Town Manager's Memo on Yates Raid: What Controversy?

Two months later, Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil has published his memorandum to the Town Council, outlining his "conclusions, actions and recommendations" related to the occupation of and subsequent police raid at the Yates Motor Company building on W. Franklin St. last November. It's an impressively bland endorsement of paramilitary police action, largely devoid of content. Stancil wastes no time in reaching the conclusion you may have expected him to reach—that the police did everything right and nothing wrong—and that if anything needs to happen as a result of these events, it's that the CHPD should adopt a new media relations policy.

If you're looking for any serious review and discussion of what happened on November 13 at Yates and the decision-making process leading up to it, you're going to be disappointed, because Stancil simply says that 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." It should go without saying that those are the words of a stenographer, not someone conducting a review of a controversial police action. Nowhere is there any acknowledgment of community concerns that the police unnecessarily escalated the situation by portraying the occupants of the Yates building as dangerous and by confronting a nonviolent civil action with a paramilitary unit more typically used in drug raids.

The memorandum and its numerous attachments reveal only a few pieces of information that are new to me:

  • The decision to deploy SERT was made by Assistant Chief Leo Vereen, the same officer who was "confronted and partially surrounded" during the course of the CHPD's sole, failed attempt to communicate with the people inside Yates.
  • CHPD denies that there was any coordination or communication with FBI or Homeland Security.
  • CHPD gathered "intelligence" from other, unnamed municipal law enorcement agencies who were in town to monitor the Anarchist Book Fair.

In his own report, released as an attachment to Stancil's memo, CH Police Chief Blue states "there was no good alternative to the use of the SERT unit." This should have been an obvious starting point for Stancil—what does he mean there was no good alternative?—but instead he just copied some highlights from Blue's report and attached his own signature. It's hard to imagine Stancil making a better case for the need for an independent review than he has with this empty memorandum.

Many questions remain, including some from Jim Neal's petition of November 21, 2011. A response to Neal's peitition was posted as an attachment to Stancil's memorandum, but many of the petition's questions went unanswered.

  • Why did the police have such poor-quality intelligence about the situation that they believed that deploying the SERT was necessary?
  • How much impact did intelligence gathered from other municipal law enforcement agencies have on the decision to deploy SERT?
  • Is it the policy of CHPD to treat all persons deemed to be "anarchists" as posing security and safety risks to the community?
  • The building was condemned immediately after the police raid; if it was such a hazard, why had it not already been condemned?  

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28 Comments

Ruby Sinreich's picture

Where's the leadership?

Thanks so much for this post, Ethan. As someone who has partially defended (or at least sympathized with) the Town in this situation I am extremely disappointed with this report. Where there was once an opportunity for reflection and improvement, now I see a brick wall. I feel left with no option but to simply condemn the Town's actions, and I'm still looking for guarantees that nothing like this will happen again.The more government leaders dig in their heels, the less constituents will trust them on this or other issues. I hope to see some strong statements from the Mayor and Council tonight showing that they understand why people are shocked at the police's actions as well as the Town's response to it. Loyalty is great, but not when it comes before leadership. We deserve real answers.

Chris Weaver's picture

I have not done a search,

I have not done a search, but would it be unreasonable to think there has been more reaction to the law doing its job that reaction to the actual criminals? This appears to be every bit an inqusition...of those that broke no law. I simply cannot fathom it.The sheer consumption of enery on this matter and the apparent obfuscation of who is really to balme is mindnumbing . I sometimes wonder if Georgia is indeed another planet where the moon is not always full as it seems to be here. cwWeakness is provocative.
"One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy."-Maj. Douglas Zembiec

Three, maybe four reasons

Three, maybe four reasons people are worked up about this:
1. The police are public employees and must be accountable to the public.
2. By making a decision to deploy a paramilitary unit against unarmed protesters, the police dangerously and precipitously escalated the situation.
3. The police decision to escalate the situation to a potentially deadly level appears to have been influenced by the perceived ideology of the protesters.
And, at a very basic level this is a controversy about the militarization of law enforcement and whether we are going to acquiesce to that in our community.

