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New Year’s Eve investigation still incomplete

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At a special meeting on Monday night to report on the results of the independent investigation into the New Year’s Eve skirmish between villagers and local police, several expressed frustration when Dayton attorney David Williamson, who is conducting the investigation, reported that the report is not yet complete. This meeting was the second time the results had been delayed, after a Jan. 30 special meeting was also postponed. 

Second investigation starts

On Tuesday Village Manager Patti Bates announced that she has initiated a second investigation into possible discipline for the officers involved in the New Year’s Eve incident, and that attorney David Williamson, who is conducting the independent counsel investigation, will also conduct this investigation. 

In an interview on Tuesday, Bates stated that Council had determined that the initial investigation should determine only whether any Village police policies had been broken during the New Year’s Eve incident, and after that determination, a disciplinary investigation would take place. Bates said she’s not sure if villagers were aware that two investigations, rather than one, would be undertaken.

Bates said Tuesday she hopes the disciplinary investigation will take place simultaneously with the initial investigation, and take no longer than two to three weeks.

“My practice is to be precise, complete and accurate and I don’t think we’re there yet,” Williamson told about 80 villagers at the beginning of Monday’s meeting. “I need more time.”

While initially Williamson said he did not know when the investigation would be finished, by the end Council requested that the investigation be complete by their regular March 6 meeting at the latest, earlier if possible.

At Monday night’s meeting, several who spoke expressed frustration and disappointment at the delay of the investigation results.

“Every time we meet, fewer people will show up,” said Ken Odiorne. “[The delay] erodes the quality of the conversation and the value of the investigation.”

The delays also erode villagers’ trust, and especially the trust of young people, who feel especially vulnerable to police misbehavior, according to Bill Farrar, who also said he appreciated the community conversation around the event.

“This is glorious, it’s amazing, but it’s not good enough,” he said.

Several speakers stated that with an event attended by hundreds of people and captured on many cell phone videos, it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out what happened.

“The event is already pretty well documented,” said Dan Carrigan.

But capturing the multiple perspectives of so many people takes time, according to Williamson.

“There were a lot of people and a mood of confusion and chaos,” he said. “You do find people who saw something, then different people who saw something else.”

In the time since the investigation began about a month ago, Williamson and an assistant have interviewed about 30 people who attended the event, as well as all of the officers present, he said. They also viewed cell phone videos, police cruiser cams and body cams of police from other jurisdictions called to the incident.

At the beginning of the meeting Williamson said he would in the initial investigation not be making recommendations regarding police discipline or employment, and later stated he will confer with Village Manager Patti Bates regarding whether to address police aggression. Asked what sort of recommendations he’ll be making, Williamson said he might suggest changes to the New Year’s Eve event itself, such as adding more Village resources along with police.

But that’s not the problem, Chrissy Cruz said.

“We’ve had the ball drops for years, they’re not broken, what’s broken is the police department,” she said. “New Year’s Eve is a little community event when we go see a silly ball drop and see our friends. Nothing needs to be fixed at the ball drop, the police department needs to be fixed.”

In lieu of responding to the investigation report on Monday evening, several villagers spoke about the New Year’s Eve event or their concerns around local policing.

“I’ve never been so afraid in my own village,” said 25-year resident Anita Brown of the ball drop. Her fear, she said, came from the faces of local police officers, which were “emotionless, with no sense of caring. I witnessed villagers de-escalating and officers escalating, it was so strange, it seemed so backwards.”

Allen Brunsman, an almost 50-year resident of Yellow Springs, was not present on New Year’s Eve, but read about the incident in the recent New York Times article on the event, which included interviews with several young African-American villagers. He was dismayed by the focus on tensions between police and African Americans in the village, which he said did not reflect his view of the village.

“This isn’t my Yellow Springs. What’s happening? Has something changed?” he said. “I’m worried.”

Several villagers expressed appreciation for the recent hiring of Officer Brian Carlson as interim chief, following the resignation of Chief Dave Hale.

“He’s a compassionate listener, he’s humble, he’s affable,” Jen Berman said. “He’s exactly what we’re looking for, and maybe he’ll become our fulltime chief.”

Jim Bailey expressed confidence that the department would rectify the problems exhibited on New Year’s Eve. However, he said, he remains concerned about other departments being called to respond to the scene, as happened that night, citing the Village’s lack of control over how other towns manage their police.

“I think we can have a good department, but I’m less confident in other departments,” he said.

Yellow Springs High School student Jakob Woodburn, who as part of his history class has been studying the current situation between police and the community, urged villagers to give Carlson full support, and to support community-oriented policing.

“The community should continue to remain engaged in policing until our officers are seen as allies and part of the community,” he read from a prepared statement.

Several villagers expressed concern about the cost to the Village of the independent investigation, especially given its open-ended nature. In response, Williamson said he did not have the specific numbers he needed to estimate the cost, nor could he hazard a guess. In a previous News article, Manager Bates said Williamson is being paid $275 per hour, and his assistants are paid $175 hourly.

The money will come out of funds allocated in the Village budget for legal expenses, according to Council President Karen Wintrow.

“This is not an expense that anyone is happy about,” Wintrow said. “But we felt the importance of having an independent investigation outweighed the budgetary concerns.”

In response to villagers’ request that there be a clear end point to the investigation, Wintrow stated, “Citizens are right. There needs to be a deadline.” While she initially asked Williamson to have the report, or at least part of it, complete by Council’s next regular meeting on Feb. 21, Williamson was hesitant to commit to the date, and Bates suggested that forcing completion too soon could lead to another postponement along with an unfinished report. So Council agreed on the March 6 regular Council meeting as the absolute deadline.

While Council member Brian Housh stated he wants to complete the investigation, he warned villagers against being too focused on the investigation.

“While I support wrapping this up, we need to focus on making real changes to the community,” he said.

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