Friday, June 10, 2016

Police behavior, race relations questioned at Providence Council Meeting

Cool heads prevailed Monday night at the Providence Council meeting, after a civilized conversation regarding the behavior of a local police officer turned tense.  

During the public appeals session of the meeting, Providence resident Mona Simms, representing a group of concerned citizens, respectfully requested the proper method to lodge a formal complaint against the officer.  She cited several recent examples of what the group believes to be serious impropriety and unprofessionalism in an unnamed police officer’s methods. 

Simms acknowledged that Providence has always been a caring, diverse community, to the agreement of others in the audience, but said that the recent actions of the officer cannot continue.   

“We feel we are being targeted, we are being harassed, and we feel we have been racially profiled,” Simms stated to the council. “We want to make sure we do this correctly, and it is taken care of.  We want the procedure to be transparent, when it begins, ends and what’s going to be done about it.”  
She once again told the council that this has to stop.  

“We do not live in a community where this stuff happens,” said Simms. “We are here as a community, citizens of this town, to request an investigation be done, and we need to know what we have to do to get it.”

Gooch said he was very well of the complaints, but had believed Simms was going to meet with him at the police station to review recordings.  

“When you came to me at the office, I thought you had wanted me to check on (one of the incidents), and you were going to come back and we were going to go look at the video at the police department of that incident,” Mayor Eddie Gooch recalled.  

Simms recounted a different version.

 “You (Gooch) told her (an alleged victim) to write a formal complaint and she didn’t write it because she didn’t want to have to go through anything else with this policeman,” she stated. “Now, we’re not going to argue back and forth, we want to know what has to be done to file a formal complaint.”  

Gooch explained that each complainant would have to provide a written statement, and file it with the chief of police. This would have to be done by the individual with the complaint, and could not be completed by someone else on their behalf.

Police Chief Brent McDowell further explained that the letter had to be notarized, adding that if any part of it turned out to be false, anyone who signed that form would be charged with falsifying a report.  
That comment elicited responses from the audience, asking  “what if the officer falsified his report?”  
As the audience’s attention was then drawn to McDowell, who was seated among them, Ms. Simms calmed the group with her reminder that they didn’t come here to argue. 

Addressing Simms, Gooch invited her to come in and review the video of one of the incidents.
“I think the video speaks for itself and you should come look at it,” he said.  

Simms acknowledged that, but said she had seen another video of it as well.

“They tell us not to get out of the car, that we should drive to the nearest police station. Nowadays it’s not safe for us to get out because we’re subject to get shot. We’re not going to stand by and feel like we’re being profiled and harassed and afraid to go out of our house.”  

Gooch agreed with her that he didn’t want anyone to feel unsafe in leaving their homes.  He again extended his offer for her to come in and review the video so she could see that “there’s two sides to every story”.  

Simms agreed, but added “There’s a whole bunch of stories (about the officer in question), that’s what’s so strange — a whole bunch of “two sides”. There’s a problem somewhere. There’s too much happening for something not to be wrong.” 

Gooch interjected that he wasn’t just getting complaints from the African American community and   Simms agreed, citing other complaints Gooch allegedly shared with her.

 “I don’t care what race, creed, color, ethnicity – if he’s doing these things, he needs to be corrected,” she told the mayor.  

Simms closed by informing the council that they would prepare their complaints and submit them, as she took her seat. 

Gooch then asked for any other appeals.  A complaint was made by an elderly gentleman concerning his own arrest the previous week.  The citizen’s son, US Army Veteran Eldridge Hampton, backed his father by suggesting that mistakes were made during each step in that incident.  

He (alleged) dishonest statements and foul language by the arresting officer that were completely disrespectful and unnecessary.  

Mayor Gooch questioned the elder Hampton about the procedures during the stop, and Hampton answered candidly, emphasizing that he doesn’t drink, do drugs, or even smoke. He reported that all he was offered was a “pencil test” to check his eyes and that at no point was any other field sobriety test offered.  He was concerned about being confined for 14 hours without his medication, and felt his life was placed in jeopardy. 

Finally, after asking for additional appeals, resident Patricia Darnes stood to introduce herself but was immediately interrupted by Mayor Gooch who stated ,“Don’t wear that shirt back in this council chamber!” 
Appearing genuinely shocked, Ms. Darnes asked “I can’t wear my shirt?”  
Gooch repeated “Not that shirt, not in this chamber.” 
The shirt worn by Ms. Darnes was a black t-shirt with the phrase “Black Lives Matter” printed on it.  
“All lives matter,” Gooch said, to which several audience members responded to the contrary. “That is a racist organization, and a racist sign and you will not wear it back in these council chambers.”  
Above the growing murmur of the crowd, Darnes plainly stated, “Mayor, I’ll wear my shirt where I want to because it’s freedom of speech.”  

Gooch went on “No, you won’t, or you’ll be escorted out.”  

Darnes suggested he consult with the city attorney, before she continued on to her appeal.  She stated the reason she wanted to speak was that she believes there is a need for diversity training in the city.  She believes that there are ways people should treat others, and that she’s afraid racism is still alive.  She alluded that by Gooch’s statements, it was obvious that such training was needed for the administration.  

Sitting next to Ms. Darnes, resident Myra Belle expressed her shock that the mayor believes the Black Lives Matters movement is a racist organization. 

 Gooch again emphasized that “ALL lives matter (to which the audience agreed), but he went on to say that “Black lives only matter when they’re killed by a white police officer – All lives matter!”  

As the exchange between Gooch and the audience grew more heated, once again, Ms. Simms quieted the crowd “We didn’t come here to argue.  This is the tension that’s causing what we are having to go through, so we just need to calm down and do what we’re supposed to do.”  
At that point, a final citizen who wished to remain anonymous stood to acknowledge the hard work of the police department, and his gratitude for helping him and the community  in the past (to which many in the audience agreed), but that their concern is not with the force as a whole, but with one officer.  

His shared his appreciation for the council by informing them of the steps to take, and asked that the audience do just that.  

Mayor Gooch thanked him for those comments and at that point Gooch made a motion for the council to go into executive session with Chief McDowell and Assistant Chief King to discuss “personnel” matters.  Gooch then thanked all participants and closed the regular meeting.
The council returned with nothing to report from the closed session.

J-E Staff Report

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