Chris Weaver's picture

1. Accountability is

1. Accountability is met...the results are just not satifactory to a sympathetic group.2. The police did not make the choice to break the law and escalate the situation. That was the mob.3. Poice wear semi automatic guns at all times. What is the difference? Scary weapons.   At a very basic level this is a controversy about Protestors evolving into a Mob breaking the law to create a scene to somehow promote their "cause" rather than utilze lawful methods of protesting and whether we are going to acquiesce to that in our community.cw Weakness is provocative.
"One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy."-Maj. Douglas Zembiec

Dear Town Council, it's not too late for an apology

Thanks, Ethan, Ruby and all! Kat and I stayed until the bitter end. Sigh. Despite strong public support of an independent review process, the council did not ratify such a proposal. Instead council members put the process in the hands of the Community Policing Advisory Committee. This body is directly tied to the council and the police department - the seats are appointed by the council, the board meets in the police building, and the board liaison is Chief Blue.

My brother was one of the people detained on the sidewalk that day with a deadly assault rifle pointed at his brain. Our family business, Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe, is about a block from the incident, and these kinds of actions by the town endanger the peaceful and just Chapel Hill we want to co-create with our neighbors. We are asking for such a simple thing. It is time for a full apology and an independent investigation to bring the truths to light.

Chris Weaver's picture

    You brother is alive.

  

You brother is alive. The police
officer that "held a(deadly?) gun to his brain" (not a utilized proximity tactic)
was certainly well trained and deserves kudos for his professionalism for not ...being deadly.  These
kinds of actions by the town do not endanger the peace. Breaking the
law does. Your brother can again engage in protests but hopefully he now
understands that choosing to  break the law is  like playing in the
street where you Put yourself in a tenuous situation where your  life in
the hands of someone else.
Somehow I doubt those that have broken the law have apologized for Creating all
this fuss. Indeed, fuss was the intent from the outset...it's just now done
out of the weather. Weakness is provocative.
"One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy."-Maj. Douglas Zembiec

James Coley's picture

Open Letter to Mark Kleinschmidt from James Coley at WCOM

Mark, we have known each other for many years, and were briefly housemates back in the day. But now it seems I don't know you anymore. I am astonished that you support the Yates assault, and your history of activism simply makes it worse. That abuse of police power is an issue that will not go away.You have been my guest on the radio at WCOM several times, and it was your first media interview as you began this last campaign.I am inviting you to join me on the air to discuss this issue, and I want to arrange for one of the young people who had guns pointed at them to be in the studio with us so that you can explain to him, face to face, why you believe this was right.   Please let me know your reply to this invitation. I do want to assure you that I will give you a fair opportunity to explain and defend this. Thanks.

James Coley's picture

Kleinschmidt Agrees to Explain Raid to One of the Yates Eight

When I posted this open letter to Mark Kleinschmidt, I simultaneously sent it to him by personal e-mail. (Please see two posts above.) I did not hear back from him for a long time, although he did respond when I contacted him again. I have had to be persistent in getting him scheduled, but he has agreed to be my guest on WCOM alongside one of the eight activists arrested at the Yates building. The other guest will be David Maliken.My challenge to Mark is to explain to David, face to face, why it was justified to use lethal force in the incident. I will be fair to Mark, and I will give him an opportunity to present his case. I do believe, however, that this use of force was outrageously excessive.The discussion about the Yates incident will be on Thursday, June 28th. That program will air from 5:30 to 6:30 that evening, although my broadcasts are usually from 6:00 until 6:30.By the way, tonight (the 14th) my guests will be Christy Booth and Robin Spohr, who are strippers. People who do their kind of work, and sex workers in general, are attacked from both ends of the political spectrum. Fundamentalists often accuse them of immoral behavior, and “liberal” feminists patronize them, seeing them as victims. But rarely does anyone ask these women to speak for themselves. That is what I’ll be doing in taking a “post politically correct” view.On the 21st, my guest will be Penny Rich, newly elected member of the Orange County commission. Our main topic will be the good news that the half-cent sales tax for transit will be on the November ballot in Orange County.James Coley

Definition of Lethal Force

James,This sounds like an interesting program. But I think it's important not to call this lethal force. Lethal force means:

 An amount of force that is likely to cause either serious bodily injury or death to another person. (http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/).

