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Jose Charles case in Greensboro latest NC police/community flash point

If you haven’t been following the case of Jose Charles in Greensboro, it’s time to start paying attention.

The story of the altercation between a 16-year-old Charles and police goes back to last year’s July 4th celebrations in downtown Greensboro.

From a story in Greensboro’s News & Record:

Charles was 15 when he was arrested and charged with malicious assault on an officer, disorderly conduct, simple affray and resisting arrest, according to Figueroa. The teen also is accused of spitting blood on an officer’s face.

Figueroa and several community organizations said Charles was attacked by a group of kids, then grabbed by an officer near Friendly Avenue. He spit blood because he was coughing and couldn’t breathe, witnesses said.

This week, after months of tensions over access to the police video of the incident, protesters disrupted a Greensboro City Council meeting and staged a protest in the street outside where 8 were arrested for impeding the flow of traffic.

From Triad City Beat’s coverage of the protest:

The tone was set early in the meeting when, in the midst of a discussion about a downtown parking deck, protesters scattered throughout the capacity crowd raised pink signs reading “Justice for Jose,” “City council take action” and “We believe the PCRB.”

The protest came on the heels of city council watching restricted police body camera video showing the July 4, 2016 incident involving the police and the then-15-year-old on Monday night, with discussion in closed session bleeding into the next day. Council members have made no comment about the video, citing a superior court judge’s order prohibiting them from discussing it.

Also precipitating the protest was the resignation of three members of the police complaint review board. Lindy Garnette, the first to resign, was pressured by the city attorney and chair of the human relations chair after she spoke publicly about the board’s disagreement with the police department’s decision to clear itself of wrongdoing in a complaint filed on his behalf by Jose Charles’ mother, Tamara Figueroa.

The Charles case is just the latest in a series of incidents that have heightened tension between police and the communities they serve. Last year’s fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte led to large scale protests and rioting.

The case is also the latest in which access to police video – and whether public officials can comment on it – has been central to the controversy.

News

Greensboro Police again face charges of profiling, brutality

One of the Greensboro police officers involved in the Jose Charles case is again at the center of racial profiling and police brutality complaints.

The complaint, filed late last month, is again raising questions about a department that has for years faced charges of profiling and several high-profile brutality cases.

From a story this week in Greensboro’s alternative weekly, Triad City Beat:

Almost from the moment they parked their car in front of Cheesecakes by Alex on South Elm Street, the four young, black men attracted the attention of the Greensboro police downtown bike patrol, Jones said.

“Immediately, we were surrounded by police officers, maybe seven of them,” Jones recalled. “They started asking us what we were doing, where we were going. We asked them why they were asking all these questions. The best answer they could give us is that they were the community resource team, and it was their job to go out in the community and ask questions.”

They would soon encounter the bike patrol again, this time on the 100 block of West McGee Street bustling with raucous late-night revelers in a confusing situation that quickly spun out of control, ending with Jones’ friend, Aaron Garrett, getting Tased and all four arrested and hauled down to the Guilford County Jail. Graham Holt, Jones’ lawyer, contends that the four men became the target of the police’s attention solely because of their race, and that the officers unnecessarily escalated the situation.

One of the officers involved in the incident was Officer Samuel A. Alvarez, who can be seen in an eyewitness video grabbing one of the young men from behind and slamming him into a car before he is tossed to the ground.

Alvarez was also involved in the controversial Jose Charles case:

Jose Charles, a 15-year-old boy who had been attacked by a group of teenagers at the Fun Fourth Festival at Center City Park on July 4, 2016, wound up in a melee with downtown bike patrol officers that resulted in criminal charges against him and a hospital visit. While Charles was using his T-shirt to stanch blood from a cut above his eye, Officer Alvarez approached Charles and asked him what he was doing. Tamara Figueroa, Charles’ mother, alleged in an interview with Triad City Beat earlier this year that Alvarez reacted to her son’s profane response by grabbing him, lifting him “in the air with all the force they could, and slam[ming] him on his head.”

Cpl. Johnson, the supervisor on duty on both July 4 and Sept. 10, acknowledged in the investigative report for the Charles incident that following the encounter with Alvarez, “Charles’ pre-existing lacerations to his right eye began bleeding rapidly.”

