Many questions remain unanswered in regard to the Chapel Hill Police Department’s deployment yesterday of a heavily-armed Special Emergency Response Team to clear a private building in Chapel Hill that had been occupied by a group of protesters. Seven people were arrested and charged with misdemeanor breaking and entering.

I submitted a petition this afternoon to to the Chapel Hill Town Council calling for the appointment of an independent commission to review the events leading up to yesterday’s deployment of the SERT unit. Residents of Chapel Hill are divided, one camp outraged by what they deem to be an unmeasured response by a SWAT team and the other yielding to the professional judgment of the CHPD. Neither side has the facts to which the public is entitled in order understand the events that led to yesterday’s display of lethal force by the Chapel Hill Police Department.

The Council will not be considering petitions until its next meeting on Monday November 21st 2011 at 7:00pm in the Town Hall Council Chamber: 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Chapel Hill. The meeting is open to the public.

 

PETITION FOR AN INDEPENDENT COMMISSION TO REVIEW THE CHAPEL HILL POLICE DEPARTMENT DEPLOYMENT OF A SPECIAL EMERGENCY RESPONSE TEAM AT AN INCIDENT OCCURING AT 419 WEST FRANKLIN STREET ON NOVEMBER 13, 2011


The Honorable Mark Kleinschmidt, Mayor
The Honorable Jim Ward, Mayor Pro Tem
The Honorable Councilwoman Donna Bell
The Honorable Councilman Matt Czajkowski
The Honorable Councilwoman Laurin Easthom
The Honorable Councilwoman Sally Greene
The Honorable Councilman Ed Harrison
The Honorable Councilman Gene Pease
The Honorable Councilwoman Penny Rich
Cc: Lee Storrow, Councilman-elect

I respectfully submit this Petition to the Council calling for the appointment of an independent review commission (the “Independent Commission”) to research and report to the Council and Chapel Hill community its findings regarding the circumstances leading up to the decision by the Chapel Hill Police Department and other officials (collectively, the “CHPD”) to deploy a Special Emergency Response Team (“SERT”) unit in response to the occupation of the former Yates Motor Company building (the “Yates Building”) at 419 West Franklin Street on Saturday November 12th 2011 (the “Incident”).

There is a groundswell of rancor and confusion in the Chapel Hill community regarding the circumstances leading to what many view as the disproportionate response by the CHPD to the Incident and the ambiguous press release issued by CHPD Chief Chris Blue on November 14th. It is my belief that an Independent Commission’s findings can best report facts and conclusions absent bias claims leveled at the CHPD and Town officials.

The review and recommendations by the Independent Commission should address the matters delineated, but not limited to, below:

  1. What were the conditions that led the CHPD to deploy the SERT unit to respond to the Incident?
    • Were there communications with occupants at the Yates Building? Were threats made?
    • CHPD monitoring intelligence- how was information gathered and what high-risk security issues did those findings raise?
    • Was intelligence gathered from third-party safety and security sources including the Federal Bureau of Investigation in regard to the occupants of the Yates Building, including the identification of “known anarchists” and any prior history of violent behavior from said persons?
    • Given the presence of “known anarchist members of the group”, I noted that the seven people arrested were charged with misdemeanor breaking and entering and released without having to post bail. This calls to question the degree of risk they posed despite CHPD intelligence indicating they posed a critical threat to public safety.
    • Is it the policy of the CHPD to treat all persons deemed to be “anarchists” as posing security and safety risks to the community? What are the “known risks associated with anarchist groups”?
      • Would the known possession of copies of literature such as The Anarchist Cookbook by a party to whom a warrant was about to be served by the CHPD constitute a high-risk situation?
    • Given statements that it was “unclear if any weapons were inside the [Yates] building”, was there an attempt to determine prior to the deployment of the SERT unit if any weapons were inside the premises, given the CHPD’s extensive observations and monitoring?
    • Given the concerns expressed by the CHPD in regard to “the group” at the Yates Building having hung large banners in an attempt to obscure the windows to the building, what intelligence supported the CHPD’s awareness “that the number of people inside [the Yates Building had] dwindled to the point that we could safely enter”?
    • What tactical equipment did the SERT unit possess in responding to the Incident ? Were the automatic weapons leveled at bystanders in front of the Yates Building lethal?
    • What orders were given to the SERT unit members as to the circumstances under which they were authorized to utilize lethal force?
  2. What are the procedures governing the deployment of a SERT unit and what parties participate in making that decision?
    • Why was the Incident deemed to pose security and safety risks that necessitated the heavily-armed tactical response by 25 SERT and CHPD personnel?
    • What alternative procedures were available to the CHPD in responding to the Incident?
      • Which of those alternative procedures, if any, were reviewed by the CHPD prior to deployment of the SERT unit?
  3. Why was a self-identified member of the press, Katelyn Ferral of the News Observer, forcibly pushed to the sidewalk by members of the SERT unit and handcuffed along with other bystanders in front of the Yates Building?
    • Was the safety of Ms. Ferral and others in front of the Yates Building compromised in any way given the possibility of a lethal encounter?
  4. What are the policies and procedures governing the dispersal and protection of bystanders prior to the insertion of a SERT unit?
    • Given that the SERT unit received orders to commence operations in a so-called “critical condition” situation, what forethought did the CHPD give to the insuring the safety of parties in front of the Yates Building and crowds gathered across the street?
      • Why weren’t people present at the scene dispersed to a safe distance from what the CHPD itself feared might be a violent, lethal response by those inside the Yates Building?
      • Under what high-risk scenarios of concern to the CHPD would the safety of bystanders in the immediate area been threatened?
  5. What precedents have there been for deployment of the SERT unit since its creation in 1979?
    • Number of occasions and circumstances of each.
    • How have other local police departments handled similar incidents?
    • Is there a set of law enforcement best practices detailing the conditions that necessitate the deployment of specialized, armed tactical units?
  6. What parties were consulted prior to the CHPD’s decision to deploy the SERT unit at the Incident?
    • Federal
    • State
    • County
    • Local
  7. How often does the CHPD review the policy and procedures governing the deployment of a SERT unit into so-called “critical conditions”?
    • What constitutes a “critical condition”?
    • What are the boundaries that limit the deployment of a SERT unit?
    • What are the command-and-control procedures governing a SERT unit?

The membership of the Independent Commission should be comprised of individuals who are in no way affiliated with Town government in order to preclude real or perceived conflicts of interest that could weaken public buy-in of the Independent Commission’s findings and recommendations.

Thank you in advance for your thoughtful consideration of this petition. I have every confidence that you will weigh its merits in the spirit of preserving harmony and goodwill in The Southern Part of Heaven.

 

Respectfully yours,

 

Jim Neal
Chapel Hill
November 15, 2011