 In other words, it means force that was actually used. Waving around big guns doesn't count. Shooting to kill counts.You could argue that the police were implicitly threatening lethal force by waving around the big guns. But they most certainly did not use lethal force.

James Coley's picture

I'm standing by the phrase “lethal force.”

Hi, Jan. Thanks for your comment. I think you are interpreting, in the definition you found, the phrase "is likely to cause" to mean "has already caused." Clearly, those mean different things.In any case, your real concern is not with the phrase "lethal force" but with whether I should have said that it was threatened rather than that it was used.You may be right, but I am standing by the phrase “lethal force” itself. To point a (presumably loaded) assault weapon at an activist squatting in a virtually abandoned building is an outrageously excessive use (or threat) of force.Isn’t that the real point here? James Coley

Force Used

James,If you read the rest of the definition, it's clear that "is likely to cause" means that, as used, is likely to have caused. So, if an officer shoots at me but misses, his/her use of lethal force can be examined. After all, the officer's actions could have killed me. So the officers at Yates did not use lethal force. The threat of lethal force is simply not lethal force. You may judge it to be unreasonable or unwise. You may even judge it to be "outrageously excessive." Others, of course, do not. But in any event, I think it's important to be accurate in describing what happened.

James Coley's picture

Excessive Force Used

I will be careful to say that the raid involved a threat (not the use) of lethal force. That is an accurate description of what happened.I think it is also appropriate to note that the question of whether the raid was an outrageously excessive use of force is not a matter of opinion. This is not to say that there is not disagreement on this point. But it is not like whether you prefer chocolate or vanilla ice cream.I do not believe that a rational appraisal of the raid, against a background of even minimal humane values, can sustain the view that the use of force in the raid was proportional to the crime and the circumstances.James Coley

Mark Chilton's picture

see two posts above?

James wrote: "When I posted this open letter to Mark Kleinschmidt, I simultaneously sent it to him by personal e-mail. (Please see two posts above.)"What does the parenthetical comment refer to?  I don't see a prior post from you indicating that you had emailed this comment ( http://orangepolitics.org/2012/01/town-managers-memo-on-yates-ra#comment-133223 ) to Mark K.  All I see is a copy of what I now suppose is the email itself, but even that is presented without any context.  It has no headers, no salutation other than the addressee's first name, and no signature line.  It lists no cc's or bcc's.  So, I think it might be reasonable for someone to wonder whether the letter/email was actually sent to him.  Thanks for clarifying that it was.You may not feel that this (or Ruby's) reminder is helpful, but based on past experience, plenty of past OP users have taken the absurd notion that posting an "Open Letter" on OP somehow automatically puts the addressee on notice or somehow obligates him/her to respond in this forum.  OP has long had a policy making it clear that OP has no such expectations.The Editor's have reminded people about this issue a dozen or more times at least.  In fact, there's an OP User Guideline ( http://orangepolitics.org/about/guidelines ) that was written to address a closely related issue:"Please do not demand responses (from elected officials, local media, the editors, or others) to your comments. No-one has any official obligation to read or respond to what is written."Your open email above does not violate that rule, in my opinion, as it does not demand a response on OP (although it does pretty much demand that Mark respond on WCOM).  I think this is the reason for Ruby's reminder regarding open letters.

James Coley's picture

Parenthetical Comment

Hi, Mark. My parenthetical comment was meant to indicate that the open letter I was referring to could be found two posts above the one in which the parenthetical comment appeared.James Coley

Geoff Gilson's picture

Well Done - Everyone!

There has been much talk, in some quarters of our community, about action and reaction that is justified because 'community processes' have failed.I've said it before. I'll bore you again. 'Community processes' only fail when folks stop conversing.So, congrats to James, Mark and David for keeping the conversation going! With Mark's legal background, and David's legalistic mind, this promises to be an interesting discussion. And long overdue ...

