Citizens Review Board & Professor Huber Spotlighted in Observer

May 22, 2015

On May 15, 2015, our very own supervising attorney (and soon-to-be an Associate CSL Dean for Experiential Education!), Jason Huber, and the Clinic were spotlighted in the Charlotte Observer for our work with Charlotte’s Citizens Review Board (CRB). As our faithful readers are probably aware, the CRB has been a long-standing project here at the Clinic.

The Observer shares the story of David Dardon-Strickland who states that his home was illegally searched by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) officers. The charges officers cited him for after the search were eventually dropped, but his allegations of police misconduct were never addressed. Until now.  The CRB voted to have the first hearing under the new structure that the Clinic, Professor Huber, and other community leaders advocated for and the City Council adopted.

Professor Huber is quoted: “If we get down the road and we see … the results are still the same, then there may need to be some more changes,” Huber said. “I think it’s important to be patient and let the new system play itself out and then take a hard look at the results.” Congrats to the Clinic and Professor Huber for all of their work on this thus far!

To access the article, click here.


Civil Rights Clinic First and Lasting Impressions

January 24, 2014

By:  Thom Prince

As with any challenge, there will be several defining moments during your career as a student, attorney, or other professional.  It is my sincere hope that your moment involves acing an exam, excelling in court, or an exceptional contribution to the community, rather than something less dignifying such as getting stuck in an elevator, spilling coffee all over your boss, or being grilled for 45 minutes by a professor on a case you haven’t read.  One of my defining moments was my decision to apply for the Civil Rights Clinic.

By way of introduction, I am not what I would consider a Type A personality.  While many students in law school are highly organized multi-taskers, I typically pick and choose my activities and contributions very carefully.  I was hesitant to even apply for the Civil Rights Clinic because I wasn’t sure how my laid back style would mesh with my fellow Clinic members.  That being said, one of my greatest motivators is testing myself by leaving my comfort zone.  Mission accomplished.

Our first meeting of the semester involved a rundown of the current Clinic projects.  While I had taken the time to read up on the material, the flurry of updates as we went around the table told me I would have my work cut out for me.  In a matter of minutes, my calendar went from mostly empty to woefully inadequate.  I made a mental note to search for a calendar that featured ten-day weeks.

The range of topics included the Clinic’s work on the Citizens Review Board, Certificates of Relief, letters to the North Carolina Attorney General, a misdemeanor jury trial, and the blog and Legal Dose forums for sharing our progress with the outside world.  As a former real estate professional, I found no purchase agreements, settlement statements, or title policies that, although composed of cold paper, were always a warm blanket that made me feel like I was on the path to becoming a lawyer.  Instead, I found myself volunteering for and immediately preparing for a jury trial in Superior Court.  Comfort-zone exit achieved.

As I worked on my various projects, I kept track of my hours.  They added up quickly.  I attended meetings and provided updates.  At one point, I tallied 14 hours in a single day.  Yet, it didn’t feel like work.  My new comfort zone became the time I spent doing research, interacting with my fellow Clinic members, and working toward the end goal of completing a project.  I looked forward to every meeting and even began to relish the idea of testing my mettle in the courtroom.  I felt invincible like some comic book superhero from my childhood—okay, so maybe I read a comic book last week, but you get the picture.

You can imagine it came as quite a shock when I realized I was incapable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound.  The jury trial to which I had dedicated so much time and effort did not happen because the court postponed it.  All I could do was use the extra time to continue preparing with my trial partners to provide the best possible defense for our client.

I met participants of the Charlotte Housing Authority voucher program who were in danger of losing their homes, based in part on my decision as a panelist during their hearings.  That’s a lot of responsibility for a third-year student, but the kind attorneys shoulder on a daily basis.

And finally, I listened as people reacted to an article telling us our law degrees would hold little value.  These were all humbling experiences that kept me grounded and focused.  There are some things out of my control.  I cannot make the court hold a trial on a specific date.  I cannot make people follow the rules of their housing voucher program.  All I can do is prepare as much as possible for court and exercise my best judgment as a trained hearing panelist.  As for the value of our law degrees, that is within our power to change.

