Police chief responds to CPRB recommendations, disagrees

The Citizens Police Review Board voted that an officer acted improperly.

Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton responded to the Citizens Police Review Board on Wednesday, issuing a statement contrary to the board's most recent decision.

On Nov. 10, CPRB ruled by a 6-2 margin in favor of complainant Derek Billups, who alleged CPD Officer Nathan Turner used excessive force when restraining him outside a local nightclub last December.

The board’s Nov. 17 letter said it recognized officers are often required to make quick decisions in escalating situations, but it still felt Turner approached Billups in the wrong way.

“It was Officer Turner’s haste to handcuff Mr. Billups that escalated tension, added uncertainty and forced the situation to evolve rapidly,” the letter stated. “The Board believes that a reasonable officer on the scene would have exercised restraint and simply asked what the problem was before aggressively using force to handcuff the presumed source of a disturbance who was not engaged in disruptive behavior at the time.”

CPD spokeswoman Jessie Haden said Burton is not required to respond to the CPRB recommendation, but she said his goal is to be as open as possible.

In his letter, Burton said the CPRB investigation covered too much ground and should have only focused on whether Turner deliberately caused Billups’ fall or if it came as a result of Billups’ resistance.

“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 (sic),” the letter states.

CPRB member Steve Weinberg said he disagrees with Burton and said the investigation had to cover more than just the fall to the ground.

“Surely he knows that the investigation by his own Internal Affairs unit covered much more ground than that,” Weinberg said in an e-mail. “The sergeant who conducted the investigation looked closely at Turner's behavior before both men ended up on the ground.”

Haden said CPRB’s latest finding was not based in law or procedure.

“It’s somewhat arbitrary,” she said. “They didn’t like the way Turner handled the situation, but what he did was within policy.”

Haden said Turner’s reputation has been unnecessarily tarnished because of the CPRB complaint.

“Officer Turner violated no law or procedure, and now his name has been dragged through the mud,” Haden said. “That’s not fair, and it’s not okay.”

Burton said the CPRB ruling makes it difficult for police officers to judge their own actions.

“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 quandry for all of our police officers,” the letter stated.

Burton’s letter stated CPD is open to all policy suggestions from the board, but the CPRB rulings must be made on the base of policies and procedures as they exist at the time.

Haden said the board’s decision makes it harder for officers to make quick decisions.

“If they didn’t like the way he handled this situation, how do we know that they’ll like what we do tomorrow or next week?” Haden said. “We’re trying to follow procedure, which is what the citizenry expects of us.”

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