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Damning footage tells the story of police brutality

Greensboro community activist Irving Allen leads a group of area college students/community members in a chant for justice. Photo by Charles Edgerton/Carolina Peacemaker Greensboro community activist Irving Allen leads a group of area college students/community members in a chant for justice. Photo by Charles Edgerton/Carolina Peacemaker

During a special meeting held Monday, September 26, Greensboro City Council unanimously approved the release of police body-worn camera footage of an encounter between Officer Travis B. Cole and Greensboro resident Dejuan Yourse, which occurred on June 17.

Council members first saw the footage in a closed session at the council’s September 20 meeting, nearly 90 days after the incident occurred. Upon the recommendation of City Manager, Jim Westmoreland, council determined that releasing the video footage would be essential to maintaining public confidence in the Greensboro Police Department.

Before the council meeting, more than 100 community members and college students representing North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, The University of North Carolina Greensboro, Bennett College and Guilford College rallied at the Governmental Plaza to address police brutality.

“I want people to understand we are mobilizing and we’re going to elect people we want to see in office,” said Delaney Vandergrift, an N.C. A&T student and student organizer. “We’re not stopping until the systems that uphold White supremacy are shut down.”

People wearing Black Lives Matter shirts packed the council chambers to view the 15-minute video clip, along with the Yourse family.

Dejuan Yourse Dejuan Yourse
The incident happened on June 17, when GPD was called to the neighborhood by someone who said they saw a person with a shovel trying to break into Yourse’s mother’s home. The 15-minute clip presented by Greensboro Police Chief Wayne Scott showed Officer Travis B. Cole and Officer C.N. Jackson’s encounter with Dejuan Yourse.

Jackson approached Yourse first, asked him for identification and asked why he was there. Yourse explained he was locked outside of his mother’s home and was waiting on her to return from Raleigh with the key.

The video shows Jackson walking back to her police car, as Cole continues to question Yourse about his identity and where he lives. Cole even asked Yourse about his “prison tats.”

The questioning turned violent when Yourse, seated in a chair on the porch, called his mother on his cellphone and told her to come home because he was being harassed by the police. Officer Cole then grabbed the cell phone from Yourse’s hands and pinned him to the porch. Yourse can be heard on both officers’ cameras repeatedly asking Officer Cole why he had hit him multiple times and why was he being arrested. Cole threatened to hit Yourse again during the arrest.

Questions from the community included concerns about the timeline of the process which took 90 days to reach council and over 45 days to reach the chief of police; and what disciplinary measures could be taken against Officer Cole and Officer Jackson.

After viewing the footage, emotions were high. People yelled at council from the audience, and Mayor Nancy Vaughan threatened to clear the room multiple times. All the council members offered their apologies to Yourse and his family.

“I think we really strive to be transparent. We have a policy in place. We are releasing video footage and I think we’ve been more responsive on this issue than any other city in North Carolina,” said Vaughan.

Greensboro City Council set the state’s first policy on releasing police body-worn camera footage on May 9, just days before the release of footage of 47-year-old Chieu-di Thi Vo, a woman of Vietnamese descent, who was fatally shot by Greensboro Police Officer Timothy Bloch in March 2014. The city policy leaves the release of body-worn camera video footage to the city manager’s discretion and gives him the authority to choose who gets to view it and what portions get to be viewed.

HB 972, a state law that takes effect on Oct. 1, prohibits the release of body-worn camera and dash-camera footage to the public and the press without a court order. The new law, sponsored by State Sen. John Faircloth of High Point (R-Guilford), may prevent the city from releasing other videos in the future. As per HB 972, signed by N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory on July 11, law enforcement agencies have the discretion to release footage to people who are recorded, but if the agency denies a request to disclose the footage, the recorded individual must bring a claim in court in order to view it.

Council voted 8 to 0 in favor of a resolution that also directed the city manager to prepare a letter of complaint against former Officer Cole to be delivered to the Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission with a request to suspend Cole’s police certification, in order to prevent him from serving as law enforcement in the future.

Council also asked the judicial court to expunge charges of assault on a cop and resisting arrest from Yourse’s record. The Greensboro Police Department also requested that the Guilford County District Attorney review the incident again.

Cole resigned from the GPD on August 19, before the completion of the investigation, thus delaying any internal punishment from the department. His resignation also stopped the Guilford County District Attorney’s office from filing criminal charges.

The police department found that Cole violated its directives on the use of force, courtesy towards the public, and compliance to laws and regulations, and arrest, search and seizure.

GPD Chief Wayne Scott said, “The police department and myself are very unhappy by what is contained in the video. But we still have to do our jobs. I ask our community to remember that we try to do what we can, the best we can.”

“Today was painful,” said Rev. Cardes Brown of New Light Missionary Baptist Church. “I want to know who knew and who had access to this footage. It’s impossible to believe that the chief had so late knowledge of this incident.”

After some prodding from the audience, Deputy Chief James Hinson was allowed to speak and told council that the incident was brought to him on August 10. On that day, Hinson said he informed Chief Scott and the decision was made to place Officer Cole on administrative leave with pay, pending the outcome of both an internal and criminal investigation.

This was not Officer Cole’s first time being called out for his excessive use of force against the community. In August 2014, brothers Devin and Rufus Scales also caught Officer Cole on their camera as he threw Rufus to the ground and arrested him. Charges against the Scales brothers were eventually dropped, after months of public pressure and legal action against the city, which agreed to pay the brothers a $50,000 settlement.

“If you think we’re satisfied because we are speaking against Officer Cole, that is just not true,” Rev. Brown said to the council.

Other community members echoed Brown’s concern about why Officer Cole’s partner, Officer Jackson, was not reprimanded for her involvement. According to Chief Scott, Jackson is currently under investigation, and is still a working patrol officer.

“This type of behavior should never be accepted,” said District 1 Council member Sharon Hightower, who added that officers under investigation should not get paid suspension.

GPD employment records show that Cole was promoted during the ongoing investigation to the rank of Police Officer III on August 1, well after the June 17 incident had been reported.

Susan Danielsen, Public Information Officer for the GPD said, “The fact that a person is under investigation is not an automatic determination of guilt. We investigate every use of force. Very few of them result in a finding of misconduct by the officer. We use investigations to determine whether or not any misconduct occurred. Until then, our officers, just like every citizen, are considered innocent until proven guilty.”

On September 28, City Manager Jim Westmoreland instituted a 30 day hold on the promotion of any officers directly involved in the incident and events surrounding former police Officer Cole or in the investigative process.

Police Chief Scott is investigating and compiling a detailed report to provide to Westmoreland and City Council about the entire investigatory process used.

“In an effort to respond to City Council and community questions about this process and to ensure we have details and answers, I feel it is important to place a 30 day hold on any promotions involving this matter,” said Westmoreland.

Yourse and his attorney declined to comment.