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Dispute between city, police chief and review board intensifies
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Dispute between city, police chief and review board intensifies

CDP 0418 CRB 489.JPG

Police Civilian Review Board member Sarah Burke speaks during a meeting at City Hall on April 17, 2019. Members of the board discussed drafts of the bylaws they are creating for the board when it is officially established.

Charlottesville officials on Friday denied claims by members of the initial Police Civilian Review Board about the city police chief’s willingness to work with them. They also gave the board a final deadline to complete its work.

Meanwhile, one board member struck back at the city, accusing it of omitting information from a news release.

Officials sent out a press release Friday afternoon that refuted comments made by members of the CRB during its Tuesday meeting. The release also established final steps for the initial board.

“The strained relations ... are unfortunate and the manner in which they were inaccurately characterized this week is damaging,” Interim City Manager Mike Murphy said in the release. “I believe [Police Chief RaShall Brackney] has accomplished a great deal in her review and reorganization of the Charlottesville Police Department and should be commended for her efforts to provide greater transparency.”

Brackney was not quoted in the release, and a department spokesman said the release was a joint endeavor by the city and the police department.

When asked for further comment, Brackney disputed a Wednesday Daily Progress story about the meeting. She called the headline — which said that the police board members stated at the meeting that the “chief won’t set [a] public meeting” — “disingenuous and inherently false.”

City and CPD officials have yet to contact The Progress about the story itself.

“Not only are the headlines and statements false, misleading and inaccurate — the attempt to create derision and controversy when none existed speaks to the division within this community,” Brackney wrote.

At the Tuesday meeting, board member Josh Bowers read aloud the email conversation with Brackney’s secretary, Jessica Downey, in which he tried to set up a public meeting in June to draft a memorandum of understanding with the department.

“Frankly, I am at a loss, trying to understand how I could have misrepresented an exchange that I read word-for-word, for all to hear,” Bowers said in a statement.

At the meeting, Bowers said he first offered a two-week window and, in a follow-up email, requested any time in June.

Downey responded, in emails provided in the release, that Brackney “does not have any availability during the dates you have suggested for your public meeting. She is either out of town or not available to meet in the evenings.”

Downey did not offer alternative dates, but Bowers responded that the board could meet during the daytime. Downey didn’t reply.

“If we can’t schedule this public meeting, I personally have no interest in meeting privately with her to discuss a [memorandum of understanding] that she will not come discuss with the board and the public,” Bowers said Tuesday.

***

Brackney was present at a joint meeting with the City Council last week but did not speak. The press release pointed out that Brackney gave a presentation to the CRB in March about the department’s internal affairs review process.

“Since the board’s inception, Chief Brackney has met with members of the Board, and her office established an open line of communication with the CRB to ensure any questions, concerns, or scheduling matters were addressed,” the release said. “In spite of those efforts, the Board has often gone for weeks and months without communicating with Chief Brackney concerning a Memorandum of Understanding between the CRB and the Charlottesville Chief of Police.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, the board said it does hold private meetings with the chief and two members, but that including the whole board would violate state meetings laws.

Board member Katrina Turner also claimed on Tuesday that Brackney had walked out of at least one meeting.

The issue centers on a memorandum of understanding about access to CPD data and files for a permanent board’s oversight of the department.

The initial board is tasked with creating bylaws for a permanent review panel, which are due in May. A working draft has been presented to the City Council, but the board doesn’t plan to finally adopt them until later next month.

On Tuesday, board members said the issues with scheduling a meeting likely will require an extension of their terms. The extension, they said, would allow the council to discuss the proposal with the board once it’s presented.

The Friday release said City Councilor Heather Hill conveyed to the board that an extension will not happen.

“While the existing CRB terms will not be extended, Council does anticipate engaging with members of the CRB as well as other stakeholders and the public after June,” the release said.

The terms of all board members, except Rosia Parker, expire on June 4. Parker, who was appointed after community outcry over her initial exclusion, is set to serve through July 2.

The release said the board “should” present its final report, draft bylaws, draft ordinance and recommendations on budget and staffing at a meeting in June.

The City Council meets on June 3, the night before the appointment expires for nearly all CRB members.

The release said the council will solicit feedback on the proposal directly from the Legal Aid Justice Center and the police department.

The release also said an MOU should be crafted after the bylaws are finalized.

Hill said the work on the MOU came after consultation with the city attorney’s office and isn’t related to scheduling issues between Brackney and the CRB.

“The City of Charlottesville, Charlottesville Police Department, and Chief Brackney have no fear of scrutiny in the form of a well thought-out Police Civilian Review Board,” Murphy said in the release. “I believe there are flaws in the current proposal, and my feedback has been shared with the City Council. I support the recent City Council communication to the CRB that correctly identifies that a Memorandum of Understanding should not be developed until after an ordinance and bylaws are approved.”

***

In his statement, Bowers said the city “stitched together two separate email threads, only one of which is complete.”

“In my opinion, the snippet makes Chief Brackney look more accommodating than she was,” Bowers said. “Since I have no interest in obfuscation or shading the truth, I’ve included the entirety of that email exchange below.”

According to Bowers’ emails, he has been trying unsuccessfully to schedule a meeting since February.

The emails include subtle jabs from both sides. In one exchange, Bowers emphasized that it had been more than a month since he first contacted the office.

Downey replied, “I am not a difficult individual to get in touch with, my contact information is posted on the city’s website or you could have simply called the police department.”

Bowers said no city officials were at Tuesday’s meeting, “so I’m not sure where the city got its information.”

“[I]t is quite clear to me that those responsible for this press release failed to do their homework,” Bowers said. “I am stunned that the city would issue this press release before talking with me or another member of the board.”

The press release was sent by city spokesman Brian Wheeler. Wheeler and CPD spokesman Tyler Hawn did not provide additional comment.

“I am dismayed that the city has recklessly sullied my professional and personal reputation, with these allegations of falsehoods,” Bowers wrote. “I have demanded that the city immediately retract its press release. I hope city officials will do the right thing.”

The spat is the latest between the CRB and officials since the board’s inception last summer.

Members have routinely raised concerns about transparency, particularly regarding stop-and-frisk data.

In November, another issue arose after the board approved the bylaws it would use to create the bylaws for future boards.

The City Council decided it would not sign off on the initial bylaws. Supporters said approval of the bylaws would have compelled the police department to provide the stop-and-frisk information.

The board later said it couldn’t complete its mission without the data, but it has continued to conduct its work.

Amidst all of those issues, Brackney said in December that a “vocal and biased” CRB is one of the reasons the department was down nearly 30 officers in what she called a “mass exodus.”

Board membership also has been an issue, with supporters arguing for the appointment of Jeff Fogel, and the Police Benevolent Association asking for Turner’s removal.

The latest conflict comes shortly before a new city manager, Tarron Richardson, is set to start May 13.

The CRB next meets on Wednesday. The board plans to issue a statement next week.

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City Hall reporter

Nolan Stout is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7274, nstout@dailyprogress.com, or @TheNolanStout on Twitter and Facebook.

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