Review boards to examine TPD’s use-of-force policy

Surrounded by members of the clergy led by Rev. RB Holmes (right) Deputy City Manager Cynthia Barber (center) speaks to the press.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
Attorney Mutaqee Akbar (center) along with City Commissioners Jeremy Matlow (left) and Jack Porter (right) call for a review of TPD’s use-of-force policy.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Two oversight groups that city commissioners recently put in place will each face one of their biggest tests when they meet to review use-of-force policy by Tallahassee Police Department.

Questions about TPD’s use of force arise from the May 16 arrest of Jacquez Kirkland on a DUI charge. Kirkland was pulled over to a nearby parking lot after he was found asleep behind the wheel of his car at the intersection of West Tennessee Street and High Road.

During the arrest, one of four TPD officers involved struck Kirkland repeatedly with a baton while he was handcuffed on the ground.

Kirkland later showed an abrasion on his forehead and mentioned bruises on his leg, although no action was taken against the officer. TPD and Deputy City Manager Cynthia Barber said if any action if necessary it will come on the recommendations of the Citizen Police Review Board and the Citizen Advisory Council.

Three days after Kirkland’s arrest, Barber said at a press conference that the officers’ action, including the use of a baton, was in line with TPD’s policy. The Council is scheduled to take up the use-of-force issue at its meeting on Thursday, while the Review Board is also expected to address the matter at its meeting on June 3.

“Those two groups will thoroughly and fully listen to and view all of the tapes and videos that are available,” said Rev. RB Holmes, who organized the press conference on the front lawn of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, where Barber spoke. “That is a plus.”

Rudy Ferguson, pastor of New Birth Tabernacle of Praise who also heads up the Citizen Advisory Council, said his group will do its due diligence to arrive at a consensus decision.

“We are going to assess it ourselves; individually and collectively and get our own thoughts of want we saw,” Ferguson said. “Then, we’ve got to question certain things to make sure we’re on the same page as it pertains to use of force.” 

A short video of Kirkland’s arrest that was taken by a bystander went viral, prompting outrage over the use of force. Four days after the incident and a day after Barber spoke at a press conference, TPD released a lengthy body-cam video in which Kirkland could be heard crying and pleading for his release.

The video conjured up images of some of the cases involving Black men and police encounters across the country. Ferguson said he understands the frame of reference, but he and the others on the Council could review the video without prejudice when the group meets.

“It is our primary focus to ensure that (between) law enforcement and the community there are no gaps, especially in our most vulnerable communities,” Ferguson said.

Attorney Mutaqee Akbar, who is representing Kirkland, addressed the incident as the local president of the NAACP at a press conference called by City Commissioners Jack Porter and Jeremy Matlow. How to get to an amicable resolve is a conversation that has to take place, he said.

“It’s a hard conversation. It’s a conversation that a lot of people like to shy away from,” Akbar said at the press conference in front of City Hall. “But what’s important in this community is this is not something that we can shy away from.

“When people around the nation are looking at a viral video of somebody getting beat while they’re on their stomach, it’s something that we have to address.”

During the press conference organized by Holmes with members of the local clergy, Barber said what she saw on the video was “disturbing and ugly.”

She added: “The officer did strike. It looked bad. It looked disturbing and it also sounded that way. We never want to use force and we don’t want to see that happen to anybody in our community.”

While Barber said TPD’s use-of-force policy wasn’t violated, she welcomed the reviews by the two oversight groups.

“Even with something as policy, we have to ask ourselves if that is the kind of policy that we want in our community,” she said. “That is the kind of feedback we get not only from our Citizen Review Board and the Advisory committee but citizens have the right to also come forth and make recommendations.”

Holmes, also publisher of the Capital Outlook, expressed confidence in Barber who oversees TPD, calling her “a person who we trust, a person who we believe in.”

However, two days later, Porter and Matlow called on their colleagues to take up the use-of-force policy at their June 2 meeting.

“As city commissioners, we are the ultimate accountability of what is permissible by employees of the city of Tallahassee,” Matlow said. “So whether this incident was consistent with policy or not, our commonsense tells us that what had occurred and has been aired throughout this community is wrong.”

While Matlow said that Revell and city manager Reese Goad will be called to explain the policy, it wasn’t clear if that could happen without support from their peers on the five-member board. But TPD released a statement saying it will wait on the review boards.

“The Tallahassee Police Department remains committed to transparency and open dialogue with the community in reference to our forward facing policies,” the statement read. “As a progressive and continually evolving law enforcement agency we adhere to the highest standards of performance and best practices set forth to ensure the safety of the community as well as our officers. We encourage the input of the Citizens Review Board and the Citizens Advisory Council and await their evaluation of the incident at their upcoming meetings.”

Porter, however, explained why the policy is pertinent for the commission to address.

“Today is not about recriminations or casting blame,” she said. “It’s about getting to the bottom of these questions so we can move our community forward and continue to heal.”