The administrative investigation by the department’s professional standards division cleared the officers of wrongdoing in the Charles incident, but the police community review board, a citizen panel, disagreed with the department’s finding. Lindy Perry-Garnette, a member of the board, was forced to resign after she publicly expressed concern about what she saw in police body-camera video of the incident. Frustration about city council’s handling of the matter boiled over with dozens of Charles’ supporters taking over council chambers in May.

The latest incident is under administrative investigation, according to the Greensboro Police Department.

Commentary

Editorials: General Assembly is wrongfully keeping public records from the public

Several North Carolina newspaper editorial pages have rightfully blasted state lawmakers this week for their actions last year and this to keep police videos hidden from public view. This morning’s Greensboro News & Record had this to say about the current law which has prevented members of the the public from seeing footage of a teenager being roughed up by police:

“The utter ridiculousness of a state law that restricts public viewing of police video was in full bloom this week in Greensboro.

After viewing body camera footage of an incident last year in which teenager Jose Charles says he was manhandled and wrongly arrested by police, Mayor Nancy Vaughan, flanked by three fellow City Council members, announced Wednesday that they believe officers acted appropriately. Their assessment follows similar conclusions from police Chief Wayne Scott and City Manager Jim Westmoreland.

‘It isn’t a close call,’ Councilman Justin Outling said of what he saw in the body-camera video. Fellow council members Marikay Abuzuaiter and Nancy Hoffmann nodded in agreement. They also expressed concern that community protesters who have rallied behind Jose and his mother, Tamara Figueroa, haven’t seen the video — and were merely assuming certain facts to be true.

Yet, there’s no way the protesters can see the police footage. None of us can. And that’s the problem.

Making the video available to the public could put to rest the conflicting accounts and quell the rumors and distrust that naturally occur when we’re left to speculate. But a state law passed in 2016 won’t allow it.”

Amazingly, however, state lawmakers want to make the already broken law worse. As the Greenville Daily Reflector argued Tuesday in a reprint of a Wilson Times editorial:

“The elected officials in charge of North Carolina police departments will have less oversight authority than the hired help under a bill that passed the state House on Thursday.

Lawmakers voted to give city managers the ability to view footage from police body cameras, but stripped out a provision to grant council members the same access. After excluding police videos from the N.C. Public Records Act in 2016, the legislature took yet another swipe at citizens by sidelining the proxies we elect to supervise police….

The entire gambit hinges on a faulty premise — that ordinary citizens must, at all costs, be kept in the dark where police recordings are concerned. Before the 2016 law, dashboard camera video was routinely released to the public and press with no ill effects.

Body cameras were supposed to bring transparency to police work and restore trust between officers and the communities they serve.

Instead, the General Assembly gave us secrecy, managing to ramp up suspicion at a time when lawmen need public confidence the most.”

And the Winston-Salem Journal said this on Monday:

“This is all ridiculous. As we’ve said in this space before, this footage is public record and belongs to all citizens, especially in turbulent times, and members of the legislature, whom we also pay, must mandate that be so.

That footage can clear officers, or, in some cases, implicate them. Either way, we pay for the officers and the cameras, so the footage should belong to us.”

News, Policing

Greensboro columnist Susan Ladd on police brutality

Greensboro is one of many North Carolina cities that has, for years, been struggling with police/community relationships, cases of police brutality and – more recently – public access to records like police body camera footage.

This week Susan Ladd, columnist for Greensboro’s News & Record, takes a look at the case of Jose Charles – the young man of whose violent encounter with Greensboro police a member of the city’s Police Community Review Board says, “If we can’t see this one as wrong, we can’t see anything as wrong.”

From the column:

This week Lindy Garnette said what she had been thinking since she first reviewed the case of alleged police brutality in the arrest of Jose Charles:

“If we can’t see this one as wrong, we can’t see anything as wrong,” said Garnette, chief executive officer of the YWCA and a member of the Police Community Review Board. “If this case is swept under the rug, we might as well pack up, go home and call it a day.”

Charles, then 15, got beaten up by a group of other teenagers at last year’s Fun Fourth celebration in downtown Greensboro. He was using his shirt to wipe blood off his face when he was approached by a Greensboro police officer.

 After an oral exchange, Charles said, the officer threw him down, choked him and arrested him for malicious assault after he coughed up blood, which struck another officer in the face. Charles also was charged with disorderly conduct, simple affray and resisting arrest.

His mother, Tamara Figueroa, returned from a trip to the restroom that night to find her son on the pavement, bleeding from the head, with the officer’s hands around his neck. He needed eight stitches to close a wound over his eye.

Take the time to read the whole column.