Police officers association ‘outraged’ over board ruling

The Citizens Police Review Board found an officer acted inappropriately in a 2009 incident.

The Columbia Police Officers Association called the Citizens Police Review Board’s latest case a “two-week evidentiary circus” in a statement released one day after the board ruled an officer used excessive force during a 2009 incident.

The board determined Columbia Police Officer Nathan Turner improperly restrained Derek Billups outside of a Columbia nightclub.

“CPOA is outraged by the board’s inability to articulate exactly what was ‘improper’ about Officer Turner’s actions,” the statement stated.

Derek Billups, a bartender at Nephews Nite Life at the time, filed a complaint with the CPD because of an incident that happened Dec. 12, 2009.

At its Wednesday meeting, the board heard testimony from both a former Nephews coworker of Billups’ and Columbia Police Department officer Lori Simpson, one of three responding officers at the scene.

The incident began when Billups’ ex-girlfriend threw a drink at him while he was bartending. Billups said he stepped outside and argued with the owner of the club, who proceeded to call the police.

Turner said he arrived at the scene shortly after and forcibly restrained Billups by pushing him into the side of a minivan and onto the ground.

“It’s part of my beat, so I’ve dealt with the business numerous times,” Simpson said. “I knew how to deal with the situation so I wanted (Turner) to hold off until I got there.”

The board questioned the witnesses about proper takedown techniques, whether Turner’s approach was a surprise to Billups and why Turner and Simpson chose to turn off their body microphones during the incident.

Board member Stephen Alexander said turning off the microphone, for which Turner received a written reprimand from the police department, made it more difficult to collect evidence.

“We have no audio or video, which is unfortunate and neither of the other officers saw the incident firsthand,” he said.

Board member Betty Wilson said she was bothered by the apparent racial factor in this incident.

“This cultural dissonance has bothered me a lot,” she said. “It’s pretty apparent, and I don’t know who to blame.”

Board member Susan Smith introduced a motion that there was no misconduct on the part of Officer Turner, which was defeated 5-3. Wilson made a contrary motion stating the officer’s conduct was not proper, which carried 6-2.

Alexander said all the witness statements concluded Turner acted hastily.

“It’s pretty much the consensus that Mr. Billups was not engaged in hostile behavior when Officer Turner approached,” Alexander said. “Turner did not identify himself, and it appears he didn’t need the initial restraint.”

During the meeting, board member Steve Weinberg said while the officer’s poor judgment all happened within a few seconds, it was substantial.

“Turner made an unwise decision quickly and without the proper information,” Weinberg said. “I think the decision was so unwise that it reaches the improper usage category.”

The association argued the Citizens Police Review Board ignored precedents set by the United States Supreme Court, stating the “reasonableness” of an officer’s actions are based on what they know at the time of the incident.

“It seems like this all came from a lack of patience, foresight and experience,” board member John McClure said. “If Officer Turner had exhibited some of these things, I don’t think we would be sitting here today.”

Board chairwoman Ellen LoCurto-Martinez said she will prepare a draft of the board’s recommendation letter to Columbia Police Department Chief Ken Burton. The letter of recommendation is not a legally binding document.

While the officer association said in the statement it had approached the board with optimism, according to the news release, its opinion has been negatively affected by this incident.

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