Breaking: Plans for Internal Review of Yates Motor's SWAT by Chapel Hill Town Manager and CHPD Chief of Police Chris Blue

In advance of tonight's Council meeting, Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil sent the email below this afternoon to members of the Town Council, Chief of Police Chris Blue and Town of Chapel Hill employees.

Roger and Chief Chris Blue are conducting an internal review of "the events centered on the vacant Yates Motor Company building." Others might more aptly characterized those "events" as "the deployment of an ~ 25 person SWAT Unit to arrest seven people charged with misdemeanor breaking and entering at the Yates Building."

The Council will consider the Petition that I and 77 other cosignatories submitted to the Council. That Petition requests that the Council establish an independent task force to review the events leading to the deployment of the CHPD SWAT team on November 13th, and report back its findings and recommendations to the Council and the public.

The Town Manager's proposal is neither independent nor transparent. The parties conducting the investigation have conflicts of interest, namely their real or perceived bias to protect the image and reputation of the CHPD and the Town of Chapel Hill.

This internal investigation is no substitute for the steps set forth in the Petition I submitted. The Town and the CHPD have every right to conduct an internal review; however there should be a separate, independent review operating on another track.

Asking the public to rely solely on an internal investigation is akin to, well, assuring chicken farmers who reported missing fowl being assured that the foxes would investigate and report back on conditions in the henhouse.

The communication from the Town Manager below is public record. The bold fonts are mine, highlighting certain aspects of the Town Manager's plan. I have deleted recipients (many Town employees) save for the Council and Chief Blue. 

Again the meeting takes place tonight at 7pm:

Chapel Hill Town Council Chamber
405 Martin Luther King Boulevard
Chapel Hill

If you can make it to the meeting, please do.

Citizens have the right to know- and from an unimpeachable source.



 To:       Mayor and Town Council
Cc:        Chris Blue
From:    Roger L. Stancil, Town Manager
Date:     November 21, 2011 at 12:35 pm


Re:         Update on Review of Yates Motor Company actions



This memorandum is an update on the actions I am taking to review the events centered on the vacant Yates Motor Company building on Franklin Street:

  • Chief Blue has begun gathering information and conducting an internal review of all actions taken by the Chapel Hill Police Department in response to the entry of people into the building;
  • That review will be submitted to the Town Manager and Town Attorney. The Town Attorney and/or I may require additional information or further investigation of the information submitted;
  • I will initiate a conversation with the Chairs of the Community Policing Advisory Committee and the Justice in Action Committee to mutually design a process that will provide an opportunity for those committees to review policies and ask questions about their implementation at the Yates Motor Company operation;
  • I have already initiated a conversation with the News and Observer that I will extend to other local media to learn from this situation and mutually develop policies that will allow the police and the press to perform their jobs in similar situations.

I will periodically update the Council on our progress and ultimately submit a report to Council for their information which will also be available for the public.


It is critical that we maintain and grow the mutual confidence and respect of our community and our police officers. In my time here, I have observed a Police Department supported by the community with confidence to address everything from daily life in a college town, interactions with retirees, protecting the rights of free speech, large-scale events like Halloween and National Championships with limited bad moments and effective closure of investigation of crimes such as Eve Carson’s murder. I have also seen a department refocus itself through community engagement and strategic planning for community based policing. On multiple occasions, I have observed an atmosphere of mutual respect and measured use of authority to minimize volatile situations.


We are a learning organization that reviews our actions, especially in public safety and emergency management, to determine what went well and what we could do better the next time we are confronted with similar situations.


I recognize that Chapel Hill has a long tradition of transparency in government and inviting residents to ask questions about the actions of local government in every arena of decision-making. The public trust in government is fragile in today’s world and we must work hard to be good stewards of that trust.


I understand and appreciate the varied opinions expressed and questions asked by the residents of Chapel Hill about this event.  I will endeavor to provide responses to those concerns as a means to maintaining confidence in the police department’s mission to protect and serve.




Roger Stancil
Town Manager
Manager’s Office
Town of Chapel Hill
405 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
Chapel Hill, NC 27514-5705

Phone: (919) 968-2743
Fax: (919) 969-2063





Agreed Jim. This is the classic Morning-After sweep-under-the-rug. I have no problem with Roger performing an internal review, so that he is aware of what his staff think. But his findings should then be presented to an Independent Review Commission, along with the views of everyone else, with equal standing.

