Police Review Board approves changes to CPD raid policy

An officer will be assigned to know whether children or animals are present in the home before each SWAT raid.

The Citizens Police Review Board voted to accept Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton’s report and policy changes related to a controversial February SWAT raid at a meeting Wednesday. The board approved the changes in a pair of votes that decided against the first complaint the group has heard.

The board voted unanimously to accept policy changes Burton made after the raid, which include making sure a captain approves of the raids and that the location remain under constant surveillance after a warrant is issued.

That vote also included an amendment by board member and MU professor Steve Weinberg that an officer be assigned to know whether children or animals are present in the home before each SWAT raid. Members voted 4-3 on a second motion that said officers had operated within the law and CPD policies at the time of the incident.

The board's first complaint was brought by California marijuana activist Ed Rosenthal, who was present for Wednesday’s meeting at Columbia City Hall. In his complaint, Rosenthal said officers used excessive force when a SWAT team raided a Columbia home in February, acting on information that the house contained a large amount of marijuana.

Police recovered a small amount of drugs and shot and killed one of two dogs, a pit bull, in the home, which they had perceived as a threat, according to Burton’s report. Video of the shooting was posted online and generated international criticism of CPD’s actions in the raid.

The board also announced that American Civil Liberties Union defense attorney Dan Viets and 41 other Columbia residents had filed a second complaint similar to Rosenthal’s. The board spent much of its previous meeting debating whether it could even hear Rosenthal’s complaint because Rosenthal is a resident of Piedmont, Calif.

At the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting, CPRB Chairwoman Ellen LoCurto-Martinez said the board would not hear public comment on the case, including comment from Rosenthal, until after it had made its decision. She also announced board member Mary Bixby had resigned for personal reasons.

Board member Susan Smith then gave a statement in support of CPD’s actions. Making comparisons to evidence found in the Oklahoma City bombing and the attempted Times Square bombing, Smith said other items police seized besides actual drugs were proof the homeowner was engaged in drug dealing.

Smith then motioned for the board to accept Burton’s report. Board member Betty Wilson objected, saying the board should have discussed whether CPD’s actions were correct, even if they were within department policy.

"I am uncomfortable with the chief's finding because it is so narrow," she said. "There's a lot of grey area in situations like this, and those gray areas are where the problems can be. I'm not satisfied with where we are."

Before the motions were decided each board member spoke, with most saying they wished this incident had never happened but also that the department had followed its policies at the time and the board needed to move on to other complaints.

“I think we’ve probably got hundreds of complaints waiting in the wings,” board member John McClure said. “I think we need to move on.”

After the votes, members of the public were allowed five minutes each to make comments to the board. Rosenthal was the first to step to the podium, and he said SWAT team members should have been subject to psychological examinations as part of Burton’s review.

After the meeting, Rosenthal said he was dissatisfied with board’s decision to accept Burton’s report, saying it ‘papered over’ decades of problems within the police department. He also took issue with the fact that public comment was not allowed until after the decision was made.

“I think it’s stupid,” Rosenthal said. “They are refusing to hear the public that they’re supposed to serve.”

In an interview with The Maneater, Rosenthal said he would like to get MU students involved in investigating how CPD reviewed the case and formed its policies relating to SWAT raids.

"What I'd like to do is help the School of Journalism and the law school here set up investigation teams of the police department here to actually go through a lot of these documents and see just what the police are doing," he said.

Facebook pages announcing the events and posting on Rosenthal’s blog had indicated there would be a rally of supporters following the meeting, but most of the audience members had dispersed before Rosenthal came out to speak with the media.

The Citizens Police Review Board’s next meeting will be 7 p.m. Wednesday in Council Chambers. LoCurto-Martinez said the agenda has not been finalized but that the board will be reviewing Viets’ complaint. The board will have a work session at 6:30 p.m. in Conference Room 1A.

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