia Free blog with both Officer Wieneke’s and Rick Gurley’s statements regarding the recording device issue.

You can see it here http://www.keepcolumbiafree.com/blog/chi...

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle December 2, 2010 | 3:18 p.m.

CPRB politics amuses me. Exonerate the cops, get lambasted by the left. Disagree, get ripped by the right, AND ignored by the police anyway.

I love it when things are done solely for my amusement :-)

(Report Comment)
Eric Cox December 2, 2010 | 3:41 p.m.

How much worse does it have to get before we are just better off without a police department?

(Report Comment)
Justin Ritter December 2, 2010 | 6:00 p.m.

@Eric. I'd say far, far worse. An officer making an inappropriate quick decision (as perhaps Officer Turner did) in a legitimate attempt to exercise his duty to maintain order is significantly different from the entirety of the police force being fundamentally flawed as you seem to imply.

What would you propose, that we round up a posse every time someone breaks the law? Perhaps some sort vigilante justice? General anarchy might be worth a try, because there's no point in having laws if they are unenforceable.

If Officer Turner made a mistake, so be it. The Department reprimanded him for his lapse of protocol in regards to the recorder. However, Chief Burton did precisely what I would hope a good leader would do - back up his officer publicly (thus instilling confidence and morale within his department), while punishing him internally for failing to follow regulations.

Full disclosure: I served for a time as a military policeman. Undoubtedly, this colors my opinion.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley December 3, 2010 | 3:10 a.m.

What would you propose, that we round up a posse every time someone breaks the law? Perhaps some sort vigilante justice? General anarchy might be worth a try, because there's no point in having laws if they are unenforceable.
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I agree, Justin! I mean what good is authority and order when our very own Chief of Police is setting the example on how to ignore and disregard it and the CPRB can do nothing about it by way of enforcement? Good point, Justin!

Have you called the Chief and expressed your disappointment in the example he is setting for the citizenry, Justin?

Rick.

(Report Comment)
Eric Cox December 3, 2010 | 8:06 a.m.

If this was a single instance that would be one thing but this is part of a pattern of behavior. The CPD has employed murders, sexual predators, a host of violent thugs, shoddy investigations have lead to extremely questionable judgments and lengthy sentences. On top of that I am expected to accept that they are to overworked to effectively investigate rape cases.

"Public Information Officer Jessie Haden said in an interview that detective work moves slowly even in the simplest of cases. The reality is not like "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit," she said. Detectives have a lot on their plates.

An ideal workload would be about 25 cases, and some Columbia police detectives have twice that, Haden said."

Although they can find about a dozen officers to kick in a door and shoot a kid's dog in front of him in order to arrest his father for possession of a one hitter. And how many officers did it take to taze that man from the I-70 overpass eight or ten, there was quite a presence of CPD to kick the crap out of David Riley. There always seems to be enough to kick in some teeth, but when it comes to actually solving crime there just isn't enough to go around.
There is definitely a need for good cops but the CPD seems to be more of a brute squad, and I can live without it.

(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne December 3, 2010 | 10:38 a.m.

@Justin Ritter:

Public institutions staffed by public servants who are publicly funded and who are granted their authority by the public should be publically transparent and open to public scrutiny if their actions are deemed by the public to be offensive to the public or violate the natural rights of any public citizen. Privacy has no place in a public institution unless it is objectively a matter of true public safety. The importance of instilling confidence among his officers pales in comparison to the importance of the chief instilling confidence among the citizens of Columbia who are growing increasingly weary in the face of long-institutionalized police thuggery.

Just admit your mistakes, apologize and move on. Stop putting on a show for the CPOA police union.

(Report Comment)
Justin Ritter December 9, 2010 | 4:22 p.m.

@ Mark Flakne -

I don't believe that I said a public institution should be private. Handling a problem internally does not equal a lack of transparency. Similarly, transparency does not mean an officer should be disciplined in public.

A chief instilling confidence in his police officers is not an action independent from instilling confidence in the citizens. Indeed, in the last paragraph of his memo, Chief Burton re-affirms his commitment to both his officers and to the community by describing the support he will provide his officers in return for them meeting the expectations he places upon their actions in the community. Officer Turner failed to meet one expectation (the recorder) and, according to Officer Wieneke, was appropriately reprimanded.

As far as posturing for the CPOA goes, just like you, I can only conjecture. But in this instance, the Chief's words match his actions, so I can only assume they are his true opinions.

(Report Comment)

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