Thursday, August 10, 2017

CLERB Frustrated by Police Chief's Rejections of its Work

Frustrated by the police director’s rejections of their recommendations, the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board chairman and some members want to complain to Mayor Jim Strickland.
Using an interpreter, Elvira Morales shows CLERB
how an officer pulled her from her car

“Our board needs to meet with Mayor Strickland, and it would have to be a formal meeting open to the public,” said CLERB member John Marek at the board’s monthly meeting yesterday.  “If we have a police director who refuses to take our decisions seriously, we need a discussion with the mayor.”

Director Michael Rallings has twice rejected CLERB’s recommendations over the same four citizen complaints. 

CLERB sent four letters to Rallings in April stating the board disagreed with Inspectional Services Bureau (internal affairs) findings that police did nothing wrong in their encounters with complaining citizens.  In May, Rallings replied to each letter and basically recited the police officers’ assertions that the citizens, not the officers, were the cause of any use of force or arrests.

“We should be insulted,” CLERB Chairman Ralph White said at the time. 

Board member Casey Bryant, however, suggested that perhaps the board had not provided Rallings with enough details, and they decided to send more elaborative letters to the police director.  Then last month Rallings responded to those missives with basically the same rejection as before, according to White.  CLERB does not make letters, documents or copies of complaints and police reports available to the public. 

“We got the same letters from him the second time as the first time,” White said.  “He’s steadfast. He’s not moving.

 “We want to meet with the police director and the mayor and tell the mayor, he’s not listening,” White said.  “We’re spinning our wheels when you’ve got people who don’t care. 

“They’re playing their games:  He’s the police and he knows best. We’re saying he doesn’t,” White said.  “That’s why were fighting to strengthen subpoena power.”

CLERB listens to complainants in person and asks questions of the aggrieved citizens. But the board operates as an appeals body and can only review cases that have already been rejected – “not sustained” – by internal affairs.  The board can only make recommendations to the police director and has no authority to implement training or discipline. 

A sore point with CLERB members is that the board does not have autonomous subpoena power, such as citizen review boards in Atlanta and Knoxville.  No officers have appeared at any of the cases, which board members feel leaves unanswered questions at times. 

Since Rallings does not attend CLERB meetings – and apparently he does not look at video recordings made of the meetings – he misses out on hearing the citizens’ personal accounts, which have been compelling.  The board has rejected more than half of the citizen complaints, either agreeing with internal affairs that there was not enough conclusive evidence to find police at fault or that the citizens’ complaints did not fit CLERB’s scope of work – for instance, if citizens were seeking money damages. 

CLERB heard a new complaint brought by Elvira Morales, who used a Spanish-English interpreter to say she and her son were traumatized by an officer who grabbed her out of her car and “threw” Morales and her son in the back of a police car.  The incident sprang from a minor car accident and was acerbated because Morales did not understand the officer’s English, she said, especially when he began yelling at her.

The board moved to exonerate the officer – which in CLERB’s terms does not mean what it sounds like, that the officer did nothing wrong.  CLERB’s and internal affairs version of exonerated is that the event likely happened, but the officer did not violate MPD policy.  The board voted to recommend to Rallings that the officer receive sensitivity training.

Board members also discussed the difficulties that arise when there are language barriers and asked for ways police could better respond so that incidents such as reported by Morales are better managed.

Although the ordinance authorizing CLERB which was passed by City Council Nov. 3, 2015, calls for CLERB to have a user-friendly website, no such website exists approaching two years.  There are three websites searchable which refer to CLERB, but all are either out of date, inaccurate or both. 

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