GSO Operation Transparency to conduct People’s Document Search for police records

by Sammy Hanf

WHAT: People’s Document Search to make public investigative files the Council has declined to release
WHEN: Wednesday, January 18, 9:30 a.m.
WHERE: Melvin Municipal Building plaza, Washington Street side

GSO Operation Transparency will conduct the search for any investigative records related to the incident between former Greensboro police officer Travis Cole and Dejuan Yourse, which ended with Cole repeatedly punching Yourse in the face while he was sitting on the front porch of his mother’s home.

Nego Crosson, with GSO Operation Transparency, said due to inclement weather last weekend their planned training session was moved to January 15 and the search scheduled to take place on Jan. 18.

Crosson said GSO Operation Transparency still has questions about why the District Attorney declined to bring charges against Cole, why it took so long for the video to reach GPD Chief Scott and why the city council has been unwilling to release the file to the general public.

“What does city council really feel is the downside of releasing the file? Given all the context and reasons for public mistrust, especially in the black community, why would they not jump at the chance to say they did everything they could to ensure transparency?” Crosson said.

“From the City of Greensboro’s standpoint, we will accept records requests from GSO Operation Transparency the same as the requests we receive and process from all residents,” said Carla Banks, Communications and Marketing Director for the City of Greensboro.

Crosson said they have already made formal requests for the investigative records through the city’s official channels.

Bay Love, with GSO Operation Transparency, said that Greensboro is facing a critical moment in community-police relations and that maintaining the status quo will only exacerbate problems in the future.

Councilwoman Sharon Hightower introduced a motion during the Dec. 20 city council meeting to release the investigative file and that was voted down 7-2, with Councilman Jamal Fox also voting in favor.

Hightower was allowed to review the file and said that while there was much room for improvement, she saw no evidence of a cover up.

Love said that while they are grateful for Councilwoman Hightower’s leadership on this issue she has not seen all of the documents GSO Operation Transparency is requesting and that this issue is far too wide-reaching and important for it to fall on the shoulders of a few council members.

Hightower said she believes the file should be made public so that the community can have a chance to understand the procedures that officers accused of misconduct face but respects other council members fears of pending legal action concerning the case.

“I would like to ask people to give me a little bit of credibility that I pushed to look at it, I looked at it and if I found something in there that stood out as a huge red flag I would have said something and I would have asked that it be addressed,” Hightower said.

Lewis Pitts, a retired civil rights attorney, said that while the council did the right thing in releasing the video, doing so is only the baseline expectation for transparency and that he would like to see an independent review board of experts in the subject review the file for any signs of a cover up.

“You can’t tell me that there is some legitimate government interest in protecting a chief, a deputy chief, or a lieutenant or that lead training officer, protecting them from their wrongdoing,” Pitts said.

Hightower said she would be open to having an independent body review the file, suggesting the Police Community Review Board would be suited to such a task.

Crosson said inspiration for the people’s document search came from other campaigns aiming to promote transparency in New Zealand, Canada and Philadelphia.

Crosson said the actual search will consist of participants attempting peacefully to find and collect any files relevant to the internal investigation of the Cole-Yourse case.

“The action will be successful no matter what happens really, because it will show that public concern over the issues of government transparency and police accountability is not a flash in the pan. At this point local officials are hoping and wishing that this will go away. Whatever we pull off will show that it’s not going away. We are not going away,” Crosson said.

Crosson said that while GSO Operation Transparency might not continue on as such, the relationships built through it will likely spark future campaigns around the same issues.

Crosson said that the training session on the Jan. 15 was intended to build trust and familiarize all participants with the action plan for the search and that not all participants will be required to risk arrest.

Pitts said he strongly supports the people’s document search.

“For the people to be making a demand to see and have access to those is an extremely patriotic and commendable example of self-government, it should be commemorated in a museum, it should be talked about on the Fourth of July,” Pitts said.

Pitts said that police body camera footage has helped bring to light abuses against the black community, which is why he and others asked the Greensboro City Council to pass a resolution asking for the full repeal of HB 972, a controversial bill that limits public access to body camera footage last year.

As part of their 2017 legislative agenda the council has identified certain parts of the bill they would like to see amended to facilitate access to footage but Pitts said that what he has seen from council so far is only a half-step towards transparency.

“The fundamental point, which is there’s a presumption that the people have the access to it, that transparency and open government is the default mode and you only move off of the default mode if there is a very specifiable justification to do that,” Pitts said.

Bay Love said he does feel optimistic about Greensboro’s ability to transcend its current state of inequity in policing and is encouraged by growing numbers of white people recognizing that our current system is unjust.

“Most importantly, GPD and the Council should work with the guidance of leadership in the African American community here – a community which has senior leaders who have been driving change for decades, and many brilliant younger leaders who are clear that racial inequity is as real today as it was in 1959. To act like this is a personal issue of certain vocal leaders or an issue came to light in recent years is not only incorrect, in my opinion, it is counterproductive,” Love said.