Chapel Hill police raid on protestors deemed appropriate

Nov. 13 action was in community's best interest, Chapel Hill manager finds.

mschultz@newsobserver.comJanuary 8, 2012 

  • The Town Council will discuss the report at its meeting beginning at 7 p.m. Monday in Chapel Hill Town Hall, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

    Stancil recommends referring the report to the town's new Community Policing Advisory Committee. The committee would determine steps to improve community and police relations and report back to the council March 26.

— The Chapel Hill Police Department's raid on a former downtown car dealership taken over by squatters in November was "appropriate" and in the community's best interests, according to a report released Saturday by Town Manager Roger Stancil.

The long-awaited internal review says the goal of the raid was to remove a group that had illegally entered the former Yates Motor Co. building at 419 W. Franklin St. without injury to anyone.

Police made two unsuccessful attempts to talk with people at the building, the report says. The building was unsafe for human occupancy, and the squatters indicated they intended to stay in it indefinitely, Stancil said in the report.

"The actions of the on-scene police commanders on November 13 were the best decisions that could be made given the information available at the time," he wrote.

The Town Council is scheduled to discuss the report Monday night. Its meeting begins at 7 p.m. in Chapel Hill Town Hall, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Among Stancil's findings:

Police Chief Chris Blue informed Stancil during the day of his decisions to remove people from the building, and the manager informed Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. The chief and manager did not discuss specific tactics.

The use of the SERT Team was appropriate because of their training for special situations, which Stancil said minimizes the potential for unintended consequences.

There was no consultation with the federal Department of Homeland Security or any other state or federal agency. Information was gathered from other municipal police department representatives who were in Chapel Hill because of an anarchist gathering to learn information for use in their own communities.

During the incident, Special Emergency Response Team officers pointed assault rifles and guns at unarmed people, ordering them to lie on the ground. The police action has been both criticized and supported in the community.

Hundreds have signed a petition submitted by resident and former Senate candidate Jim Neal asking for an independent, outside review of the incident.

On Facebook Saturday, activist Amanda Ashley, a member of the group that was at the building that day, called the report a "whitewash."

Neal, who was not part of the group, said Stancil talked mainly to those associated with town government and still had not made the case for the SERT response.

"The police went to the highest level of response that they had," Neal said. "It was a very heavily armed tactical response that scared the bejesus out of the people who were there and other people."

Eight people were arrested and about a dozen more, including News & Observer staff writer Katelyn Ferral and another reporter, were detained in plastic zip-tie cuffs. Police charged seven people inside the building with breaking and entering and a 68-year-old woman with delay and obstruct.

No weapons were found in the building.

The building takeover was separate from the Occupy Chapel Hill movement down the street. A group of self-described "anti-capitalist occupiers" took credit for the occupation. They distributed a flier showing plans to turn the long vacant building into a community center.

Some of the squatters were also participants in the Occupy movement outside the Franklin Street post office and said they hoped the building might provide a base for the movement during the winter months.

Occupy members plan to dismantle their remaining tents Tuesday and focus on other actions such as helping people affected by foreclosure.

Schultz: 919-932-2003

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