City manager shoots down excessive force complaint against CPD

City Manager Bill Watkins issued a letter siding with the police department.

The complainant in the Citizens Police Review Board’s first excessive force case exhausted his final appeal Monday.

In November, the review board sided with complainant Derek Billups, who said Columbia Police Department officer Nathan Turner used excessive force when restraining him outside a local nightclub in December 2009.

Decisions by the review board are not binding; after every decision the board sends the police chief a letter outlining its reasoning.

“Chief Burton stuck with his original decision in this case, so at that point the complainant has the option of taking it to the city manager for a final appeal,” CPD spokeswoman Jill Wieneke said.

City Manager Bill Watkins issued a letter upon his review of the case stating he disagreed with the board’s decision.

“It is my finding that Officer Turner acted properly, acting reasonably to avoid escalating the situation based on what he knew at the time,” the letter stated.

Citizens Police Review Board Chairwoman Ellen Locurto-Martinez said she was disappointed with Watkins’ decision, but not surprised.

“I think this puts him in a difficult situation,” she said. “He has to be concerned with whether to support the board, which was created based on community concern, or to support an employee who reports directly to him. That’s difficult.“

In a Dec. 1 letter, Burton rejected the board’s ruling and said he stood by his original view that Turner acted appropriately.

In the letter, Watkins requested Burton look over the CPD policy regarding handcuffing procedures and mechanics of arrest to see if it could be revised. Locurto-Martinez said reviewing the two policies is a step in the right direction and she hopes Burton will look into making some definite changes.

“Not every policy change is a popularity issue, but the chief will see how the community feels and take it into consideration,” Wieneke said. “He wants to review the policies in line with our best practices.”

Locurto-Martinez said she thinks the city manager should sit in on the witness testimony in the future. She also said that, going forward, the board should look at the appeals structure and who is making the final decision, whether it should be the city manager or an independent third party.

“I think most people recognize that the review board has a function and so does the police department,” Wieneke said. “Working together is still relatively new to us, so we’re still trying to work out the kinks.”

Despite the negative feedback from Watkins, Burton and the Columbia Police Officers Association on the board’s decision in the Billups case, Locurto-Martinez said the board’s future will not be affected.

“We’re doing what we’ve been charged to do by the city ordinances,” she said. “We’ll continue to try and do right by it and do it honestly.”

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