by Joe Schwartz
In Town Manager Roger Stancil's eyes, Chapel Hill Police made "the best decisions that could be made given the information available at the time," when a Special Emergency Response Team armed with assault rifles arrested "anti-capitalist occupiers" who claimed the long-vacant Yates Motor Co. Building downtown in mid-November.
Stancil released his much-anticipated, yet-unsurprising internal review of the incident late Friday. He backed the police, who report to his office, because no one was injured in the Nov 13. raid, the building had not been inhabited or a decade and was unfit and because attempts to communicate with those inside were unsuccessful.
"The use of the SERT Team was appropriate because of their continuous training for special situations and their habitual training to act as a team," Stancil wrote. "This training minimizes the potential for unintended consequences and injury."
He found fault only with the way the two members of the press, Katelyn Ferral of the News & Observer and freelancer Josh Davis, were detained on scene. To that end, Stancil and Police Chief Chris Blue have met with some local media to create a fresh media relations policy that will be used by the police, emergency management and the fire department as protocol during emergency response situations.
Stancil also wants to sharpen the town's internal communications for incidents that "have a greater effect than just a law enforcement situation."
In this instance, the report states, Blue notified Stancil of the decision to remove people from the Yates Building, also known as the Chrysler Building, but did not talk tactics. Stancil relayed that information to Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt.
The final authorization came from assistant chiefs who were on scene and was made without any input from state or federal agencies. Though, Stancil does reveal that police from other municipalities were in Chapel Hill that weekend to gather intelligence from the anarchist bookfair at the Nightlight on Rosemary Street.
Stancil and Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos gathered information from Blue, Fire Marshall Matt Lawrence and Chief Building Inspector Joseph Ayscue for the report. They reviewed it with Blue, Assistant Chiefs Leo Vereen and Bob Overton and Senior Legal Adviser Tiffanie Sneed before making it public.
Chapel Hill Town Council will receive the report at its Monday meeting and is expect to refer it to the Community Policing Advisory Committee for review. Stancil recommends that the committee report back to the council on March 26.
Town Council also is slated Monday to respond to a petition from Chapel Hill resident and 2008 U.S. Senate hopeful Jim Neal that calls for an independent commission to review the facts. Neal's petition asks questions that Stancil did answer in his report such as what tactical equipment was used that day and what other strategies police considered.
Stancil's full report is below. More to come Monday.
Review of Yates Motor Company Incident
Posted Date: 1/6/2012
Town Manager Roger L. Stancil has directed that the following memorandum that he has emailed to the Mayor and Town Council be distributed to the public before the Jan. 9 Town Council Meeting. Additional public information from the Town of Chapel Hill has been posted at http://townofchapelhill.org/index.aspx?page=1869
Pasted below and attached is my memorandum to the Town Council outlining my conclusions, actions and recommendations. Also attached is a proposed resolution for your consideration at the January 9 Council meeting. The other attachments are the report and attachments from Chief Blue to me. Additional attachments will come in a second email. —RLS
To: Mayor and Town Council
From: Roger L. Stancil, Town Manager
Date: January 6, 2012
Subject: Review of Yates Motor Company Incident
I have reviewed the attached report prepared by Chief Blue on the incident at Yates Motor Company on November 12 and 13. I discussed the incident with Chief Blue on multiple occasions in the preparation of this report. Our discussions included requests for clarification and additional information. Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos and I reviewed the report with Chief Blue and requested additional clarification and information. I also requested additional information from Fire Marshal Matt Lawrence and Chief Building Inspector Joseph Ayscue. When the report was finalized, the Town Attorney and I met with Chief Blue, Assistant Chiefs Leo Vereen and Bob Overton, and Senior Legal Advisor Tiffanie Sneed to conduct a final review of the report and the attachments.
The complete report, all of its attachments, and a memorandum from the Fire Marshal and Chief Building Inspector are attached.
Based on my review, I have reached the following conclusions:
The objective of removing persons who had entered vacant property on the main street of the Town without the property owner's consent was accomplished without injury to anyone. This was done with the least disruption to others not involved in the taking of the building.
The building had been vacant for some time and was unsafe and unfit for human occupancy. Continued use threatened the health and safety of those in and around the building.
There were two unsuccessful attempts to communicate with those inside the building. Statements and actions of those involved in the building takeover, however, clearly indicated their intent to permanently occupy the building.
