An external review of the handling of four racially charged incidents by UNC Police has found that — while there was no evidence of police favoritism toward outside people and groups who protested against the anti-racist sentiment on campus, as some had asserted — breakdowns in police procedures and practices affected those incidents.
The review, conducted by Charlotte attorney Chris Swecker, former assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, covered:
• A September 2018 rally at the site of UNC’s Confederate monument just after the statue had been pulled down by protesters;
• A December 2018 street march held shortly before the statue’s base was ordered removed;
• A March 2019 incident in which some members of an outside group with ties to the counterprotests were caught carrying guns on the campus; and
• An incident later that month in which two people were caught in the act of defacing a monument to the people of color who built the original campus.
“In each case,” Swecker’s report said, “the motivations and actions of the law enforcement officers involved have been publicly questioned.”
The report concluded: “With respect to the scenarios where the UNC-CH PD did not make immediate arrests when violations on campus occurred in their presence[,] this review found failings in certain procedures or practices that created the perception that the UNC-CH PD failed to properly exercise their discretionary police powers. The motivations of the law enforcement officers involved however were not out of sympathy for any particular cause nor animosity towards any group or individual.”
The day after the report came out, several students and faculty members staged a public protest of the conclusions in Peace and Justice Plaza on Franklin Street across from campus, saying the police indeed acted improperly at the protests. “This report was designed to disparage students, to disparage student accounts and to uplift the authority of the police department at the expense of student lives and student safety,” said De’Ivyion Drew, a sophomore who is a member of a campus safety commission created last spring to study all aspects of the campus safety environment.
Thirteen people had been arrested in three incidents that preceded a September 2018 rally conducted by a group known as New Confederate States of America to protest the Aug. 20, 2018, removal of Silent Sam. Counterprotesters significantly outnumbered the group. The rally was peaceful until a smoke bomb was throw as the rally was breaking up, setting off a general melee in which counterprotesters engaged in physical confrontations with police.
Seven people were arrested, six of them after the pro-Silent Sam group had left.
The review found that “minimal to no investigation was conducted by the UNC-CH PD to support the arrests. As a result of the poor documentation and minimal follow up investigation several cases were dismissed or reduced and other[s] were disposed of by deferred prosecution in exchange for community service.”
In December, a rally that called for a strike by graduate students over a University proposal to house the statue in a new $5.3 million building on the campus began quietly, then became a march through the streets of Chapel Hill that also included scuffles between police and protesters. Two people were arrested, one for inciting a riot.
With regard to those incidents, Swecker’s report recommended that police:
• Have more organized plans for ordering arrests and declaring unlawful assembly at planned events and that police be trained for such events;
• Make commanders more present and visible;
• Employ videographers to record the events;
• Recognize that it is their primary role to investigate cases created in these events; and
• Establish clear policy on visitor conduct as it relates to compliance with commands to not interfere with police work.
Regarding the March 2019 firearms incident, the report said that “approximately a dozen members of a group calling themselves the Virginia Task Force III arrived in a small caravan at the parking deck on Rosemary Street located near [the campus]. An alert parking attendant noted that several members of the group were armed and notified the Chapel Hill Police Department Watch Commander.”
“This group ultimately appeared on the UNC-CH interior campus on Cameron Street. One of the men, Lance Spivey, was openly armed with a pistol clearly visible in a hip holster. Another man had what appeared to be a handgun on his right hip partially concealed but protruding from under a vest. Others were openly carrying a collapsible baton, handcuffs and canes. Some wore vests or coats that extended below the waist with noticeable bulges around their waists.”
Five UNC officers confronted the group on Cameron Avenue and warned them against carrying firearms and ordered them to leave the campus, but they did not make arrests or ask for identification. The report said a commander told the officers by phone to “hold off” pending an opinion by the district attorney on whether arrest was justified. The review found that arrest was justified and that the “armed intruders should have been, at minimum, identified, questioned and run through criminal law enforcement databases.”
The report added, “There was no evidence, however, that the inaction of the officers on the scene was motivated by favoritism towards the white supremacist cause or ideology” of the intruders.
In the later incident, in which two people defaced the Unsung Founders Memorial in McCorkle Place, “the facts point to the inexperience of a single police officer” who did not follow standard procedures immediately but who “quickly followed up with an aggressive investigation.”
The perpetrators later were arrested and convicted.
In those two cases, the report recommended the police establish a clear documented policy of zero tolerance for and immediate arrest of armed intruders as well as adopt and train for the model procedures for field investigations of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
The review consisted of more than 45 interviews, document analysis, analysis of police body-worn cameras and analysis of videos posted by participants and bystanders.