We, as students and graduates, hold the key to adding value to our degrees by earning a reputation as good attorneys and handling the challenges before us with professionalism and competence.  There’s an old saying:  “Never tell a short man he can’t reach the top shelf.  He’ll kick you in the shin and steal your ladder.”  Maybe it’s not really an old saying, but I’m old and I’m saying it.

I have gone from being wary of participating in Clinic to becoming an ambassador for it, and by extension, the Charlotte School of Law.  The more my fellow clinic members and I can impact the community in a positive way, the more the reputation of the Clinic and school will grow.  Every hand you shake with a smile, every good impression you leave, every community relationship you cultivate, and every bit of professionalism you convey adds value to the education for which you are currently paying.  I encourage each of you to help yourselves by challenging your comfort zone boundaries, advocating with enthusiasm, and seeking out opportunities to grow your own brand.  Grab a ladder and reach for that top shelf.


Year in Review

January 4, 2014

By: Hailey Hawkins

Clinical education is founded on teaching through experience, and allows students to grow by working in their community.  The members of the Civil Rights Clinic past and present put in a great deal of work and passion on a daily basis.  Occasionally, when people put so much passion and energy into the daily work, including the struggles and pitfalls, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture.  Also, when looking at the milestones at any given time it is important to consider everyone who laid the groundwork to make these accomplishments possible, as many of these projects were the result of three to four years of hard work.   As such, this list is meant to celebrate the accomplishments of those individuals in the clinic for 2013 and years past, and serve as inspiration for all future clinic members.

Release Dismissal Agreements– Over a year ago the Civil Rights Clinic began an inquiry into the use of release-dismissal agreements by state prosecutors.   On January 29, 2013 the North Carolina State Bar’s Ethics Committee proposed a Formal Ethics Opinion, yet the language did not make it equally applicable. In response to the proposed Formal Ethics Opinion, the Civil Rights Clinic, North Carolina Advocates for Justice, North Carolina Center for Actual Innocence, and the Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic submitted letters to the Committee with proposed changes to the language of the Opinion.  On October 15, 2013 the North Carolina State Bar issued a Formal Ethics Opinion, including the language suggested by the Clinic.  To see the opinion:  http://www.ncbar.com/ethics/ethics.asp?page=2&from=10/2013&to=12/2013 

Civilian Review Board– The Civilian Review Board began as a research project for the Civil Rights Clinic nearly three-years ago.  However, in February 2013 the media became involved, and the issue came to the forefront for Mayor Foxx and City Council.  On April 1st the City Council heard Clinic members advocate for reform of the Citizen Review Board based on their research, focusing primarily on the standard of review and the need for transparency.  The City Council voted to send the Citizens Review Board to committee for further review and scrutiny based on the Clinic’s suggestions and research.  On November 25th, the City Council voted unanimously to reform the Civilian Review Board.  For more information on this topic, please see https://cslcivilrights.com/2013/12/01/crb-reform-one-step-closer/

Public Records Request– The Public Records Project has implemented a research plan focusing on the North Carolina statute and the approaches of other states to address public records requests and responses.  Currently, the Clinic has researched all 50 states’, and the District of Columbia’s public records statutes, classifying states as those with similar or comparable statutes, those with less stringent requirements than North Carolina, and those with more stringent requirements than North Carolina. This data was compiled into a letter that was sent to North Carolina Attorney General for consideration.

