CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin, Police Chief Opie Smith and city officials face growing pressure to change police department policies in light of an arrest last month.
A public forum on Tuesday, held at Emmanuel Baptist Church, centered on the policies in place and the public’s concerns following the use of force two officers showed during an Oct. 14 incident.
Cellphone and police video shows Patrol Officer Carlie McCoy struggling to arrest 27-year-old Freda Gilmore outside of a Family Dollar store on Virginia Street West. Patrolman Joshua Mena arrived and dropped to his knees, punching Gilmore multiple times in the head.
Gilmore’s family said Gilmore has special needs.
The officers were placed on paid administrative leave following the incident. An internal investigation found McCoy and Mena were acting within department policy regarding use of force, and both returned to the force following the investigation.
A majority of the 200 forum attendees — including Gilmore’s father Richard and stepmother Kimberly — demanded a policy change from the police department.
“I just want justice, and I won’t stop until I get justice,” Richard Gilmore said.
Smith previously said his department is reviewing the use of force policy, which has not been updated since the 1980s. He said Tuesday the frustration regarding last month’s incident and the lack of change is understandable.
“It was to be expected, and I didn’t take any of that to heart,” he said. “I understand the frustration. I really do.”
Ricardo Martin, president of the NAACP’s Charleston branch, argued the current policy presents a risk to the public.
“If there is a policy or there is a training video that you can hold up to that particular incident and the way in which it was handled and say that this policy exonerates the misbehavior of them, we’re in trouble,” he said.
Officers were ordered to take part in additional training after the incident; the training exercises will focus on defensive tactics and how to defuse situations.
Goodwin said some ideas attendees put forward are currently being discussed.
“If I’ve learned anything over the past 10 months is this: We need a full assessment of so many policies and procedures,” she said. “The bottom line is we need to do better.”
Many participants also voiced concerns about the police department’s Professional Standards Division handling the investigation. Representatives of various advocacy groups called for an independent citizen review board to review cases and make recommendations, a mental health intervention team, a requirement for all police officers to have a functioning body camera, and for the city to implement its policing platform and annual anti-racism training exercises.
The racial bias training was scheduled to begin in 2016.
“Our belief is that the police cannot police the police,” said Owens Brown, the state president of the West Virginia NAACP. “The police is the only government agency that has a check and balance on it.”
Charleston clergy members asked the city to put McCoy and Mena back on suspension and have the Kanawha County Prosecutor’s Office and the FBI investigate the matter. The clergy also requested a response from the city within 10 days about the group’s proposal. Goodwin agreed to meet the deadline, but Smith declined to comment.