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ACLU tells Tampa City Council they have legal authority to name civilian review board members with subpoena power

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The ACLU of Florida said today that they believe City of Tampa Attorney Julia Mandell was incorrect in her assessment that the city’s charter only allows the mayor to have the right to name the members of a civilian review board.

The issue of who controls the power to name such an advisory committee has roiled City Hall over the past month, as a majority of the City Council – backed by their own attorney – insists it has the power to name the majority of the group, which was created by executive order late last month by Mayor Bob Buckhorn in response to the community’s call for such an agency.

“We believe the City Attorney incorrectly concluded that the mayor has exclusive authority to create a citizens’ panel,” write ACLU of Florida Greater Tampa Chair Mike Pheneger and Joyce Hamilton Henry, the group’s Director of Advocacy. “Attorneys cooperating with the Greater Tampa Chapter of the ACLU of Florida and attorneys cooperating with Tampa for Justice support the analysis at Enclosure 1. It concludes that the City Charter does not grant this power exclusively to the Mayor. The normal legislative process applies. The City Council may pass an ordinance creating the panel and vesting it with subpoena power which the Mayor is free to sign or veto. If the ordinance is vetoed, the City Council is then free to vote to override the veto.”

A proposal by Council Chair Frank Reddick would give the City Council up to seven members to select for the nine-person panel, which would include two alternates. Mayor Buckhorn’s original proposal would work the exact opposite way, with him having the power to nominate seven of the nine-member group.

Mayor Buckhorn has said that became Tampa hasn’t had a “Ferguson moment” such as the killing of a black youth by police officers, Pheneger and Hamilton Henry write that there has been an “Arthur Green Jr. moment.” Green was the 63-year-old Seminole Heights resident who died after suffering from a diabetic seizure while being detained by Tampa Police Officers in 2014. The officers were not aware that he was going through a seizure.

They also list these “disturbing incidents.”

A TPD officer “body-slammed” a mother of four stopped because she had a “tinted license plate.” An internal review found that the officer had not used “excessive force.”

In 2014, Jason Westcott was killed by SWAT officers raiding his home based on an informant’s statements that Jason was selling drugs. Reporting in the Tampa Bay Times revealed numerous problems with TPD’s internal investigation, its use of informants, and the use of SWAT. fatal-tampa-pot-raid/2187316

Several TPD officers have been arrested for charges including DUI, and sexual relations with a minor.

A TPD sergeant was fired for his involvement with local attorneys is an attempt to set up an opposing attorney on a DUI charge.

A former TPD homicide detective and his wife, a former police sergeant, as well as another former civilian employee of the department, were investigated for possible involvement in stolen identity tax refund fraud.

A longtime Tampa cop and a police informer both admitted in signed plea deals to filing false IRS returns and cashing refund checks.

At a press conference held last Tuesday, Mayor Buckhorn derided those who showed up at a City Council meeting earlier this month calling for a civilian review board, saying, “I’m not going to permit a board of appointees from the Black Panther Party or any of these other fringe groups that want to do nothing but tear down our community. I’m not going to allow that to happen.”

The ACLU of Florida objects to his tone of his remarks.

“The mayor’s attempt to characterize those who want effective civilian review as members of “fringe groups” who “want to do nothing but tear down our community” is unfortunate; it is an insult to the dozens of citizens who shared their personal experience and concerns with council last week – including the son of Arthur Green Jr. and the mother of Jason Westcott,” Pheneger and Hamilton Henry write.

“Concern with the need for external review is not simply the province of “activists,” the letter goes on to state.”Last weekend on CNN, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker noted that, in 2014, he signed bipartisan legislation requiring an “independent” investigation when a police officer on- or off-duty kills someone.”

In early August, the City Council directed Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward to report back to the Council on September 3 to provide a study of options on how the civilian review board would be constituted. However Ward and Mayor Buckhorn announced six days before Ward’s scheduled appearance at Council to announce their civilian review board proposal, which would be modeled after a similar set-up across the Bay in St. Petersburg. When asked why the St. Pete model was the best, Ward appeared ill-equipped to answer why.

“There was no detailed comparison of options, no measures of effectiveness and no formal written evaluation,” the ACLU notes in their letter today, before listing some reports and websites where they can learn more about the more than 100 such boards that currently exist around the country.

“We should honor and support our law enforcement officers, but we should not tolerate individual misconduct or discriminatory policies and practices,” the letter concludes. “We must insist on policies and training that will make our streets safe and our officers trusted by the communities they serve.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at [email protected]

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