Ban the Box– In an effort to promote and assist with the communal reintegration of those with a criminal history, the Ban The Box movement sought to remove the requirement that applicants disclose all past convictions on a preliminary application for public employment with the City of Charlotte.  On February 25th, 2013, the Ban the Box movement presented a proposed ordinance to City Council with over 100 community supporters in the audience.  The City Council voted to send the Ban the Box initiative to committee for further review.  For more information on this topic, please see https://cslcivilrights.com/2013/03/06/charlotte-city-council-kicks-the-box-to-committee-for-further-study-2/

A.S. v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Board of Education– We are happy to report that, in a joint effort with Council for Children’s Rights and Professor Keith Howard,  Civil Rights Clinic members successfully represented a 7th grade student in a Superior Court Appeal of the Mecklenburg County School Board’s disciplinary, 180 day alternative reassignment to Turning Point Academy resulting from an alleged altercation between the student and teacher. Superior Court Judge Ruben Young conducted a hearing on September 3, 2013 in Mecklenburg County Superior Court. And on November 11th, he entered an order (1) finding that the Board’s disciplinary action was arbitrary and capricious and (2) remanding the matter back to the Board for reconsideration.  While we did not win on all of our claims, all involved were very satisfied with the result.

Media– In addition to the numerous Charlotte Loafing and Charlotte Observer articles about the Civilian Review Board and Ban the Box, the Clinic received multiple opportunities with the media.  Claudine Chalfant of News 14 Carolina paid a visit to the Civil Rights Clinic and reported on the work that the Clinic has done to help the community.  On December 10, 2013 the Clinic was invited to make an appearance on Charlotte Talks to discuss its work with the Civilian Review Board.

These notable milestones do not encompass the other projects that have grown this year.  The Certificates of Relief project has been taking in clients and developed a system that will continue to help individuals for years to come.  This past semester a clinic member connected with the LGBTQ Center to assist individuals with changing their names and address many of the issues arising in the LGBTQ community.  Clinic members continue to serve as hearing officers for the Charlotte Housing Authority.

Overall, 2013 serves as a great reminder of what can be accomplished with hard work and perseverance, and sets the stage for how much more can be done in 2014.


CRB Reform: One Step Closer

December 1, 2013

By: Isabel Carson

The Citizens Review Board (CRB) project started with a public records request over 3 years ago, developed into a nationwide study, and returned to local and state-wide legislative advocacy.   After Reviewing CRB documents, talking to former complainants who had been through the process, and reaching out to Board members—it became apparent to the Clinic that there was a flaw in the system.  The flaw was not solely evidenced by a 0-79 track record for the CRB, but by the perceptions of both complainants and Board members, and the utter lack of accessibility or transparency for the process.

When the Observer published its first story on the CRB in February 2013, the project picked up momentum. As the Clinic continued to move forward, it was met with unrelenting and invaluable community activism.  CRB Reform Now, a coalition formed after a single conversation between the Clinic and a local public servant, moved to the forefront in amplifying and solidifying the community’s voice—putting pressure on City Council to be accountable in its actions and garnering the attention of the media throughout the process.  While the Clinic and the Coalition took different approaches within the political atmosphere and throughout the stakeholder process, both had one goal—to serve the citizens of this community through meaningful and articulated reform.

On Monday, November 25, the voices of City Council members unanimously rang out in favor of reforming the Citizens Review Board.  This vote marked a huge success for the community coalitions, the Clinic, and the greater Charlotte community.  After ten long months of media coverage, community activism, research, and revised proposals, the City has taken a step in the direction of meaningful reform.

The adopted changes include:

  • Extending the time for a complainant to file an appeal to 30 days
  • Providing the CRB with the entire Internal Investigations file rather than a summary of the investigation prepared by the Police Chief
  • Changing the threshold burden the complainant must meet before the CRB will conduct a full fact-finding hearing to “substantial evidence of error regarding the disposition of the disciplinary charges entered by the chief of police”
  • Changing the standard at the full fact-finding hearing to “whether, by the greater weight of the evidence, the Chief of Police clearly erred”
  • Providing “cultural awareness training” for the CRB members and enhancing the visibility of the complaint and hearing process of the CRB

While these changes are a direct reflection of some of the thoroughly researched and supported recommendations from community stakeholders, change does not stop here.  As the Clinic prepares to take this project state-wide, we recognize those areas where the ordinance still remains deficient.

