Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Cleveland Spruill objected to recommendations for a civilian oversight board for ACCPD at a recent commission meeting, saying the board would be biased against police.
A task force appointed by Mayor Kelly Girtz is recommending a civilian board to investigate complaints about police misconduct and review police policies. The task force presented these suggestions to the ACC Commission’s Government Operations Committee last week. If approved by the committee, it would be sent to the full commission for a vote.
However, Spruill made it clear that he will do everything in his power to stop that from happening. “There’s no way in good conscience I can support any recommendation that comes out of the developmental task force,” he said.
Spruill’s objections center on the makeup of the proposed board. Mokah Jasmine Johnson, co-chair of the task force and co-founder of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement, and the rest of Girtz’s task force are recommending the selection of a diverse group of different races, ages, genders and work experience. The task force also recommends including people from groups who “experience the most frequent contact with law enforcement.” Furthermore, they say extra consideration should be given to those who are a part of organizations focusing on civil rights and social justice.
One group that will be barred from membership on the oversight board, if the commission agrees with the task force’s suggestions, are current and former police officers. Those with current or pending criminal charges would also be denied membership on the board. Spruill lambasted the membership recommendations, warning that the board would end up with “a strong bias against the police department.” Although Spruill said he supports an oversight board, he said that “regular law-abiding citizens are not welcomed on the committee” and that its focus would be to “seize power and control away from the police department.” While the task force was developing their suggestions, “anyone who wanted to advocate for a fair and impartial board was disrespected and basically forced off of that task force,” he said, During one meeting, Spruill said, he was asked not to return to the next meeting. “I felt no voice throughout,” he said.
Johnson denied Spruill’s accusations. She said that the task force is recommending the creation of a balanced and transparent board capable of addressing the mistrust some community members feel towards police.
The goal of the oversight board, Johnson said, is not to seize power but to “keep officers accountable, for there to be transparency and to improve community relations with law enforcement.” She pushed back against Spruill’s comments, asking, “How are we trying to take away power because we’re asking for accountability?”
While trying to create balance between the oversight board and police, Johnson maintained that police officers should not be allowed on the board, an idea she called “redundant.”
“You want us to be working with police, to have a relationship with police, and on top of that to have them on the board,” she said. “Where do the people have space to make decisions freely without the influence of police over them?”
She said that no one had been forced off the task force for ideological reasons. “Mayor Girtz created one of the most diverse groups of people coming from different walks of life with different perspectives,” she said. “When you have that many diverse people sitting at the table, of course there is going to be disagreement and a lack of understanding at different times.”
Johnson said several people left the task force at various points during the past year for different reasons, but that no one was forced to leave. In fact, some left for the opposite reason given by Spruill, “because they were uncomfortable with Chief Spruill and the over-presence of police on the task force,” she said.
Likewise, Johnson said no one asked Spruill not to return to task force meetings. However, there was one meeting in particular when Johnson wanted task force members to “reconnect” without the fighting and disagreement that had become commonplace. She did ask for there to be one meeting where she would try to reestablish peace among task force members without the influence of Spruill, whose voice had become “dominant,” she recalled.
Lastly, Johnson said that she was surprised and upset by Spruill’s strong stance against the oversight board, an opinion he did not previously communicate with her. “I’m disgusted,” she said. “We spent over a year working on that task force. We advocated for everyone to take a seat and go through this process no matter how uncomfortable it was. We fought all the way through for everyone to stay at that table. At the end, when we’re supposed to be building trust, he decided to try to sabotage the work.”
The Government Operations Committee will review the recommendations of the task force and develop its own recommendations for the full commission, a process that could take months. It’s possible Spruill will have moved by that time. Expressing a desire to be closer to family in Virginia, he recently applied to be police chief in Frederick, MD, but did not get the job.
A version of this article originally appeared at Athens Politics Nerd.
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.