This is an event that affected all of the communities of Chapel Hill and Carrboro (whose Police Department was also used). It is only right that any investigation be independent of those involved, and those who had or should have had oversight. It is also right that any and every person who is concerned should be able to express their feelings about an event that made national news. It should not be restricted only to staff of the Chapel Hill Town Council.

And by the way, if it does not follow from what I have said, or if I have not said it before, let me make it clear that any Commission should have members drawn from both Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Those members should be chosen by the person who has been tasked to form the Commission, and not by the Chapel Hill Town Council, nor the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. Same conflict of interest. And, once the Commission has been formed, it should be up to the Commission alone to set its terms of reference, procedures and processes.[On an editing note, I have no idea why OP formats stuff so weirdly when one pastes it from somewhere else. Editorial Panel?]

When you paste from a word processing application, you are also pasting all of the formatting junk from that application. Your best bet is to paste from a plain text editor (such as Notepad in Windows or TextEdit in MacOS).

... for explaining! I miss my quill pen. Have a good one.

Quills run out of ink almost immediately.  A good non-cartridge ink pen with its own ink bladder is what you need.  My favorites are Pelican's writing on Field Notes. :-) 

Ok. Now you've got me missing my schoolboy, pump-action Parker fountain pen![Um. Can I say 'pump-action'? Or, is that a little inappropriate for the discussion ... ??]

I started in elementary school with fountain pens that you dipped in a jar that went in a hole in the desk and you sucked the ink out of the jar, then the new technology was released about 1957 with cartridges! 

I've used a variety of cartridge systems and the ink delivery is poor compared to a reservoir system.  Besides, there's a huge variety if inks available by the  bottle.

The best of those old desk ink wells was a pony or pigtail sitting in front of you.....unless she had a big older brother.

Two public hearings are being held this coming week to consider the Police actions of November 13th with respect to Yates Garage and the use of SWAT - CHTC Community Police Advisory Committee meets on Wednesday the 14th at 7pm, CH Town Hall - details: CHTC Justice In Action Committee meets Thursday the 15th at 6pm, CH Town Hall - details: completely support Jim Neal's proposal for an independent review of all of these events, to determine without bias what happened, who was responsible and how we can avoid it happening again -, it is important not to miss what opportunities become available to raise questions. And, at this stage, I think that questions are more useful than merely recording objections. The Town Council have got that folks are unhappy.I can't make the meetings. But there are two questions I would like asked, which I think go to the heart of the issues, because they set the events in a political context, rather than merely blaming the Police:1) Who exactly made the definitive decision that SWAT should be used?2) Who specifically authorized the purchase of assault rifles by the Chapel Hill Police Department?I take the view that either these decisions were made by politicians, or they should have been. And that is why I do not think that hearings by these two bodies represent any kind of independence.I believe that what lay at the root of the events surrounding Yates Garage was failure of political oversight. So, the politicians and civic leaders associated, even tangentially, should step aside from conducting (as opposed to giving evidence to) any investigation.

This is the only Report I can find (so far) of the CHTC Community Policing Advisory Commission meeting this past Wednesday: their hearts, they really do seem to have no clue as to how to proceed, as they readily admit. It is becoming more and more obvious to me that the only real solution to obtaining a full account of what happened with respect to Yates Garage, why and what we can learn from the incidents, is to have an Independent Commission, as suggested by Jim Neal - the Town Council do its Internal Review. Let all of these associated Commissions (which are not independent) ask their questions and produce their Reports. And then submit all to an Independent Commission, when the public can consider the documentation, call witnesses, ask questions and form their own view.It really isn't all that unusual. It truly is the normal procedure, everywhere else in the civilized, progressive western world, to have an independent public inquiry after there has been controversial use of law enforcement. It's no good either side saying, well, it’s obvious what happened. No it isn't. No-one was in every place, in every mind for that 48-hour period.

This morning’s Chapel Hill News leads with the headline “Questions linger after building occupation” - Well, of course, questions linger. Because no-one (who knows) wants to answer them. And the reason no-one wants to answer them is because the folks who have the answers are politicians and civic leaders, who are embarrassed this all happened on their progressive watch.This much is clear from the few (rather good, actually) questions that CHN ask in their article. The answer as to where the assault rifles in question were bought all too casually avoids the question – who authorized their purchase? Again, because it was politicians who authorized their purchase (or should have done), and civic leaders on the various oversight committees (now ‘independently’ reviewing the events surrounding Yates Garage) who should have questioned the purchase.Much in the same vein, the other important question I still would like to see answered is who actually authorized the use of SWAT? What this all comes down to is this: we need the truly independent review being proposed by Jim Neal - all means, report on Roger Stancil’s internal review on January 9th. Let the various oversight committees ask their questions. But, when all is said and done, understand that those of us who want questions answered by those of you conducting the reviews, the oversight, the Christmas parties, whatever, will still be here, waiting to have an independent review ask you folks the questions which still linger with we concerned citizens of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

