A former candidate for Charlottesville City Council has been tapped to lead the fledgling Police Civilian Review Board.
Bellamy Brown, who ran an unsuccessful bid for City Council in 2019, was voted chairman of the review board during a Thursday meeting. Brown’s selection was not unanimous and attracted criticism from others on the board and the public, leading to a discussion about sexism later in the meeting.
The current iteration of the CRB has existed for around nine months, replacing an initial board that had been tasked with drafting bylaws. The young board’s first year has been marked by uncertainty and complications as members try to determine its identity and how to improve relationships between the community and the police.
Nancy Carpenter, the board’s social justice representative, was nominated to be chairwoman by fellow member Dorenda Johnson, but the nomination was not seconded and no vote was taken.
Later in the meeting, following a round of public comment, Johnson expressed frustration with a perceived lack of support from the male members of the board. Neither Johnson nor Carpenter voted for Brown.
“I’ve got to be very frank, and I don’t mean this in a mean way, but I’m just really sick and tired of seeing people on these boards that have been in Charlottesville for three years,” she said. “It’s a really unique place to live and it’s very unfortunate that we don’t see more people born and raised here on these boards.”
Johnson’s feelings were echoed by several local residents who spoke during public comment, echoing concerns that female members were not being properly included.
Despite requests from Carpenter that she not be discussed, Brown asserted that he and the other male members were not misogynists and, like all the CRB’s members, were trying to improve the Charlottesville community.
“I think the members of the board that are men have been charged with this perception that we are misogynistic and that we have something against women, which is inaccurate,” Brown said. “ I think that the people on the board have a dedication to the community to make sure that we get this done correctly on behalf of the community.”
Carpenter said one of her frustrations is the feeling that there is a “shadow board” that is making decisions without the input of the entire board. Specifically, Carpenter said some members have had meetings with city officials that other members are not informed about until after the fact.
“It makes me feel disrespected, as a member of this board, and those simple kinds of things are the frustrations that amplify what you were talking about, Chairman Brown,” she said.
James Watson, the previous chairman of the board, then asked whether the board could re-vote. Watson said he did not realize Carpenter had been interested in becoming the chairwoman and that is why he did not second her nomination.
Acting City Attorney Lisa Robertson informed the board that a member would need to formally resign from their position before it could be filled. Vice Chairman Bill Mendez, who had been re-elected after Brown, indicated he would be willing to resign. The board decided to settle the issue during its March meeting.
A presentation from Mendez highlighted some of the changes the board can make thanks to legislation passed by the General Assembly during a special session last year.
Come July 1, city councils and county boards of supervisors statewide can create civilian review panels to examine use-of-force complaints and cases of deaths and serious injuries while in custody, among other concerns.
Unlike the current Charlottesville Police Civilian Review Board, which has little power, the law allows panels a variety of investigative powers, including the authority to ask Circuit Court judges to subpoena records, which was discussed during Thursday’s meeting.
The CRB appeared to support expanding its powers by updating the ordinance that governs it. Watson pointed out that a change to the ordinance under the new law could allow the board to subpoena and demand body camera footage to investigate complaints like the one they received from LaQuinn Gilmore, who has alleged he suffered injuries after being attacked by city police.
“We’re trying to get it so when cases come up where it looks like there’s some type of physical harm or that somebody used excessive force we can investigate it,” Watson said. “I’m not saying that’s what happened, but it’s just a possibility, and changing our ordinance allows us to explore it a little bit more proactively.”
The meeting also saw the board formally meet incoming City Manager Chip Boyles for the first time. After brief introductions, Watson emphasized the importance of hiring an executive director position for the board, something for which funds have already been allocated.
“My worry is one if we don’t get somebody in that seat and executive director for the fiscal year again, then when you’re looking at the coronavirus and the lack of money that’s available, it’s very easy to just erase something if there’s no person in that seat, right?” he said.
Boyles said that filling the position is important but so is ensuring that the right person is hired.
“You’ll hear me over and over talk about getting the right people on the bus and I know you all want the right one because the only thing worse than having the turnover is to have the wrong person stay for a while,” he said.