UPDATE | Charleston Police use-of-force investigation referred to FBI

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- UPDATE 11/14/19 @ 3:39 p.m.
Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said the city's police chief has asked the FBI to conduct an independent review of a use-of-force complaint. The mayor also detailed several steps she says the city is taking to address the concerns of community groups and the public.

Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin and other city officials had a press conference to announce the steps they say they are taking to address concerns about a use-of-force complaint against the police department. (Source: WSAZ)

"We owe a debt of gratitude to our police men and women but we also have a responsibility to our community, to listen to them and learn from them," Goodwin said.

The mayor and 22 Charleston City Council members outlined their plans in response to a Concerned Clergy Coalition letter. That letter was presented during a community forum on Nov. 5.

"That's why we're here today, to make sure our platform is understood and listened to," said Marlon Collins, a member of the Concerned Clergy Coalition. "We're not against the police, but we do want some policies looked up to make sure the people are safe, protected and served."

The coalition requested an independent investigation of an arrest on Oct. 14 that led to two officers being placed on paid administrative leave. Those officers were cleared of any inappropriate action in an internal use-of-force investigation, according to the police department. The mayor's office says the coalition also requested "a review of all current Charleston Police Department (CPD) policies, additional trainings for officers, and the formation of a police review board."

Police Chief Opie Smith said, "They're cleared internally. The investigation was done, and they're cleared. It's just to get another set of eyes on it and let folks see that, you know, whatever comes from the investigation, that we'll deal with it then."

In a letter to the coalition members, Goodwin said the city is addressing the concerns of both the coalition and the public by taking the following steps:


  • Charleston Police Chief Opie Smith has referred the incident to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for an independent review. If necessary, the FBI will refer the matter to the United States Attorney or the Kanawha County Prosecutor's Office.
  • The Goodwin administration is working with the leadership of the Charleston Police Department to review policing policies and procedures. Members of the community – including former Charleston Police Chief Dallas Staples – will be part of this process.
  • CPD policies will be published on the CPD website to provide transparency.
  • CPD is assertively looking at best practices from across the country to amplify police training efforts.
  • Mayor Goodwin discussed with Chief Smith her desire for CPD to take the "One Mind Pledge," recently announced by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which seeks to ensure successful interactions between police officers and persons affected by mental illness.
  • Mayor Goodwin has discussed that CPD seek and obtain accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).
  • Mayor Goodwin committed to work with Charleston City Council members to identify additional resources to recruit, train and equip officers – including securing funding for additional body cameras.
  • Mayor Goodwin also intends to create a Charleston Police Department Citizen Advisory Council (CAC). This Council would be made up of individuals throughout Charleston that represent diverse demographics and occupations. They will act as a liaison between the police department and the community.

"As we move forward, Mayor Goodwin asks that our community continue to allow for an open dialogue on community concerns in a calm and thoughtful manner," a press release from Goodwin's office states. "We can only bring people together when everyone is heard."

Smith says the two officers involved will not be placed on administrative leave during the investigation. The mayor says they will all regroup after the Thanksgiving holiday.



UPDATE 11/12/19 @ 10 p.m.
WSAZ has obtained a copy of the city of Charleston's use-of-force policy that we requested through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

This policy was the center of a community discussion last Tuesday following the release of dash-cam footage when two officers' actions were called into question regarding a woman's arrest in October.

An internal investigation revealed the officers were within their rights when it came to using force.

Police Chief Opie Smith said he's willing to update the policy to match current community standards, something that Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin agrees with.

We expect to hear more about potential changes to the policy in the next few days. To see a copy of the policy, click on the Related Documents.



UPDATE 11/6/19 @ 12:15 a.m.
A standing-room-only crowd gathered at Emmanuel Baptist Church for more than two hours Tuesday night to voice their concerns about the Charleston Police Department's use-of-force policy.

Community leaders, advocacy groups, clergy and more were given the change to speak about the current policy and changes they want to see. The policy was called into question after the arrest of Freda Gilmore for animal cruelty on Oct. 14, 2019.

Members of the Charleston Police Department were on hand to answer questions and respond to community suggestions. Police did not give specifics about what is in its use-of-force policy.

Officers said the current policy is based on a continuum depending on the incident. It was developed in the 1980s and was not released to the public at the meeting.

Police Chief Opie Smith said he is willing to update the policy to match current community standards, something that Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin agrees with.

No specifics were given about possible changes to the use-of-force policy. Smith said he will review notes from the forum.

