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Clergy and others demand release of juvenile arrest video

Greensboro pastors and supporters of Jose Charles gather outside the Guilford County Courthouse in downtown Greensboro on April 4. Pastors Nelson Johnson, Ezekiel Ben Israel, Cardes Brown, Daran Mitchell, Randal Keeney and Bradley Hunt. Photo by Yasmine Regester/Carolina Peacemaker Greensboro pastors and supporters of Jose Charles gather outside the Guilford County Courthouse in downtown Greensboro on April 4. Pastors Nelson Johnson, Ezekiel Ben Israel, Cardes Brown, Daran Mitchell, Randal Keeney and Bradley Hunt. Photo by Yasmine Regester/Carolina Peacemaker

The community continues to push for police transparency in the case of Jose Charles, a Greensboro youth whose family asserts that he was violently arrested by Greensboro police.

After no action was taken by the Greensboro City Council at its April 4 meeting to release the camera footage of the incident, community members formed a new coalition, the “Mothers, Pastors and Caregivers Protection Brigade,” to offer continued support to Charles and his mother, Tamara Figueroa, while promoting transparency and fairness in the City of Greensboro.

On April 12, the brigade issued an ultimatum to the offices of the City Council, Melvin Municipal Office Building. That ultimatum demands that council instruct the Chief of Police and prosecutors to drop the charges in the Charles case.

Advocates on behalf of Charles hope city council will address this issue further at its April 18 meeting. The brigades's letter demands that council respond by the May 2 city council meeting.

The brigade’s press conference came a week after a group of clergy from across the city gathered in front of the Guilford County Courthouse on April 4, to call on District Attorney Doug Henderson to drop charges against Charles, who was charged with assault on an officer when he was arrested during the Fun Fourth Festival in July 2016.

Then 15-years-old at the time of the incident, Charles, was charged with assault on an officer after being arrested by Greensboro Police, following a fight between him and a group of teenagers. He and his mother, Tamara Figueroa, assert that Charles was further abused by the police when they arrested him, throwing him to the ground and injuring his head, which required stitches.

The incident report filed by Greensboro police stated that Charles cursed at the officers and spat blood at them. Figueroa adamantly disputes the claim, saying her son had blood seeping into his mouth only because the police had abused him first. She said he may have spit blood from his mouth, but not with malicious intent towards the officers.

Charles appeared in court on March 16, where the case was continued until May 11. Guilford County District Court Judge Angela Fox ruled that the video footage of the young man’s arrest could be released under seal to his defense attorney, but could not be disclosed to a civil attorney, nor could it be recorded or made public. Under state law, a judge’s order is required for people other than those in the video to view it. Guardians are able to view video footage if the person taped is a juvenile. Charles’ attorneys could file a motion in Superior Court to make the video public.

However, Figueroa and the clergy are continuing to request that the Greensboro City Council push to make the video public. The council previously voted on March 7 in a 5 to 4 vote to view the footage in closed session after the completion of the complaint investigation by the City of Greensboro’s Police Community Review Board (PCRB).

The PCRB has already requested that the Chief of Police further investigate Figueroa’s complaint of excessive force by the police on her son. The PCRB’s decision came after the Police Department’s Professional Standards Division ruled that there was no wrongdoing on the officer’s part, which Figueroa appealed to the PCRB. The clergy’s letter also requests that GPD Chief Wayne Scott review the case as soon as possible. According to sources, the chief has responded to the PRCB’s decision, but has not made his decision public.

“Instead of assisting, they (police) abused him. There’s body camera footage that should be made public for those who believe in transparency. We believe the footage tells a different story. Release it and make it known to the public so that we can assess for ourselves if this young man was mistreated,” said Rev. Cardes Brown of New Light Missionary Baptist Church, who added, “We’re also concerned about the pressure placed on him to accept a plea on something he did not do.”

Figueroa and supporters assert that prosecutors are using the assault on an officer as leverage for her son’s freedom, which carries a heavier penalty than the other charges such as resisting arrest . Charles has since been diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder and post-traumatic stress. Rev. Brown says that it was determined that Charles does not have the mental capacity needed to make a sound judgement call on a plea deal.

“Jose Charles represents all our children. We call upon our city, and our community, asking all to stand together,” said Rev. Dr. Daran Mitchell, lead pastor of Trinity AME Zion Church.

The group delivered a certified letter to the Guilford County DA on March 30, signed by ten faith based leaders, requesting a meeting on April 4 to discuss the case. The letter states that the group believes it is wrong for the judge to deny Charles possession of the video, because the camera footage is an independent witness to the case. Like the letter from the brigade, it urges prosecutors to drop the charges against Charles.

Rev. Nelson Johnson of Beloved Community Center explained that although District Attorney Henderson is not prosecuting the case himself, the situation is happening under his leadership.

“Our voices need to be heard,” said Johnson. “The secrecy has to end and the charges should be dropped.”

Howard Neumann, Chief Assistant of Media Relations with the Guilford County District Attorney’s Office, spoke on behalf of DA Henderson saying he could not comment on an ongoing case. The Charles case returns to court on May 11.