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.
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.