First, there is no opportunity for the CRB during the appeals process to subpoena and question or cross examine the police officer who is the subject of the complaint.  Because the Council-Manager Relations Committee and Task Force have framed this review process as a continuation of the Police Department’s internal administrative processes, the only parties to the appeal proceedings are the police department and the complainant.  Without subpoena power, the CRB does not have the ability to evaluate the credibility of the subject officer or to verify statements made about the subject officer.  Any and all evidence about the underlying conduct (which is the main subject of the Police Chief’s discretionary decision) is simply hearsay.  While the citizen complainant is explicitly subject to cross-examination, he/she is not afforded that same right against the subject officer.  This could easily become a game of he said – she said.

Second, the language used for the new standards of review does not clearly define what is required of the complainant.  The “substantial evidence” standard seems out of place in the initial hearing phase of the appeals process.   Under the new ordinance, the only reason the CRB chooses to conduct a full evidentiary is if it determines that further fact-finding is necessary.  This leads one to question: how can a complainant meet a substantial evidence standard if the CRB thinks there is insufficient evidence to come to a final disposition? Both the initial standard of review and the final hearing standard of review (“greater weight of the evidence”) focus on whether there was an error in the Police Chief’s decision.  What access does the complainant have to the internal processes of Internal Investigations and the Police Force?  What evidence can the complainant offer other than his/her direct conflict with the subject officer (the conduct complained of)?  Again, without the opportunity to cross-examine the subject officer or independently investigate the actual conduct complained of, the standard of review and lack of independent investigatory/subpoena power leave the CRB appeals process as a one-sided arena.

Third, while the new ordinance touts encouragement of creating visibility within the CRB appeals process, it does not lay out any explicit guidelines to ensure public participation/awareness or transparency.  Many municipalities with civilian oversight boards maintain independent websites, list the names of the board members, provide contact information for a board representative, and publish yearly reports of the Boards’ activities, findings, and dispositions.  These annual reports are done without exposing private personnel information—but rather by offering a big picture perspective of the Board’s effectiveness.   Our city website provides a brief and uninformative description of the general duties of the CRB.  As a product of the stakeholder process, the City has provided more information about the complaint and appeals process, but these are found on an entirely separate webpage. In order to promote visibility and accessibility, all information pertaining to the appeals process and CRB activities should be located on the same webpage.  Board members’ names should be listed.  Statistics and annual findings should be published rather than filed away by the City Clerk.

The Clinic recognizes the strides this City’s representatives have taken to address community concerns and promote democratic participation throughout the process of CRB reform.  The changes made and the time and effort devoted to the stakeholder process were a true testament to Charlotte’s perpetually progressive potential.  While we are thankful for the opportunities to instill change, we know that change does not ever signal the end.  Our motivations are not solely to serve the citizens of Mecklenburg County, but the citizens of North Carolina as a whole, and the fundamental rights of each citizen in this country to participate and seek redress in a meaningful and just way.


Civil Rights Clinic in the news

November 28, 2013

By: Thom Prince

Recently, Claudine Chalfant of News 14 Carolina paid a visit to the Civil Rights Clinic.  She reported on the work our clinic students, under the supervision of Professor Huber, are doing to help the community, including their place at the forefront for reformations to Charlotte’s Citizen Review Board.  Easing the burden to get full hearings from the CRB is one of the many goals students are working towards to protect the rights of Charlotte citizens.

One of the challenges in serving the underserved is getting the word to those in need that help is available.  We would like to thank Ms. Chalfant for taking the time to help us spread our message and fulfill our mission of service.  The link to the story and video is below.  Those of you who are Time Warner Cable TV subscribers can login with your user ID to view the video.

http://charlotte.news14.com/content/search/701882/charlotte-law-students-dedicate-time-to-citizens-review-board


Citizens Review Board Reform: An Exercise in Semantics

October 6, 2013

By: Isabel Carson

On Monday September 24th, at the Council-Manager Relations Committee meeting, the Citizens Review Board Task Force offered a stick to the community’s outcry for reform of the Citizens Review Board (CRB).  Albeit, the stick was disguised as a carrot – cloaked in the language of “recommendations for reform” – the recommended changes proposed by the Task Force leave the CRB’s Appeals process virtually the same.