One of the loudest cheers of the night was for the parents of Freda Gilmore. They spoke about the incident and a desire to not allow this to happen to anyone in Charleston ever again.

Among the complaints presented was a list of demands from local clergy. It included requesting an outside investigation of use-of-force incidents, additional body cameras for officers and more training to ensure police understand different segments of the community.

Goodwin said city officials would review the requests and respond within 10 days. She also suggested further meetings and one-on-one discussions about the topic.



UPDATE 10/29/19 @ 10:30 a.m.
Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said that the use-of-force policy should be updated.

According to a Facebook post, Goodwin respected the decision of Charleston Police Chief Opie Smith, but highlighted that our policy should reflect community values.

Goodwin said, "We also will look at effective options from around the country to help improve CPD policy. Thereafter, we will immediately undertake training of our officers to implement the updated policy. I also am committed to finding funding to provide more body cameras for our officers.

Our job is to make sure two things happen every day - that our citizens are kept safe and that our police officers come home safe."

A community forum hosted by the city of Charleston, RESET, and the Charleston Police Department is scheduled for Nov. 5. The location has not been announced.

UPDATE 10/28/19 @ 5:50 p.m.
A public forum hosted by the city of Charleston, Charleston Police Department and RESET originally scheduled for Tuesday has been rescheduled for Nov. 5.

The location of the forum has yet to be announced.

The forum was scheduled for Charleston and CPD leadership to receive community feedback on handling situations where their officers must act quickly.

Charleston Police Chief Opie Smith originally scheduled the forum after he announced on Oct. 25 that he would be reinstating two officers who were investigated for a "use of force" incident on Oct. 14.

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.



UPDATE 10/25/19 @ 3:35 p.m.
Two Charleston Police officers have been cleared of any inappropriate action in a use-of-force investigation, according to a release from the department.

CPD Chief Opie Smith reached that conclusion after a review of the case involving a woman who officers say was resisting arrest when they were investigating an animal cruelty charge against her.

That woman was identified Thursday by her attorney as Freda Gilmore, who he said has special needs and weighs less than 100 pounds.

Charleston Police released the following statement, in part, on Friday afternoon:

"After completing its investigation, PSD (Professional Standards Division) has determined that actions taken by both officers involved in the October 14, 2019 incident were within current CPD policy and the officers will be returning to work. Currently, under Level 3 of CPD's policy, strikes are allowed in situations where active resistance is occurring."

The chief says members of the PSD and mayor's office will continue to meet with community members and organizations and learn from this situation. Furthermore, CPD will hold a community forum on police use of force on Tuesday, Oct. 29 to receive feedback and questions from community members.

The Charleston Police Department plans to implement changes to their use-of-force policy, as well as having additional training for situations like this.

"The goal of our job, every day, is to ensure the safety of our citizens and our police officers," Smith said in the news release.

As of right now, not every Charleston Police officer has a body camera. Of the two officers involved in the incident, only one had a body camera and it was charging in their vehicle at the time.

Therefore, the mayor's office will also identify funding for additional body cameras for all officers.

We will have more on this developing story. Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.



UPDATE 10/24/19 @ 10:40 p.m.
An attorney for the woman who's at the center of a use-of-force investigation by the Charleston Police Department released a statement Thursday night, as well as his client's name.

Two officers are under investigation in the case involving the woman, who officers say was resisting arrest when they were investigating an animal cruelty charge against her. Police say the woman had a dead puppy in her pocket when the incident happened. Click here for more.

Attorney Michael Cary said his client Freda Gilmore is the woman who's in the dash cam video released earlier this week.

Cary released the following statement:

“We know an injustice occurred for client Freda Gilmore, and we want to make sure city officials step up and do what’s right so that the city of Charleston and this community feels safe when they see an officer. We want to be able to trust people who were sworn in to protect and serve us. We can’t get justice for Freda Gilmore until there’s accountability. Without accountability, there is no justice. We want the officers involved and the investigation sent to Kanawha County Prosecutor’s office. We want preventative measures taken so that Freda Gilmore is the last victim of the Charleston Police Department.”

Cary added that his client has special needs and weighs only 98 pounds. Cary also said there are several officers within the police force who do an outstanding job. He said it's the city officials’ responsibility to remove those officers who do not hold that same level of integrity.

As we reported last week, police and a group that serves as liaisons to the police department determined officer will go through more training.

