Charlotte Councilman Larken Egleston is pushing CMPD’s lies about its brutality — while working to block any independent review of the police department’s spending or operations.
Much of the work to thwart real reform of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department occurs in the city’s Safe Communities Committee, which is chaired by Egleston and is charged with leading the city’s effort to “reimagine” law enforcement.
This week’s meeting was the committee’s first since body camera footage released last week established beyond all reasonable doubt that members of CMPD conspired to assault citizen-protesters with chemical weapons on June 2, 2020, as they marched through the streets of uptown to protest the murder of George Floyd.
Rather than use the meeting as an opportunity to unequivocally condemn CMPD’s actions and its ongoing cover-up, Egleston used his position as committee chairman to advance CMPD’s lies about the attack.
The department’s ambush of the people was just “an honest mistake” and a “mis-execution,” Egleston said.
He is wrong. On June 2, CMPD acted not accidentally, but intentionally.
Over a lengthy period of time that night, officers communicated about their “plan” to trap and gas protesters. It was deliberate and carefully coordinated, as confirmed by the cops’ real-time communications about pushing the protesters into an attack zone on 4th Street between College Street and Tryon Street.
“Rorie’s got a platoon on Tryon, out of sight. Dance’s platoon is staged now on College Street out of sight. We’re going to push their asses straight up 4th. As soon as they get up on 4th — we got a bottleneck now — Rorie’s squad is gonna step out and hammer their asses. When they start running down, Dance’s squad is gonna step out and hammer their ass with gas. We’re gonna fucking pop it up,” he explained.
The cops sought to assault the people.
In addition to the recently released body camera footage documenting this fact, CMPD radio communications from the night of the attack make it plain.
Chief Johnny Jennings, who attended this week’s committee meeting, embraced Egleston’s argument that it was all just an “honest mistake,” explaining that the intention of the officers was to disperse the protesters when they arrived at the intersection of 4th Street and College Street, but missteps kept that from happening. And that, according to Jennings, resulted in the protesters being accidentally trapped.
This is a lie.
While Egleston may be willing to participate in the police department’s gaslighting campaign, we needn’t follow his lead. Instead, we can ask obvious questions and demand honest answers from Chief Jennings:
Why, if the intention was to disperse protesters at 4th Street and College Street, did Major Dance’s officers place themselves “out of sight” as the protesters approached?
Why, approximately twenty minutes before the assault, were officers dispatched to the intersection of 4th Street and Tryon Street, and why were they lying in wait at that intersection, if protesters were never supposed to reach it?
Why, if the intention was to stop the protesters at 4th Street and College Street, was there chatter over the police radio approximately five minutes before the ambush stating, “Let’s do everything we can [unintelligible] to make them go to Tryon. … Again, let’s do everything we can to push them to Tryon?”
Why, if the ambush was “an honest mistake,” was Sergeant Sherwood able to offer a prospective play-by-play of how it would — and ultimately did — unfold?
Not all council members were as willing as Egleston to help advance CMPD’s duplicity.
Councilman Braxton Winston accurately characterized the department’s actions leading up to the ambush as choreographed, while Councilwoman Dimple Ajmera said she found it “troubling” that no one except Sergeant Sherwood was disciplined as a result of the attack. (To be clear, Sergeant Sherwood wasn’t suspended for his participation in a plan to violently assault citizen-protesters. Rather, he was punished for talking about the conspiracy such that his remarks were captured by his body camera. CMPD punished him for inadvertently snitching.)
Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt said that CMPD has given conflicting accounts about whether the attack was intentional or accidental. Now, she said, the released body camera footage indicated a planned assault. “I feel like from a trust and accountability standpoint, we just need to know what the right story was,” she said.
Jennings is hoping such criticism and questions will go away if the police department continues to stonewall Council and the public. Egleston’s help makes that more likely.
It is against the backdrop of CMPD dishonesty that the public safety committee also voted this week to kill an external audit of the department’s spending and operations.
Ajmera asked for the review and was joined in the request by Councilwoman Renee Johnson. “When we have $200 million going to one department, we’ve got to look at how we can use our taxpayers’ dollars more effectively,” Ajmera said. She made clear the purpose of the audit wasn’t simply to look at CMPD’s budget, but how the department does its work.
Winston pointed out that while such an audit might take awhile to complete, it was a worthwhile endeavor that would help the work of police reform. He pointed to a review of the police department in Ferguson, Missouri as an example of the good work an external review can help facilitate.
Police departments in communities across the country have undergone similar reviews by a variety of outside agencies and organizations, and SAFE Coalition NC, a group that advocates for police reform here, has made an audit one of its top priorities.
Others on Council weren’t having it and jumped in to prevent such a review.
Mayor Vi Lyles argued that a different group of Council members — the Budget and Effectiveness Committee — was tasked with considering whether and how to audit CMPD.
Councilman Malcolm Graham agreed an audit should be done, but he said he believed it was the budget committee’s job. “We’re not saying that we’re not doing the work. We’re saying the work will be done by the budget committee,” he explained.
But Councilman Ed Driggs, who chairs the budget committee, has made it abundantly clear that his committee will not undertake this kind of review.
He reiterated that position this week by arguing that such a review isn’t even possible. “[CMPD] doesn’t actually organize their internal budgets in a way that lends itself to the kind of” review Ajmera sought, he said. Even if such a review were possible, it would take too long to complete, according to Driggs.
Eiselt, along with Councilman James Mitchell, agreed the proposed audit would be ill-advised.
In the end, while Ajmera and Johnson voted for the review, Egleston, Mitchell, and Councilwoman Victoria Watlington voted against it, killing the proposal. (The other Council members who rang in during the meeting are not on the public safety committee and, therefore, didn’t get a vote.)
The consequence of the committee’s decision is that CMPD will continue to control the review of its own performance and, therefore, the possibilities for its own reform. The department will decide what Council members hear and know about its work. (This sort of selective presentation occurred at this week’s committee meeting: Jessica Battle, the CMPD attorney who has defended the department’s June 2 assault in court, gave a talk about the First Amendment rights of protesters!)
Using this control to present its preferred version of the department’s operational narrative, CMPD, which has shown no hesitation about lying to protect itself, will seek to stop real reform. Along the way, it will no doubt continue to count on the assistance of Council members like Egleston.