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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Chapel Hill police committee asks for independent investigation

Posted by on Thu, Jan 12, 2012 at 2:54 PM

Chapel Hill’s new Community Advising Police Committee (CPAC) voted to request that the Chapel Hill Town Council hire an independent investigator to review the details of the Nov. 13 raid on squatters at the vacant Yates Motor Co. building.

The committee’s actions countered Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil’s recent report endorsing police actions in the raid. CPAC board member Jessica Smith suggested three alternatives:

1) Have the town manager revise the report to address the one-sided nature of the internal review, which solely had police accounts.

2) Create an independent review board, which would be time-consuming and essentially be a full-time job for those participating.

3) Hire an independent investigator whose sole purpose is to factually review the case.

The board voted to present the third option to the town council.

CPAC Chairman Ronald Bogle also addressed community concerns regarding whether CPAC is independent of the town council. While he acknowledged that “there is lack of trust whether this board can address this issue,” Bogle asserted that CPAC is an autonomous committee seeking to satisfy both the council and Chapel Hill citizens, and that one of the more important goals of the committee is to gain the trust of the community.

He added that all CPAC members attended at Monday’s town council meeting, and that he believes the committee and the council have only heard from a small sector of the community. Last night’s meeting had fewer people in attendance than Monday’s council meeting, with 20-30 citizens seated.

Although Bogle stated that CPAC’s role is to determine what happened,board members and Councilwoman Donna Bell believed CPAC needed to clarify its charge to itself and to the council. There was some trepidation when clearly stating CPAC’s role in the process, and questions arose regarding this confusion, including how the board would go about securing any of the proposed options.

Additionally, Chairman Bogle stated that CPAC needs the necessary tools—funding, in other words—to do the job. The committee expressed the need to approach the town council about providing CPAC with the resources to best serve the community. Councilman Jim Warden noted that the city council has a Jan. 23 business meeting during which CPAC can petition for funds to hire an investigator for the Nov. 13 incident.

Before voting on which option to take to the council, the board heard from the public.

Will Raymond, a Chapel Hill resident, said the actions taken by police were a “system failure” and that this is a “constitutional issue.” He expressed his concern that the report issued by the town manager downplayed the severity of the issue.

Similar sentiments wereexpressed by other citizens, along with concerns that the town manager’s report is not factual and is biased. Many speakers suggested the town manager shouldn’t be in charge of hiring the independent investigator if the board decided to approve this route.

Many citizens were pleasantly surprised by CPAC’s thoughtfulness during the meeting. They commended the board for thinking independently of the town council or manager, and expressed appreciation for the board’s deep concern for finding the facts.

The goal of the board is to wrap up the investigation by March 26, but Chairman Bogle stated that while this date is important, the board will take longer if necessary.

Among the concerned citizens at the board meeting last night were about a dozen members of Occupy Chapel Hill as well as Nomadic Occupy, a traveling encampment of the local Occupy group. Some entered the meeting inside; a few remained outside with tents and soup during the rainy weather.

“I think having eyes on the situation that do not have a vested interest in the outcome is important,” said Nomadic occupiers member Lila Little. “Police policing themselves can only go so far.”

The Nomadic Occupiers plan to continue their protests; Little stated that this was the “first of many such things.”

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