Charleston Police Chief Opie Smith is expected to come to a decision on the department's course of action by Friday.

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.



UPDATE 10/22/19 @ 11:55 p.m.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but to Charleston Police Chief Opie Smith, pictures could be deceiving.

The Charleston Police Department released dash-cam footage of the arrest last week that prompted an investigation of two officers, now on administrative leave.

In the video, the initial officer is seen struggling with the suspect on the ground. That's when the assisting officer who responded to her call for backup can be seen running from his cruiser to help.

The assisting officer is then seen punching the suspect several times and later took the woman into custody.

This arrest led to a “use of force” complaint. According to Smith, the video is all about perception.

“It's just perception from the officer,” Smith said. “He has limited information coming into something like that, and his perception basically was, you heard on the radio the officer needed assistance”

The outcome of the investigation into those officers will be presented to Smith, and he will review it and make a decision.

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.



UPDATE 10/17/19 @ 5 p.m.
The Charleston Police Department, the Mayor's Office and members of RESET met Thursday morning to discuss a "use of force" complaint that came after an arrest Monday, Oct. 14.

Two Charleston Police officers have been put on paid administrative leave as a result of the complaint.

RESET members were able to view dash cam footage of the incident and discussed it in depth with Chief Opie Smith. Charleston Police confirmed there is a video of the incident circulating social media.

As a result of this meeting, Charleston Police Department will be conducting a series of training for officers.

Officers will complete additional defensive tactics training in two officer cuffing situations and one officer take down and cuffing tactics.

The goal of these training sessions is to work with officers to show different techniques that can be used to defuse situations.

A full outline of the training classes will be reviewed by RESET.

Charleston Police will also be taking additional training classes on how to interact and communicate with individuals who have difficulty communicating in high stress situations, such as individuals with hearing impairments, autism and PTSD.

These training sessions will be used to ensure officers can be better prepared to deal with a variety of situations.

Charleston city councilman Brady Campbell issued a statement following the city's decision to hold additional training sessions for members of CPD.

"I'm happy to see the administration take the opportunity to better train our officers to try to make them the best in the state," Campbell said.

Campbell is a member of the city council's public safety committee.

Keep checking WSAZ for the latest information.

No other information about who was arrested, why, or what officers are involved has been released at this time.

The investigation is expected to be finished in the next two weeks.

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.



UPDATE 10/17/19 @ 10:15 a.m.
Two Charleston Police officers are on paid administrative leave amid an investigation into a "use of force" complaint.

Charleston Police say the officers were placed on leave effective Wednesday. They say the decision is standard in various situations but at the discretion of the Chief.

Charleston Police Chief Opie Smith announced Wednesday an investigation into the complaint is underway and will last about two weeks.

The complaint stems from an arrest that happened Monday, but details of that arrest including who was involved and where it happened have not been released.

According to a release from CPD, “(Chief) Opie Smith has been in continued communication with Reverend Roberta Smith with RESET, an organization of Charleston clergy and community advocates who serve as liaisons to the Charleston Police Department and the community-at-large, to provide updates.”

Chief Smith will ask RESET to review the incident. The Rev. Roberta Smith, a member of RESET, was unable to comment Wednesday evening. Charleston Councilwoman Becky Ceperly, who is a member of the Public Safety committee, was also unable to comment.

According to CPD, "all incidences involving the use of force are investigated by the Police Department’s Professional Standards Division to determine whether the force used was necessary and within the Department’s policy."

ORIGINAL STORY 10/16/19
An internal investigation into "use of force” during an arrest Monday evening is underway, the Charleston Police Department says.

Charleston Police Chief Opie Smith said the investigation will last about two weeks involving the officer in question.

According to a release from CPD, “(Chief) Opie Smith has been in continued communication with Reverend Roberta Smith with RESET, an organization of Charleston clergy and community advocates who serve as liaisons to the Charleston Police Department and the community-at-large, to provide updates.”

Chief Smith will ask RESET to review the incident. The Rev. Roberta Smith, a member of RESET, was unable to comment Wednesday evening. Charleston Councilwoman Becky Ceperly, who is a member of the Public Safety committee, was also unable to comment.

According to CPD, "all incidences involving the use of force are investigated by the Police Department’s Professional Standards Division to determine whether the force used was necessary and within the Department’s policy."

Additional details are unavailable at this time, including where the arrest happened and whom it involved.

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.


A standing room only crowd gathered in Charleston on Tuesday night for a public forum on police use of force.


Related Documents