authorized the purchase of these guns? I can think of lots of situations where one would expect a well run and well equipped police department to have these kinds of guns at their disposal, and to use them responsibly and with disciplined restraint, notably, a shooting at a local school or by a crazy person on a rampage through downtown. Those of us who have been here a while have lived through a couple such incidents. 

Barbara, I think you may have answered your own question, when you do not include evicting protesters from an empty commercial property in your list of circumstances when we citizens might want our Police to be equipped with assault rifles.You also qualify your seeming support of assault rifles in Chapel Hill with the caveat that the Police are well run. I make no comment upon the manner in which the CHPD is run. I do not know.What I do know is that there are a lot of folks in Chapel Hill and Carrboro who are unable to draw a successful conclusion about how 'well run' was this specific incident (including the political oversight) because we do not have a comprehensive chronology of all the information.I support Jim's independent review because I think it is the only way, ultimately, we will ever achieve that comprehensive chronology.I ask questions like 'who authorized the purchase of assault rifles?,' because, without those rifles, there would not have been the level of controversy, and because it goes to one of my overarching themes, namely, has political oversight been sufficient to cope with the like of assault rifles; will it be in the future; and if it isn't, what needs to be done to ensure that it is?

The Chapel Hill Town Council budgetted money for higher power weaponry (probably including some or all of what you are referring to) right after CHPD found itself out-gunned by Wendell Williamson in 1994 or so.  Williamson had only an ordinary hunting rifle (as I recall) and yet CHPD was unable to stop him because they had only shorter range, lower caliber weapons at the time.  As it happened, Williamson was taken down by a retired Marine who happened to work at Henderson Street Bar and Grill.  The Marine had waited until Wendell paused to reload and then rushed around the corner and tackled him.  These higher powered weapons would not in fact have saved lives in the Williamson case because Wendell had already killed both of his victims by the time Police had arrived on the scene, however the incident still pointed to gaps in CHPD's capabilities at that time.  In addition to the two people killed by Williamson, one Chapel Hill police officer was shot, though not too seriously injured considering the circumstances. As I recall, many Chapel Hill police officers' wives came and petitioned the Town Council after the incident, demanding that Chapel Hill provide CHPD with higher power weapons so that CHPD could be prepared for such an incident in the future.I am told these same weapons were brought out (but not fired) in connection with the shooting/hostage taking situation at one of the local high schools about five years ago.I don't know whether CHPD has added to their arsenal of high powered weapons since the 1995 post-Wendell purchase mentioned above.

It makes sense. Yet there is obviously the possibility that - post 9-11 - police departmments had opportunities to expand their arsenals. Did the CH Police Dept. take advantage of that? As sure as bees like flowers, cops like armaments. Hard to believe that our local "finest" (as the Norman Rockwell crowd likes to say), wouldn't share the same fetish that cops everywhere have for anything bigger & better than that ever-present piece riding their hip. Is the Williamson incident cover for a later procurement ("Hey Chief, just cause it's sleepy Chapel Hill doesn't mean we shouldn't get some of those toys!) in the new era of Homeland (in)Security.

are answered in due course to your satisfaction. I hear the argument for an independent review and it makes some sense. What doesn't make sense is the anger and outrage behind it. I don't think the CHPD are always and everywhere without fault, but I do think generally they do a very hard job pretty well. Still, I was shocked to see photos of assault weapons drawn on Franklin Street. I believe our elected politicians and town manager should exercise general oversight of the police department, primarily in the review of the chief's performance evaluations, his hiring and his firing. But I don't think elected officials should be making operational calls. Let me put is like this, if the question in everyone's mind is, "Does this make political sense to call in the swat team? Will this provide a disatrous photo op?" then I would hope the obvious answer would be "h***, no." If there is a perceived possibility of danger, then that's an operational decision for the chief of police to make. Later, if questions arise as they have here, he should answer to the town council and/or manager. That's why he gets paid the big bucks. Once again thanks to Mark Chilton for providing the historical details that I only vaguely remembered. 

