Citizens Review Board Rules Against CMPD In Officer Dunham Case
The Charlotte Citizens Review Board found that CMPD Chief Kerr Putney was wrong not to discipline an officer who used excessive force when pursuing a suspect last year. The board has reviewed 92 cases in its 20-year history. This is the first time it has ruled against the police.
UPDATED 03:40 p.m. 9/27/17
The incident occurred in March 2016. Yarborough fled a traffic stop on foot officer Dunham chased him and eventually got him. Body cam video shows Dunham pinning Yarborough to the ground and commanding him to put his hands behind his back. Body cam video shows Dunham then pulled out his gun, and placed it to Yarborough's head. And he can be heard on the video saying "I will kill you."
In the ensuing minutes, Yarborough is commanded to "stop resisting," and was tased and punched by other officers arriving at the scene.
Yarborough's attorney, Luke Largess, told WFAE in August that the actions taken by CMPD officers that day were not in line with CMPD directives.
"Mr. Yarborough was putting up what is defined as defensive resistance," he said. "He wasn't trying to hurt the officers, he was just trying to escape from them. And in those circumstances, you can't use the Taser - which they used at one point on him - you can't use the gun - which they pointed at him, obviously didn't use it, but threatened to - and you just can't use any impact weapons."
CMPD found the use of force justified, but after the video became public, Putney said the officer’s actions were indefensible. After several hours of testimony, the Citizens Review Board deliberated for less than 90 minutes before coming back with the 7-1 decision.
"The Citizen’ Review board determines that a preponderance of the evidence shows that the chief of police clearly erred in finding Mr. Yarborough's allegations of excessive force was not sustained," said board chair Sandra Donaghy.
Largess said his client is very happy with the decision. He added this case makes clear the power of the body cam.
As part of the ruling, the Citizens Review Board attorney Julian Wright said the board found Chief Putney erred in declining to discipline Dunham. The board’s findings and recommendations will be part of Dunham’s personnel file. He left CMPD after the incident and now works for Davidson Police Department. But Wright says future employers will be able to see this information.
“Certainly in the public sphere, I think a public employees personnel file, while not very specifically not generally made available to the public is always made available to other public employers that seek to hire that employee," said Wright.
The hearing was a personnel matter, so Wright says the written ruling - which includes findings of fact and recommendations to CMPD - is not a public record. He says it will be up to CMPD to release any recommendations, if any.
In response to the ruling, CMPD released the following list of policy changes since the review board heard the initial appeal of the case on Aug. 1:
- Creating a unit to randomly audit body worn camera video from all officers with the intent of identifying organizational training gaps and individual policy violations.
- Giving immediate attention to tactical concerns noted in use-of-force cases, regardless of whether policy violations also are involved.
- Treating all complaints brought to CMPD Headquarters or a Division Office in person, as formal complaints, any time they involve issues reviewable by the Citizens Review Board.
- Completing and adjudicating internal investigations, even if officers leave CMPD before the process is completed.
A statement from CMPD says, "Chief Kerr Putney welcomes any recommendations the board sees fit to make and is committed to fully reviewing each of those to determine whether they can help us more effectively serve our community."