Chief Blue informed me during the day of his decisions to remove the persons from the building. We did not discuss specific tactics. He authorized his Assistant Chiefs on the scene to use their experience and training to make those tactical decisions. I used the information provided to keep the Mayor informed. When such police actions have potentially larger community consequences, we need to identify those situations and improve communications so that informed decisions can be made and expectations can be set and managed.
The use of the SERT Team was appropriate because of their continuous training for special situations and their habitual training to act as a team. This training minimizes the potential for unintended consequences and injury.
The actions of the on-scene police commanders on November 13 were the best decisions that could be made given the information available at the time.
The decisions made regarding the actions at Yates Motor Company were made by the Chapel Hill Police Chief and his Assistant Chiefs acting on their own and in the best interests of the Town of Chapel Hill. There was no consultation with or decision-making by Homeland Security or any other state or federal agency. There was information gathered from other municipal police department representatives who were in Town because of the anarchist convention to learn information for use in their own communities.
During the police response, two members of the media were detained but not arrested by the police outside the building but adjacent to the entrance. The police and the press need each other in such situations. It is clear we need to learn from this experience and jointly develop a policy of how we mutually interact at crime scenes and other situations where we both need to be able to do our jobs without interfering with each other.
The police make a multitude of decisions every day based on their training and experience that keep our community safe. On limited occasions, those decisions have greater effect than just a law enforcement situation. It is important that we continue to grow our understanding of community expectations so that we can factor those considerations into our decisions as appropriate. Understanding and appreciating those expectations and building them into our policy development and discussions will support a well-trained and confident team of police officers dedicated to community safety and aligned with community values. Policing in today's world is difficult and challenging. We must do it well.
The Chapel Hill Police Department has a long and proud history of effective policing in our community consistent with community values. I have observed respectful and restrained policing of large crowds of people at Halloween and National Championships. I have observed respectful policing that protects and serves those exercising their constitutional rights. The Chapel Hill Police have served and protected the Occupy Chapel Hill Movement at Peace and Justice Plaza. The SERT Team has been deployed multiple times in serious situations without injury.
Consistent with our community values, the Chapel Hill Police Department has been reaching out to engage residents in planning for the future. They have recently engaged in an open and public process of strategic planning and are implementing those plans in their operations. The department worked actively with the Town's Justice In Action Committee in that process. Police staff worked with me and the Town Council to establish the Community Policing Advisory Committee recently appointed by the Town Council. A Police Captain volunteered to staff the Justice In Action Committee. They have recently initiated a Citizens Police Academy to acquaint residents with police policy and operations.
I believe that Chief Blue, Assistant Chiefs Vereen and Overton and Senior Legal Advisor Tiffanie Sneed comprise the best police management team available to any community. I look forward to working with them to making our way to the future in policing our community.
Chief Blue and I have met with the editor of the News and Observer to discuss a new media relations policy. He recommended the Raleigh Police Department policy as one that worked well. In a conversation with him, he pointed out some ways it could be improved. We have written a revised policy based on that feedback. It is attached to the report from Chief Blue. We have also shared this policy with representatives of the Herald-Sun and WCHL. They endorsed the new policy and stated that their working relationships with the Chapel Hill Police had always been excellent and professional. I have directed the Town's Emergency Management Director in the Fire Department to adapt this policy for all emergency response situations. We will continue to work with local media to improve our relationship.
We will engage the best professionals to assist us in identifying and adopting best practices for policing in the future to help us develop and enhance our policies. This is critical as we have grown from a village to a small city with the same challenges as our larger neighbors in the Triangle. We will seek public involvement in this process so these policies are based on community expectations and our organizational values.
We will work with the Community Policing Advisory Committee and the Justice In Action Committee to mutually design a process for talking about how we enhance community and police relations, learning from our recent experiences and building mutual trust and respect.
I have discussed with Chief Blue, Assistant Chiefs Overton and Vereen and Senior Legal Advisor Sneed the need for us to review the manner in which we communicate during such situations in the future and how I use that information to keep the Mayor and Town Council informed.
I recommend that the Council adopt the attached resolution to
- Receive and refer this report and all of its attachments to the Community Policing Advisory Committee.
- Request the Committee to study the report and provide comment and advice to the Chief of Police and Town Manager in the development of policies that reflect community expectations as it deems appropriate and in accordance with the Committee's charge with regard to organizational matters and procedures.
- Request that the Committee consider steps it determines are reasonable and appropriate to take to fulfill its role as a liaison to enhance community and police relations for the future in light of the matters discussed in the report and provide a report back to the Council at the March 26, 2012 Council meeting.