Thank you to both Marks for your input. The very sad case of the Wendell Williamson incident had previously been brought to my attention. It may well answer the why. It does not answer the who and, more importantly, the how.Before I get to that, let me just point out that I find it interesting that the answers are not coming from the authorities who actually know, but from concerned citizens who are trying to help by offering informed conjecture.My ongoing concern is that, months from now, we are not still operating on the basis of informed conjecture alone.Bringing in Barbara as well, let me posit something. See if it explains my line of thinking.I get there was an incident in which someone felt the CHPD were outgunned. I am not one who merrily knocks the Police - even if they give me a traffic ticket!Any of you who read my preliminary thoughts on Yates will know that my theme was, we do not often enough think of the Police as human beings, with families to go home to.So. A decision was made to buy assault rifles. The next thing we know, those assault rifles are on Franklin Street, and even Barbara was taken aback by the sight.I want to know that there was a considered process to buying the weapons, similar weapons, to training in the use of them, to establishing Rules of Engagement for their use (and Barbara, I'm sorry, I think you are wrong; it is politicians who establish those Rules, and then stand aside, once they have given their approval in a specific incident for the Police to follow those Rules, to allow the Police to plan tactics), and to reviewing the use of such weapons.My sense so far is that there was and is no considered process, that there was a degree of ... hmm .. yes, I'll say it ... political mayhem with regard to Yates, that needs to be examined carefully and publicly, to determine if that was the case, if it is the case with regards to other aspects of political oversight of law enforcement, and to establish procedures to ensure it is not the case in the future.Bottom line: stick with your gut. If you were surprised by the sight of assault rifles on Franklin Street, then you shouldn't have been. We need to ensure that we are not surprised if there is a next time.This may not be the most coherent note. I'm writing it before I dash off to work!

Mark [Chilton], my apologies. In my haste, I did not make clear that I do not include Carrboro in my description of 'political mayhem.' You wrote a very clear and lucid note a matter of days after Yates, in which you set out the complete political rationale and chronology for the involvement of the Carrboro Police Department. I thank you for that.What I still don't understand is why we have not seen something similar from the political establishment of Chapel Hill. By the time the results of the internal inquiry are made available, it will have been two months since Yates. Frankly, it seems to me that the political establishment of Chapel Hill are in a state of suspended shock. If I were an elected official in Chapel Hill, I would have been screaming for the fullest information to have been made available long before now.Barbara, there appears to me to be some confusion between political oversight/supervision and operational control. The first is strategic, and the second tactical.Political supervision exists (or should exist) precisely to avoid what is happening now: confusion, and the Police being left in the political firing line. Police should never be put in the position of having to answer political questions.To be honest, I think the timeline should have worked something like this:The very instant the Police action was deemed finished by the Chief, casualties taken care of, the arrested afforded their rights, the Mayor should have released a statement, as the primary political leader of Chapel Hill responsible for the Police, indicating that the buck stopped with him, that investigations would be conducted with expedition, and that the results would be made public with alacrity.I would then have hoped that the Mayor and Chief would spend no more than 24 hours putting together a comprehensive chronology and rationale, holding a press conference (which they did), where the Mayor would had said something along the following lines (which he did not):Buck stops with me. There is a political process for determining the level of weaponry deemed suitable for local law enforcement; this is that process; it was followed.There is a political process for determining training for that weaponry and Rules of Engagement; here is that process; it was followed.There is a political process for second-guessing the former political processes; this is it (Community Policing Advisory Board, whatever); it will take place in no less than the next two weeks.There is a point at which we politicians hand over control of a sensitive and unusual law enforcement situation to the tactical sensibilities of the Police; this is it; we did hand over.From that point on, this was a Police matter, and the Police are not answerable to you, they are answerable to those you have elected - us.If there was any infraction of tactical Police procedure, that will be a matter for internal Police discipline. I have asked the Chief, having full regard to the civil rights of all the parties concerned, to report to me within two weeks [not two months] whether, in his opinion, there was any such infraction.I repeat. Those are internal matters for the Police. Politically, I am the one who takes responsibility.Finally, I will be tasking ????? with responsibility to conduct a public examination of all the matters surrounding Yates, so that there is no suggestion that we are hiding anything.And that would have been that. Good night, good bye, see ya, cheerio. No-one would now be complaining about lack of information. And I wouldn't be splattered all over OrangePolitics.Instead, we have this huge void of information, and, even worse, all sorts of rumors filling that void, rumors which are doing nothing for social cohesion within our community, nor any good for the standing of our Police and the reputation of the Chapel Hill Town Council.I simply do not understand the foot-dragging and the secrecy.