We all know the numbers by now: 0-79, as revealed by the Observer article last February, “CMPD Review Panel Rules Against Citizens – every time.”  Since last February, the local media has advertised this stark statistic, emphasizing the failure of the CRB to ever find on behalf of the citizen.  However, it is not the “0” that struck a chord with the Charlotte School of Law Civil Rights Clinic.  More troubling than the fact that the CRB has never decided a case in favor of a citizen in its 16 year existence, is the unfortunate reality that in 16 years and 78 appeals filed, only 4 times has a citizen received a full adversarial hearing before the board.  Only 4 times has a citizen been afforded an objective forum to present all of his/her evidence and question the evidence of the police department or Internal Affairs.  This is due to the unreasonably high evidentiary burden and the inappropriately focused standard of review at the threshold of the appeals process.

As the ordinance currently stands, the citizen complainant is required to prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the police chief “abused his discretion” before the CRB will even allow a full evidentiary hearing.  Preponderance basically means 51% while the abuse of discretion standard forces the CRB to pay high deference to the decision of the police chief.  The citizen must meet this standard both at the threshold of the appeals process and again at the full evidentiary hearing stage, and the community as well as city officials have consistently pushed to lower this burden.  The recommendation from the Task Force in Monday’s meeting was to change the language of this standard to “substantial evidence that an error occurred in the investigation of the complaint or disciplinary action of the police chief.”  This new standard changes nothing and is the same in practical effect as the original standard for three distinct reasons.

First, requiring a citizen to show a preponderance or even substantial evidence at a stage in the appeals process when the only evidence offered are the statements by the complainant and any and all evidence/witnesses or personnel that the Police Department wishes to present – is like a kitten on a seesaw with an elephant.  The majority of the evidence (due to resources and knowledge of the process) comes from the police department.  For this reason, the Civil Rights Clinic has proposed that this initial standard, when the CRB is deciding whether to hold a full hearing, should be lowered to “reasonable cause to believe.”  Given the facts and circumstances, the CRB members should have some indication that the complaint is not frivolous and that misconduct could have occurred.

Second, the Task Force’s cleverly re-worded standard of review, focusing on the investigation procedures of Internal Affairs or the disciplinary decision of the Police Chief, is just another way to impose a deferential review of the complaint that fails to assess the underlying facts of the case.  It entirely misses the point of independent oversight of law enforcement.  The CRB was created during a time of community turmoil and distrust of the CMPD after several shootings in the mid 1990s.  The purpose of oversight was to establish a neutral intermediary between the CMPD and citizens, an avenue for citizens to present their cases outside of the perceived biases of CMPD and Internal Affairs.  When the standard that the CRB is required to apply to citizens’ complaints focuses their review on the procedures of IA or the discretionary decisions of the Police Chief, rather than the underlying merits of the complaint that neutrality is compromised.  For this reason, our Clinic has proposed that the full burden at the threshold stage be “reasonable cause to believe that misconduct occurred.”

Third, requiring citizen complainants to meet the exact same standard at the threshold hearing as in the full evidentiary hearing is not logically sound.  In a criminal trial, there is first a probable cause hearing where facts must support a reasonable belief that criminal activity occurred; and then at trial, the prosecutor must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  In a civil trial, a plaintiff’s complaint must be factually sufficient if taken as true to present a claim upon which relief can be granted; then the trier of fact weighs evidence that is gathered throughout the discovery process to make his determination.  In no instance that I can imagine is the threshold burden, before the record is factually developed, equal to the burden at final disposition.   For this reason, while our Clinic proposed lowering the threshold burden, we would promote maintaining a higher burden at the full evidentiary hearing: “preponderance of the evidence that misconduct has occurred.”

