Police Chief Rejects Citizen Board Findings
COLUMBIA - Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton released a written statement Wednesday restating his support of Officer Nathan Turner and rejecting the findings of the Citizens Police Review Board (CPRB) that the officer has acted improperly. The CPRB ruled last month Turner used excessive force while handcuffing Derek Billups outside of the former Nephews Bar on December 12, 2009.
In his statement, Burton said the CPRB did not know enough to make its decision. "There is simply not enough concrete evidence to prove or disprove the allegation," Burton's statement said.
But, CPRB Chair Ellen LoCurto-Martinez says Turner admitted he was in the wrong."Officer Turner was specifically asked if he made any mistakes, or if he would do anything differently and his answer was, and I will quote, I should not have gotten so excited to approach and put handcuffs on him, which was a key statement."
Burton encouraged the review board to focus on issues with policy and procedure, rather the specific tactics used by police officers during incidents, stating, "[Turner] is the only one that knows what he saw and heard, what factors influenced his thought process and his decision to take the action he did."
Burton also said the decision of the CPRB to investigate the incident has caused confusion on the part of Columbia Police officers. Burton said the ruling called into question whether officers should follow the objective reasonableness standard created by the U.S. Supreme Court, or be held to arbitrary standards reviewed by others later.
LoCurto-Martinez says she hopes in the future the CPRB and police squad can understand each other better.
The entire Burton statement is as follows:
In Mr. Billups initial complaint statement he alleged simply that after he was engaged in a “heated argument” with the owner of Nephews Bar, the Police were called and he was “thrown to the ground” by Officer Nathan Turner. The issue of focus therefore becomes whether or not the fall to the ground was deliberately initiated by the officer or a result of the resistance of Mr. Billups, and secondarily if the Officer’s actions were deliberate, were his actions objectively reasonable under the circumstances as he knew them to be at that precise moment in time. This issue and only this issue was the subject of the Internal Affairs investigation.
In this case the Board chose to expand their review from the focal issue as they delved into matters of opinion and issues of tactics: Should the officer have approached from the front or the rear… whether the officer should have paused during the disturbance to question witnesses… whether it was appropriate to announce he was a police officer. All of these questions might obviously be answered differently dependent on the perspective of the person you ask. The reality is that the answers to these questions even for a very specific set of circumstances may vary greatly even among police officers, and based on a variety of factors such as what they actually see and hear, how they process that information, their level of experience, physical strength and skill, physical size of the subject, variables in training, confidence level, etc.
As to the tactics used in this case the only perspective that matters after the fact is that of Officer Nathan Turner. 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, at 11:42 pm on December 12, 2009. As the Police Chief and the CPRB it is our job, separately and collectively, to determine whether those actions were objectively reasonable under the circumstances, but our decisions must be based solely on the facts as we know them. Let me say again, it is our job to determine whether the officer’s actions were objectively reasonable not on a loose preponderance of the evidence, but on the facts as we know them to be.
To second guess the officer’s tactical decisions in a dynamic and rapidly evolving situation by creating an arbitrary standard after the fact creates an impossible decision making quandary for all of our Police Officers. They must know the standard to which they will be held through clear use of force guidelines that allow them flexibility in accomplishing their lawful objective. 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.
The Board’s decision to expand their review in this case and their subsequent findings, has caused confusion on the part of Columbia Police Officers. Will they be held to Department policy and the U.S. Supreme Court standard of objective reasonableness created by the Graham v. Connor decision that applies to all other American police officers, or will they be held to an arbitrary standard to be decided after the fact?
I submit to you that since most citizens have never had to handcuff a resisting person, your decisions must be based simply on policy, law, and facts. That is not to say however, that the Board does not have a right to question tactics, policies, or procedures. In this case, or any other, questions or recommendations by the Board to review any relevant CPD policy would be welcomed and carefully considered, and reasonable changes can be implemented when necessary-so long as those changes do not jeopardize the safety of our officers or our citizens.
I respectfully ask that in the future the Board focus on the specific complaint issue(s) at hand, ensure that the Internal Affairs Investigator has done a thorough investigation, ensure I have rendered an appropriate decision, and ensure the Constitutional rights and privileges of all persons have been protected. I urge you to always consider the background and veracity of those from whom you seek information and opinions. I also ask that you make recommendations or suggestions on problems you may see in current policy and procedure, separate from your review of an officer’s actions. As you do so, please feel free to call on me to provide you with resources and subject matter experts in our field that may provide you information as to what tactics officers are trained to consider, why we train the way we do, and why a tactic may sound perfectly reasonable to a lay person, yet might be unsafe for an officer to consider.
In closing, 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. However, based on the relevant facts as I know them to be I am in agreement with the minority opinion of the Board and I am re-affirming my decision that Mr. Billups’ complaint of unreasonable force being used against him by his being “thrown to the ground” by Officer Nathan Turner, is Not Sustained. There is simply not enough concrete evidence to prove or disprove the allegation.
I am also re-affirming my 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. It is my expectation that as they go about their duties each day they will protect themselves, protect our citizens, treat everyone fairly, and use only the force that is reasonable and necessary to achieve their lawful objectives.