James Coley's picture

Thanks, Geoff.

Thanks, Geoff. Just because the Yates assault happened back in November, that does not mean this is not still an important issue. To my knowledge, this is the most serious case of the excessive use of police power against activists in Chapel Hill in the thirty years or so I've lived here.James Coley

Geoff Gilson's picture

Smoking Gun?

I post for information the statement I released to the press after my guest appearance on Jon Paul's TruthQuest radio program on WCOM this morning, where we discussed Roger Stancil's Report and the response to it of Chapel Hill Town Councilors this past Monday evening: "Local writer, activist and Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro supporter, Geoff Gilson, has raised the possibility that the use of SERT to evict protesters from Yates Garage on November 13, 2011 had less to do with the needs of the moment, and might, instead, have been a tactical demonstration, staged for visiting Police Officers from other municipalities.Appearing on The TruthQuest Show on WCOM 103.5LPFM, Carrboro/Chapel Hill’s community radio, Gilson underlined inconsistencies in the Report presented Monday evening to the Chapel Hill Town Council.In an addendum to the Report (Answers to Petition submitted by Jim Neal), there is a paragraph stating: “The anarchist book fair drew the attention of a number of law enforcement agencies who are concerned about similar activity in their communities. These agencies were not summoned to Chapel Hill by our Police Department but had come to Chapel Hill to monitor the fair to gather intelligence.”Later, in answer to a question from Neal’s Petition about intelligence upon which the Chapel Hill Police Department based their decision to use SERT, the following answer is given: “Intelligence was gathered from municipal law enforcement agencies that were here to monitor the event.”“My first concern” stated Gilson, “is that the CHPD allowed other Police Departments into our community to monitor citizens of our community and their guests. Chapel Hill and Carrboro have developed a proud tradition of supporting free speech and assembly, even when that speech is not what we like, and when that assembly is outside of the usual norms – as with the Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro encampment. It is, in my opinion, completely inappropriate for the CHPD to allow other law enforcement agencies, possibly from municipalities that might not practice the same progressive leniency, to spy on our residents.“The bigger question,” Gilson continued, “is whether or not the involvement of those other Police Departments ended with that initial monitoring of the book fair? Is there any suggestion that Police Officers from other municipalities engaged in planning or execution of the raid on Yates Garage? And, more to the point, was the raid itself staged in the manner it was, employing SERT, as a tactical demonstration for those visiting Police Officers, who, after all, and by Chief Blue’s own admission, were in Chapel Hill to determine how to deal with incidents exactly like the occupation of Yates Garage?”Such speculation was further fueled by a report produced by Carrboro Alderman, Dan Coleman. He said that he had been told of an encounter between the occupiers of Yates and an unidentified Police Officer early Sunday morning. An encounter which lasted about 20 minutes, and which is not reported in the Chapel Hill Report. Coleman says that the Officer did not warn about any Police action, and, when asked, merely replied that he was there because he was curious.Gilson wonders if, indeed, this Officer was one of the visiting Police Officers, and believes that this may be a reason why the encounter is not referred to in the Chapel Hill Report. “If a visiting Police Officer was permitted to insert himself into an active Chapel Hill law enforcement situation, it raises serious questions about the autonomy of Chapel Hill law enforcement, and the integrity of the CHPD.“Chapel Hill and Carrboro are not training grounds, nor are our citizens guinea pigs, for tactical exercises by other municipal Police Departments.”Gilson made it clear in his interview that he is not a Police-bashing radical. “At the time of the raid, I went out of my way to remind folks that our Police are also citizens of our community, who serve with our consent, and deserve the fullest protection when entering what appears to be dangerous territory. I believe the reaction of the Police might have been different if the occupiers of Yates had clearly indicated their non-aggressive intent, and had not taken steps to hide what was happening inside.”However, he now believes that the lack of full explanation of the intent and activities of the visiting Police Officers raises the possibility that Chapel Hill authorities are being deliberately evasive about the use of SERT. Gilson further believes that the full facts will only be forthcoming under the auspices of an independent, public inquiry. He does not think that advisory boards with connections to the Chapel Hill Town Council will ask searching enough questions.“I really don’t understand why everyone is so fussed by the prospect of an independent, public inquiry. It is quite normal, in other societies, to have such inquiries, when there has been controversial use of law enforcement. And there was controversial use here. Not because it was necessarily wrong. But because it was unusual, and it has caused controversy.”Moreover, Gilson believes that such an inquiry could be even-handed, and offer the opportunity to re-build trust in the community. Not just the trust of the community in the Police. But also the trust of the Police in its community. And the trust of the community in its own citizens.“I think there is a deal of hypocrisy surrounding the events at Yates Garage. And I believe that an independent inquiry, with powers to cross-examine, would do much to dispel that hypocrisy. We could get to the truth about the visiting Police Officers, for sure. But we could also quiz those who occupied Yates, as to their true intentions, and as to how they saw their actions as helping to build community. Was the occupation actually about creating new community facilities – in someone else’s property? Or was it a staged event, designed to get publicity when arrests took place?”" [By the by, OP Editorial Panel, we now seem to have three separate threads running on Roger Stancil's Report.]