Back in February, when the media first sounded the horn for reform of the CRB, Julian Wright, the CRB’s attorney, published a statement in the Observer to explain that any deficiencies with the CRB were structural and due to the language of the ordinance.  In his statement, published on February 24th, 2013, Mr. Wright observed that “[i]f the Observer, City Council, or our community wants different results from the CRB, they need only lower the “abuse of discretion” standard imposed upon the board” which “could yield dramatically different results in CRB appeals.”  This suggestion provided an early roadmap for reform which has been lost in the stakeholder process.

I am not so naïve as to demand that this issue be resolved in 90 days.  I do not mistakenly presume that all of the nuances of the various community stakeholders’ proposed reforms can be understood in a brief hour-long meeting.  I do expect, however, that our representatives in the City Hall chambers intend to thoroughly address the structural and practical obstacles prohibiting the CRB from building community trust.  The entire community expects it.  In the wake of the tragic shooting that occurred on September 14th our city cannot afford to let community distrust in our Law Enforcement linger.


Citizen Review Board Q & A

September 26, 2013

Recently, Charlotte’s Citizen Review Board (CRB) has been receiving media scrutiny over its 78-0 record, having never sided with a citizen complaining of police misconduct.  As a result of this negative publicity, the Civil Rights Clinic took an in-depth look at the structural issues within the ordinance creating the CRB.  The identified issues were condensed into an email which was sent to Council-Manager Relations Committee and Task Force members to peruse before this Monday’s committee meeting where issues regarding the Citizens Review Board will be discussed.

HISTORY AND BASICS OF THE CRB

The need for civilian oversight of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department came after several officer-involved shootings during the mid-1990s.  The CRB was created in 1997 to strike a political compromise between advocates promoting more police accountability and those who believed that law enforcement officers should be regulated by an exclusively internal policy.

The CRB does not have the authority to discipline officers or dictate department policies directly.  The CRB does hear appeals from citizens dissatisfied with how the Police Chief handled complaints of police misconduct and makes recommendations to City Council and the Police Department about how to address problems of misconduct.  This puts the CRB at the forefront of citizen-police oversight in Charlotte, making it imperative that the CRB is equipped with the tools necessary to provide an effective mechanism for oversight.

THE CURRENT CRB APPEALS PROCESS

  1. Citizen files complaint either directly with the Police Department or through the Community Relations Committee.
  2. Internal Affairs investigates the complaint and submits its report to the Police Chief, who makes a disciplinary decision and notifies the citizen of his decision.
  3. If the citizen is dissatisfied with the Police Chief’s decision, he/she can file an appeal with CRB.
  4. CRB holds an initial hearing.  The citizen is often unrepresented and has no evidence other than the investigative report from Internal Affairs.
  5. If CRB finds that the citizen has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the Police Chief abused his discretion in applying the disciplinary action in question, then the citizen receives a full evidentiary hearing.
  6. CRB holds a full evidentiary hearing.  CRB can request further investigation by Internal Affairs, but has no subpoena power (cannot compel anyone to disclose information or appear as a witness).
  7. If the citizen can again prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the Police Chief abused his discretion then CRB may recommend that disciplinary action be taken.
  8. CRB’s recommendation goes to the Police Chief, the citizen, and the City Manager.  The police chief retains the final say as to whether to follow the advice of CRB.

ISSUES FACING THE CRB AND PROPOSED AREAS OF REFORM

Issue #1:  The high evidentiary burden

Only 4 of the 78 appeals have resulted in a full hearing.  Citizens have a difficult time making it past the initial hearing because of the high procedural burden required before a full evidentiary hearing takes place.  The current ordinance requires that a citizen prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the police chief abused his discretion in the disposition of disciplinary action at the initial hearing.

