Winston-Salem forum opens police review to public
In November, the Winston-Salem City Council hired Risk Management Associates, a group of law enforcement consultants, to conduct an outside review of the police department.
The company wasted no time setting up the first of its public hearings. On the evening of Jan. 8, dozens of witnesses, suspects and victims filled a conference room at the Hanes Hosiery Community Center.
Two representatives of RMA manning a covered folding table fielded complaints about the department’s criminal investigation division. The announcement for the public forum invited all of those who’ve dealt with the division to make statements. The substance of the complaints ranged from suburban reports of callous dispatchers to allegations of outright racism from many of the forum’s African-American attendees.
Relatives of Kalvin Michael Smith sat in the front row.
“Now all of this that you’re going through, to me it’s not relevant,” said Smith’s mother. “Look at the evidence. Now I don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings, but at this point I really don’t care.”
The Innocence Project at Duke University School of Law is reinvestigating Smith’s case. He was convicted almost 10 years ago for an assault on Jill Marker that almost cost the victim her life.
The Sykes Administrative Review Committee, a board appointed by the city council that examined police procedures that led to the wrongful conviction of Darryl Hunt for the murder of Debra Sykes, recommended an outside review of the criminal investigation division. RMA’s services will cost the city some $40,500.
The investigators invited attendees to make public statements and also booked a room to take private statements. Some people lodged initial complaints in the public forum and discussed their cases in further detail in private. Most of the more than 60 forum participants were black.
Larry Little, a professor at Winston-Salem State University and Darryl Hunt champion, praised City Manager Lee Garrity for holding the open forum. He lambasted the police department for colluding with the district attorney’s office on Hunt and Smith’s cases.
“How can we make sure the police detectives are not answering to the prosecutor?” he asked.
Other citizens also asked about the relationship between the police department and the district attorney. Another asked for specific guidelines for reopening a criminal case.
Garrity and the council came under some fire from NAACP president Stephen Hairston, who is also a retired member of the police force. Hairston pointed at the two white men from RMA and then back at the citizens, most of who were black.
“This group does not reflect on the diversity of this community,” Hairston said.
The NAACP regularly takes calls from members of the African-American community who feel police have treated them unfairly, he said. Another attendee, a man who works with at-risk youth, said investigators tracking a neighborhood teenager accused him of masterminding a criminal enterprise and refused his offer to bring the suspect to the station.
Another woman who runs a childcare center said detectives from the Winston-Salem Police Department illegally investigated her business after her boyfriend was involved in a fight. She said state regulators told her the police should not get involved in the agency’s investigations.
Another participant accused police officers of holding suspects in jail on flimsy evidence. She said her brother had been in Forsyth County jail for two years without a hearing.
Bobby Wilson, who spent 25 years in prison for second-degree murder, said he is innocent of the crime. He used his three minutes with the consultants to lobby for a review of his case.
“I’m here to tell you I am applauding your efforts to correct these types of things,” Wilson said.
Other participants accused the police of more venial racial transgressions. Susan Parker, an associate pastor at Wake Forest Baptist Church, said her niece, who is married to a black man, was pulled over on a busy road. The officer allegedly inquired whether her niece was okay and if her husband was bothering her.
Carlton Eversley, a representative of the Minister’s Conference of Winston-Salem, asked Garrity to make the comments from the forum publicly available. Garrity had already assured the crowd that the RMA report would be submitted directly to him and the council and would not be vetted by the police chief or legal staff.
“I will do what I can to make everything that’s legal available to the public,” Garrity said.
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