Geoff, Clearly I misunderstood some of your comments, and while I had actually read your early posts in which you acknowledged  the difficult job inherent in policing, I had forgotten about them. For my part, I wasn't all that clear about the difference between setting policy and providing oversight - a job for elected representatives - and operations - a job for police professionals. Operations and tactics should be left to the pros. Basically, we agree on this as far as I can tell. I think your comments make a lot of sense. Have you considered public office? You don't have to answer that.

So, If I have this right, all this hand wringing is that SWAT was used as less threating looking cops?Or that the law did its job at all?cw  Weakness is provocative.
"One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy."-Maj. Douglas Zembiec

No hand wringing here, Chris. Just supporting a call for what is really quite normal - an independent public review of an unusual and controversial use of law enforcement.Unusual and controversial solely because SWAT has never been used in Chapel Hill before (to my understanding). And I and others would like to make sure that there were sensible procedures in place, and that they were followed.I maintain answers to those questions can not sensibly be determined by those who may, if there was fault, be the ones at fault. Normal conflict of interest provision.Oh. And welcome to OP ...

 Considering the make-up of this type of protestor in historial terms and: NC is the most liberal state in the SE, That Orange County is the most liberal in the state and of all locations Chapell Hill the heart of it all...and protesters around the nation in league w/ those here were becoming hostile...I think its fine. The other less scary cops. SWAT still are LEO.....just more Highly trained...and now they have been deployed once, next time will  a cinch!As far as sensible procedures, I defer to the police that put their lives on the line.Now...had SWAT been called out to a Tea Party I would be very interested in an independent inquerry( Had...arrests been made) as history shows this type of protestor to be quite lawful where it simply is not the same for the OWS type. and. Thanks! Weakness is provocative.
"One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy."-Maj. Douglas Zembiec

In lieu of providing commentary, I'll provide the link: 

Since the manager's memo and the police chief's report offer little new information and come to the expected conclusions, I fear their greatest impact will be their use as cover by members of the Town Council who will make the political decision to normalize this type of policing in Chapel Hill. Hopefully Chapel Hillians will encourage their elected officials not to think of assault rifles on Franklin Street as merely a matter of tactics.

Well. It's comprehensive. I'll say that. But, for all that, it still represents the views of only two of the parties involved - the Police, and their immediate supervisors.If we want, as a community, to understand all of the facts, and truly begin the process of healing and avoiding similar situations in the future, we need an independent commission to examine all of the facts and the protocols, and receive input from all of the parties involved, along with concerned citizens.That independent review can not be undertaken by bodies which are appointed by, answer to, or consist of folks with ties to the Police and their immediate supervisors.It is not merely bald facts we should be seeking, but a rebuilding of trust. Of the community in its Police forces, its elected oficials, and those appointees who have day-to-day oversight of law enforcement in our community.But also of our Police in those who hold responsibility for their activities. One of the most distressing (for me) aspects of this whole episode has been my perception that those who should have been answering questions and taking responsibility for law enforcement (which,of its nature, should remain apolitical), have (for the most part, but with some notable exceptions) stood aside and behind their staff, and have left law enforcement in the firing line. This is not political leadership as I would define it. Those we task to endure daily danger to serve and protect us, deserve our support when they follow what should be our clear orders. We must determine if the orders were clear on this occasion, and whether or not law enforcement received the measure of support they deserve. So that, moving forward, they may feel a full bond of trust in elected officials, appointed citizens and our community generally.

 I see no violation of Trust. There was a group that were violating the law, the law responded. That is what they are paid to do. I leave it to them to choose the method. Had they responded armed w/ sock puppets I rather doubt there would be such a fuss...except from those of us that expect the Law to adhere to a professional standard higher than that of Mr Rodgers. "deserve our support when they follow what should be our clear orders"WHERE did they violate this????This continues to boil down to the police using scary weapons. Extract the scary term "assault weapon"(definiton anyone?) and it's cops ins scary clothing enforcing the law on violators of the law....and this alone demands independent review? All this energy is focused on the people that did their job, did it well, and injured no one except the sensiblilities of some who may have supported the law breakers and would have prefered to see the Law use kid gloves...which have no place in the line of duty. I find the calmmoring silly, fruitless and a  distraction that insulates those who commited crime.I am quite certain the members of the police would have rather had a quiet evening but a mob made a decsion to thwart that.  Chris WeaverWeakness is provocative.
"One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy."-Maj. Douglas Zembiec


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