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Scales brothers settle, while camera footage debate rages

The Scales Brothers: Rufus and Devin Scales. Photo by Charles Edgerton/Carolina Peacemaker The Scales Brothers: Rufus and Devin Scales. Photo by Charles Edgerton/Carolina Peacemaker

On Tuesday, May 3, community members marched with the family of 47-year-old Chieu-di Thi Vo, who was fatally shot by a Greensboro Police officer in March 2014. After two years, the family was finally granted permission to see the police footage of the shooting, alongside members of the Greensboro City Council.

For many in Greensboro, the issue boils down to allowing the public access to video footage captured by police body-worn cameras. Tin Nguyen, attorney for the Vo family, said that viewing the video left the family with more questions and they believe the video should be released to the public.

“The video should be released to keep police accountable,” said Nguyen.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan disagreed, saying that the Vo video should not be released until a policy is in place for how to handle a footage release because the citizens’ privacy should be taken into consideration. Council is currently vetting a footage policy drafted by Mayor Vaughan and District 3 Council member Justin Outling.

“There has to be some consideration for the privacy of civilians in the tapes if they do not wish to have them released,” Vaughan said.

Council will meet on May 24 in a closed work session to discuss the proposed body camera video policy. Council members also plan to vote on the issue at their next meeting, Tuesday, May 17.

The video viewing came just a few days after the city reached a $50,000 settlement agreement with Devin and Rufus Scales, two brothers who were arrested and accosted by Greensboro police during an incident that occurred in 2014.

“This is a very important moment in our city where the people are becoming a model for exercising their power together to demand equal protection and justice for all,” said local activist and retired civil rights attorney Lewis Pitts, referring to the two-year long fight for justice for Devin and Rufus Scales.

“The Scales brothers’ signatures were notarized and that is what is required under law to resolve a legal dispute. Compromise has occurred. I characterize compromise as a victory, not everybody does,” said City of Greensboro Attorney, Tom Carruthers.

The Scales brothers’ attorney, Graham Holt, called the settlement, “An appropriate compromise in light of the city’s refusal to make a reasonable settlement.”

Devin and Rufus Scales were stopped by Greensboro Police Officer T.B. Cole on August 4, 2014, where he accused the two of being intoxicated and impeding traffic. A previous incident between the brothers and police occurred in May 2013, where two officers pulled them over for minor vehicle infractions. That encounter ended with Rufus being stunned with a Taser and dragged across the asphalt. Since that incident, Devin carries a camera at all times to record potential interactions with the police.

During their 2014 police encounter, a second officer appeared on the scene wearing a body camera however, police department officials have refused to release the footage citing it as part of an officer’s personnel file, which is exempt from state public records law.

Rufus was charged with impeding traffic, being intoxicated and disruptive, and resisting a public officer while Devin was cited for impeding traffic. Almost a year later and after a review by the Guilford County District Attorney’s office, those charges were dropped on March 31, 2015.

“Young Black men get arrested constantly for no real reason,” said Holt.

The brothers also filed a complaint against the officer, which was reviewed by GPD’s Professional Standards Division. That complaint was dismissed by the police department so the brothers filed an appeal, which required review by the City of Greensboro’s Complaint Review Committee (CRC) and Interim Police Chief Anita Holder. While the police department continued to say there was no wrongdoing by Officer Cole, the CRC disagreed, which sent the appeal to the city manager’s office for final review.

According to the Complaint Review Committee’s report, Officer Cole was found to have been “too aggressive” during the stop and “he never should have arrested anyone in this case.” The Scales brothers were later issued an apology from Greensboro City Manager Jim Westmoreland on behalf of the city and the police department and Officer Cole was found to have violated policy and “did not use good judgment.” Officer Cole was suspended for two days with pay.

Cole is a nine-year veteran of the GPD and is currently a patrol officer in the Southern division. Members of the community and Greensboro clergy assert that no real consequences ever came to the officer as a result of his false testimony in court.

“The issue of transparency and perjury is not resolved,” said Rev. Nelson Johnson, leader of the Beloved Community Center. “There have been no meaningful consequences to the officer or the leaders who covered up that perjury.”

The Scales brothers case is just one of the many complaints that have helped mobilize the community in pushing for more transparency and accountability in the Greensboro Police Department. Part of that effort has been a push for an interim citizens’ police complaint review board with subpoena powers. Such efforts have already led to police and community forums, and the outfitting of body-worn cameras on all patrol officers.

Supporters of the Scales brothers say the community’s support of the two young men is what gave them some justice. The Scales brothers made national headlines this year when their case was profiled in a New York Times article that reported African Americans in Greensboro were disproportionately stopped by police more often than Whites.

“I think one reason this case got the attention it did was because the community got engaged and organized, and demanded some justice for this,” said Pitts who added, “but the community shouldn’t have to engage every complaint. We should have a system of accountability and expectations in place that stand alone and when pointed out can provide consequences to these injustices. Otherwise it will never stop.”

Similar injustices happen all too frequently, says Pitts, pointing out an incident with police in May 2013 where four Bennett College students were arrested at a graduation party, all of whom filed complaints against the responding officers alleging the use of excessive force.

“The lack of accountability, lack of transparency, and the lack of any meaningful consequences when wrong doing occurs, is still at large. Hence, there is no trust between our citizens and our police department, and that is a dangerous situation,” said Pitts.