I spent five hours at the

I spent five hours at the Council meeting on Monday.  It was disappointing that they didn't appoint an independent commission, but on the other hand I understand the argument that there's this existing commission that should be given a chance to do its work.  This will also be a chance to examine why the CPAC was set up in the way it was, instead of creating an independent body in the first place.  If the Council won't do it, perhaps a truly autonomous & independent group should form now and start collecting information in parallel to the CPAC process. Geoff, those are good questions about the involvement of other municipal police agencies and I hope they are raised at tonight's meeting.  Why is the CHPD hosting other town's cops who want to spy on people attending a book fair?

CPAC

What I see as most suspect about the CPAC is that it has been created to advise, and ask questions of, the CHPD, and possibly Manager Stancil. We have already received the the police report and Stancil's review - obviously biased and full of holes - and they're just going to continue giving incomplete, and sometimes incorrect, information. We need the independent task force because it will not be beholden to police and the town government. The town is terrified this will result in another lawsuit, like the suit in 1990 after a SWAT raid that resulted in a $200,000 settlement. 

I agree completely, but now

I agree completely, but now CPAC gets to demonstrate whether or not it can rise to the occasion.  It's unlikely, yes, but there's no chance now that the Council will approve an independent commission before the CPAC report is done. Can anyone elaborate on the statement from Monday's meeting that NC state law prohibits a town from setting up a civilian review board?

Ed Harrison's picture

Clarification on civilian review board

NC statute does not prohibit a local government from setting up a civilian review board. The town attorney corrected this mis-statement by a council member on Monday night almost immediately after it was made. It was not the first time in the past three years or so that he had had to do so. What NC law prohibits is access to the personnel files of public employees.Chapel Hill had legislators put in local bills, as had other local governments in the past, to have this prohibition lifted as an exception for our board. The opposition from statewide law enforcement organizations was so strong that the bill never got a committee hearing in either chamber. Then-Speaker Joe Hackney had warned the Council that this would happen, and it did.Ed Harrison

Thanks, Ed.  Can you

Thanks, Ed.  Can you explain how that restriction will affect the work of the CPAC (or any investigative body)? For example, if a particular officer is accused of misconduct, would CPAC have any way of finding out if there had been a history of misconduct by that officer?

Ruby Sinreich's picture

Community Policing Board wants independent research

This report on tonight's CPAB meeting sounds very encouraging:

Calling the Chapel Hill town manager’s report “one sided,” a committee voted tonight to seek an independent investigator to examine a November police raid that removed squatters from a vacant building downtown.
The new Community Policing Advisory Board, which the Chapel Hill Town Council asked the review the incident, said it could not make any conclusions without more facts about what happened Nov. 13 at the former Yates Motor Co. “We will need the council to pay for it. It will not be cheap,” committee member Jessica Smith said of hiring a professional investigator. “How can we make recommendations as to policies and procedures unless we know what actually happened?”- http://blogs.newsobserver.com/orangechat/chapel-hill-committee-wants-investigator-to-review-police-raid