Columbia Police Review Board hears first complaint

The complaint was filed by a California marijuana activist in response to the February CPD SWAT raid.
Citizens Police Review Board member Carroll Highbarger (left) holds up a stack of paperwork detailing the investigation of a SWAT raid the Columbia Police Department conducted in February. Highbarger and other board members questioned Columbia police chief Ken Burton about the raid at a meeting Wednesday night.

Columbia officials and residents again discussed the controversial February SWAT raid Wednesday night as the Citizens Police Review Board met about its first received appeal.

Ed Rosenthal, a California state resident and marijuana activist, submitted the appeal in June after watching a YouTube video of the February raid at 1501 Kinloch Court in Columbia. During the raid, officers stormed the home in search of drugs and shot and killed a pit bull. The officers recovered what Columbia Police Department spokeswoman Jessie Haden called a “small amount” of marijuana.

Board members spent much of Wednesday's meeting debating the intent of the city ordinance establishing the board and whether members should hear the appeal because Rosenthal is not a Columbia resident.

“None of us expected a complaint from California, and the ordinance is pretty wide open,” Chairwoman Ellen Locurto-Martinez said.

City Counselor Fred Boeckmann, who is a member of the review board, told members that the ordinance does not prohibit out-of-state appeals. He said the board can form a subcommittee to suggest changes to the ordinance, but still has to review Rosenthal's complaint.

“Nowhere in (the ordinance) is there a limitation on who can complain,” Boeckmann said. “You should make recommendations to the City Council to change the ordinance or form a subcommittee to do so, but under the ordinance you have a duty to hear the appeal.”

Board member Susan Smith motioned to create the subcommittee, saying the SWAT raid was an issue that should only concern Columbia citizens.

“We did not want this issue open to the world, just to Columbia citizens,” Smith said.

Board members eventually discussed the appeal and questioned CPD Chief Ken Burton about his investigation and report on the raid. Board member Steve Weinberg asked about the reasoning behind shots being fired at the dogs in the house.

Burton said officers had not done enough surveillance on the house before the raid and felt threatened when surprised by the dogs.

“We had no intelligence, due to our own admission, not doing the surveillance and we should have known prior to the raid about the dogs being aggressive,” Burton said. “The officers were simply responding to the threat that they perceived and each one of those four officers, when they fired, felt threatened.”

Another board member, Stephen Alexander, asked Burton why shots were fired while a child was present in the house. Burton again cited a lack of knowledge about the house due to surveillance issues. Burton also said that policy changes have been placed to prevent the same situation from happening again.

“I think the surveillance issue would have solved a lot of problems here, in the way we are looking at warrants today versus what we were doing before,” Burton said. “We have discussed at length, as a staff, what the expectations are and what all the things are that have to be considered, and those things were not being vetted well before, but they are being done now.”

As the meeting continued, Burton commented on his review of police policies as well as the changes he has implemented to these procedures. Burton’s changes center around the use of force by officers and the procedures taken to document these uses, which include widening the definition of a use of force as well as introducing a form where an officer can explain the reasoning behind a use of force.

The board decided to table the discussion and continue discussion at its Aug. 4 meeting. In another action that might come before the review board, a group of Columbia residents is organizing a Police Accountability Protest on Sunday.

According to the event’s Facebook page, the protest is a response to Burton’s decision to not fire a police officer who commented on a Columbia Daily Tribune article about the SWAT raid. In his comments, the officer disclosed private information about a citizen's sealed juvenile criminal record.

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