CHAPEL HILL — The Chapel Hill police raid on squatters who took over a vacant downtown building last fall gets another look tonight.
The Chapel Hill Town Council voted 8-1 late Monday night, with member Laurin Easthom dissenting, to refer the town manager's report on the raid to the town's new Community Policing Advisory Committee.
Manager Roger Stancil found the Special Emergency Response Team response appropriate given what police knew at the time.
On Monday night, critics disagreed.
But the council rejected a request to immediately establish an outside, nontown committee to review the incident, in which police removed squatters from the former Yates Motor Co. building on Nov. 13 with loaded assault rifles and a tactical team.
The advisory committee is made up of volunteer residents appointed by the council. It will review Stancil's report, gather more public comment and information and report back to the council.
About 15 people spoke at Monday night's council meeting. Two supported the police's response.
"You drew a bad hand that day," said Harold Horne, a former Chapel Hill police officer. "Civil disobedience doesn't allow you to go occupy somebody else's property. I'd like you to know that the majority of citizens in this community commend you for the job you do."
Resident Jim Neal formally requested the outside review panel.
"You can't call (the advisory committee) an autonomous board," he said. "You can't hang Christmas ornaments on a bush and call it a Christmas tree."
But several council members said they created the committee to deal with situations like the Yates raid and that creating another review panel would be redundant.
"(This is) the first opportunity for that board to do its work, and (if) our first reaction is, 'We don't trust that,' what happens when the next one comes?" council member Matt Czajkowski asked. "If we do bypass them, we need to ask, 'What's the purpose of the CPAC?' "
Easthom disagreed. She questioned why police gave no warning before sending in the tactical team and said Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt had sent her a text message earlier that day telling her there would be a warning first.
"So what happened with that?" Easthom asked the mayor. "It was evident from your text that you thought (the police) were going to go in one more time."
Kleinschmidt said he sent the text to inform the council about the incident but that he was not involved in decision-making.
"I didn't know what was going to happen, how it was going to be done," he said. "It wouldn't have been appropriate (for the police) to have asked me, 'Well, what should we do?' "
The council also discussed a report from Carrboro Alderman Dan Coleman, who said the town officials' report omitted an interaction in which a Chapel Hill police officer chatted with some squatters outside the building earlier on the day of the raid.
Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue confirmed that happened but did not say why it didn't appear in the report.
The officer had just checked into work and had seen the people at the building and stopped by, Blue said. The officer reported to the department that the squatters had told him he "could not stay" at the building with them, Blue said.
Council member Jim Ward said the town needs to restore trust in the community.
"I don't think (the police) got it right this time," he said. "I think they overreacted. ... The police force only talked with them once. That's not enough. You got to try harder than that."
"I'm very careful ... about second-guessing this type of thing, but it's clear to me that we need to learn from this. We need to work harder."