Answer #1:  Replace “Preponderance of the Evidence” with “Reasonable Cause to Believe” at the Initial Hearing Stage

At the initial hearing, the CRB looks only at a summary of the Internal Affair’s investigative report and the complaint to make its initial determination.  At this stage, complainants are not afforded the opportunity to engage in discovery or present a fully developed array of evidence to support their complaint and are typically unrepresented, while the Police Department can send as many representatives as they see fit.  The imbalance of evidence presented to the Board at this stage makes the burden of “preponderance of the evidence” an unlikely one for the complainant to meet.  Lowering the burden to “reasonable cause to believe” at this initial stage in the complaint process ensures that citizens are afforded an adequate and equal opportunity to receive a full adversarial hearing on the merits of the complaint.  The standard of review at the full hearing would remain “preponderance of the evidence.”

Answer #2:  Shift Focus of both the Initial and Final Hearings from “Abuse of Discretion” to “Whether Misconduct Occurred”

The current focus of CRB’s initial and final disposition of complaints is on the disciplinary decision of the Police Chief. This standard of “abuse of discretion” prohibits the effective function of the CRB for two reasons: 1) an abuse of discretion standard is an unreasonably high standard for citizens to meet and therefore is deferential to the police, and 2) the decision by CRB should be an independent review of the merits of the complaint rather than an assessment of the Police Chief’s discretionary authority.

Issue #2:  No investigatory or subpoena power

Independent investigatory powers are vital to creating the public perception that a civilian oversight committee is neutral and independent from law enforcement.  One complainant interviewed during our research stated that she felt the Board members were not interested in making a decision against the police, that she was unsure of whether the Board was actually working with the police, and that if a citizen wants an impartial hearing they are better off “bringing in somebody from out of town.”

Answer:  Provide CRB with independent investigatory and subpoena power

The perception that CRB operates within the Police Department can be corrected by giving CRB the power to investigate independently from Internal Affairs. Investigating through the lens of the Police Department does not give the CRB a completely neutral assessment of the situation.  With independent investigative authority, members of the CRB would be empowered to conduct more thorough and impartial hearings because they would be able to access information on their own as opposed to being routed through the Police Department.

CRB’s authority should mirror that of the Civil Service Board (CSB).  CSB, which addresses appeals from police officers who do not agree with their disciplinary action, has the power to subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, and compel the production of evidence.  Without this power, the CRB has no way to compel the police officer accused of misconduct to appear at the hearing, therefore leaving the complainant with no opportunity to cross-examine.  Since both the CRB and the CSB are civilian oversight committees reviewing inter-department disciplinary action—albeit from different complainants—CRB, too, should be granted independent subpoena power to best represent the objectives of the CRB.

Issue #3:  Lack of transparency and communication between CRB and the community

There is not enough readily obtained information about the CRB.  Currently, the city’s website only consists of one short paragraph stating how many members are on the Board and the Board’s general duties.  On CPD’s website there is a Q & A that describes the general process of filing a complaint and how the appeals process with the CRB works.  Furthermore, the closed meeting minutes fail to adequately document business discussed during the closed session.

Answer #1:  Improve CRB’s transparency and communications

The city should make three changes.  (1) All information pertaining to the CRB and complaint and appeals process should be located together on a separately maintained webpage.  Information should include plain language illustrations of how the process works, expectations of what amount of detail should be included in a complaint in order to receive a full hearing, statistical and historical data about the nature, number, disposition, and final disciplinary action of complaints, and the names and occupations of all CRB members as well as the point of contact for community members.  (2) The Board should maintain sufficiently detailed records of its hearings.  (3) Annual reports that the CRB compiles should be comprehensive and readily available to the public – as well as used by the Public Safety Committee when assessing and reforming policy.

Answer #2:  Ensure adequate representation of Charlotte’s communities

Reducing the number of appointed Board members to seven, and requiring a representative from each district in Charlotte would ensure geographic representation, but other qualities such as profession, socio-economic status, and community involvement should be considered when electing members for the CRB.

Answer #3:  Require specific and thorough training of each CRB member

Sufficient legal, policy, and community sensitivity training should be required before service on the Board.  Unbiased legal training (from both prosecutors and defense attorneys) should be provided to create an open, neutral, or receptive forum for complainants.

To learn more about the Citizens Review Board, you can view the Civil Rights Clinic podcast here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C__pJa75_jg


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