Final vote on Reynoldsburg police review board expected Oct. 12

KELLEY YOUMAN
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ThisWeek group

Reynoldsburg City Council took another step Sept. 14 toward the creation of a civilian police-review board with the first reading of an ordinance that, if approved, would establish an independent, volunteer board to look into into accusations of discrimination by Reynoldsburg police officers.

A final vote on the proposed ordinance is expected at council's Oct. 12 meeting.

Under the proposed legislation, the review board would have the power to receive, cause investigation of and recommend resolutions for any filed complaints alleging discriminatory conduct by officers and non-sworn employees of the Reynoldsburg Division of Police, regardless of their duty status, when such conduct is directed toward any person who is not a Division of Police employee.

Discriminatory conduct is defined in the proposed ordinance as discrimination or bias directed toward any person on the basis of that person's race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion, national origin, disability, ancestry, familial status or military status.

The review board would meet publicly to hold hearings on complaints, which would be heard by the board after an internal investigation by the police department.

Nine volunteer board members would serve two-year terms; one person would come from each of the city's four wards, and another five members would be nominated by the mayor. At least one of the nine members must be a practicing attorney, one must have a law-enforcement background and at least two members must be minorities.

If the person filing the complaint is not satisfied with the outcome of the police department's internal affairs investigation, a complaint could be filed with the board for further review.

The board would discuss the alleged incident and the evidence -- including body-camera footage, interviews and police policies -- in executive session.

That would be followed by a public vote to decide complaints through one of six outcomes: sustained, sustained in part, sustained for a violation not based on original complaint, exonerated, unfounded and insufficient evidence.

A majority vote of the board would be required to determine the outcome, according to the draft legislation.

The review board would not make recommendations about possible discipline if the allegations are sustained; instead, a summary report would detail why the board voted as it did and why that choice might differ from what the police department found. The review board also would indicate whether the matter was referred to the police chief or mayor.

Reynoldsburg resident Herman Wright, who said he has lived in the city for more than 19 years, spoke against creating a review board during council's public-comment session, calling it "a solution in search of a problem."

"In that time, I've never heard of any incident where race has been raised as an issue with the police department or any city official," he said. "Reynoldsburg is not Ferguson (Missouri) or any other city you hear about in the headlines. Why do we need a board made up of civilians to oversee the police department? We're dwelling on this race thing. Stop insinuating that Reynoldsburg is a racist city. It is not."

City leaders have said creating a civilian review board is not a response to any specific concerns or current allegations of discrimination by the police department.

Council member Kristin Bryant, chair of council's public-safety, law and courts committee, said although there are no current allegations, Reynoldsburg needs to "move forward" with a review board; she referred to a lawsuit settled by the city in 1993.

That case, Murphy v. Reynoldsburg, stemmed from a traffic stop in which the driver alleged his arrest was racially motivated. During subsequent years of legal proceedings, an internal police investigation found some evidence of the existence of a group of officers known as the "SNAT" or "special arrest team." The "N" stood for a racial slur.

"That (lawsuit) brought up the presence of a group that they referred to as SNAT. I've heard concerns from residents about 'driving while black' (and) 'walking while black,' " Bryant said. "That's a legacy that we need to put behind us. The more transparency that we can offer to our public -- we need to be proactive in this area. Just because something hasn't happened ... doesn't mean there are no issues. Given our past, I think we need to move forward with this review board."

Ward 2 Councilman Louis Salvati agreed.

"If what the citizen who addressed us earlier said is true, then this committee will do nothing. It'll be reacting to issues, so if there are no issues, then they will ... do nothing," he said. "This committee will not be hunting for anything" to investigate.

City Attorney Chris Shook said the proposed legislation originally included language that would have given the review board the ability to investigate complaints about use of force, but in consultation with other community law directors and the police union, the scope of the board's duties was narrowed to stay consistent with the contract between Reynoldsburg and the Fraternal Order of Police.

The city and FOP Capital City Lodge No. 9, which represents Reynoldsburg officers, have worked together on the ordinance, Shook said. He said he expects an FOP representative to speak in support of the review board at council's Oct. 12 meeting.

The proposal is online at tinyurl.com/y3e9ryvj.

The next council meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 28 at City Hall, 7232 E. Main St.

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