Two Charleston police officers shown using force to arrest a woman last week did not violate department policy and will return to their regular patrol, Chief Opie Smith said Friday.
The decision was made after officers in the department’s Professional Standards Division completed a roughly week-long investigation into the actions of Officers Carlie McCoy and Joshua Mena, who were filmed using force to take 26-year-old Freda Gilmore into custody on Oct. 14 in front of the Family Dollar along Virginia Street West.
Smith, who was sworn-in as police chief in January, also said anyone has the right to film officers in the city, saying the conduct of Alisyn Proctor, the woman who posted the video of the arrest, at the scene was what led to her arrest.
The department’s investigation wasn’t initiated as a result of the video Proctor posted to Facebook under the name “Mollie Monroe” and that the division conducts an investigation any time an officer uses force, Smith said.
“Our officers make split-second decisions in many situations every day due to the nature of their work,” Smith said in the statement. “We view these situations as learning opportunities so that we can become better officers and provide better service in our communities.”
Smith announced the decision one day after Gilmore’s father and stepmother, Richard and Kim Gilmore, spoke out about their concern for Freda Gilmore, as well as their intent to pursue a lawsuit against the city.
The Gilmores said Freda Gilmore is a special-needs adult and that she was receiving medical care as of Thursday. She was released from the South Central Regional Jail on Oct. 19. A request for comment sought through the family’s attorney was not returned.
The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia on Friday tweeted a response to the city’s statement, saying police policy “does not override the constitutional right to be free from excessive use of force.”
The ACLU was one of a few organizations that provided support to get Freda Gilmore out of jail, said Loree Stark, ACLU West Virginia’s legal director. That effort was led by Takeiya Smith with West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families, with additional support from the state NAACP, CARE WV, the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Holler Health Justice and the American Friends Service Committee of WV.
Charleston police Lt. Autumn Davis, spokeswoman for the department, said the department operates within the parameters of its policy.
“We believe, based on our policy and based on the level of resistance and the action of the officers, that their actions were objectively reasonable, which is not excessive force,” Davis said.
After releasing the result of the investigation Friday afternoon, Smith and Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin made themselves available to local news outlets.
Police and city response
With the release of the report also came the announcement of a public forum to discuss the issue and plans to review, and likely change, the department’s policy regarding “situations where active resistance is occurring.”
The forum is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, but officials were working Friday to find a location for the event.
Smith said he and the commander of the Professional Standards Division are looking at how other cities address active-resistance situations and wants community input.
When asked about the lack of policy violation against the community’s response to the force used to take Freda Gilmore into custody, Smith said communication between police and the community makes a difference.
“Being transparent and letting folks know our policies — what we can do, what we can’t do, why we can’t do certain things and why we do certain things,” Smith said. “It’s very important to be engaged in the community and get input from them.”
The police department also will offer additional training to help officers better interact and communicate with people who have difficulty communicating in high-stress situations, Smith said.
In addition to policy changes, Goodwin said she intends to identify funding for additional body cameras for officers.
“I think our entire community has been impacted by this,” Goodwin said. “Our police department certainly has been, and our entire community has been. So we hear them. Our job is to make sure two things happen every day — that our police officers come home safe and that our citizens are kept safe.”
There are no laws in West Virginia requiring police officers to wear body cameras, and Smith said the department doesn’t have enough body cameras to equip every officer with one at all times.
Smith said he couldn’t say whether more body cameras might have affected the officers’ actions or the community’s response but that having more perspectives at any given time would be useful in the 72,000 calls Charleston police officers respond to each year.
In watching the footage of Gilmore’s arrest, Smith said, he saw officers trying to affect an arrest, but he said he didn’t want to get into too much detail about the video.
He said Gilmore was actively resisting arrest. He said actively resisting arrest can be described as a person who is kicking, punching, tensing up or pulling away from an officer who is trying to take them into custody.
“We had one officer initially struggling, trying to get assistance,” Smith said. “When you take one hand off of a person to try to use your radio, then that gives the person more time, and they can move and do something different. Then you’ve got to start back from square one. It’s very difficult.”
The video depicts Gilmore lying on the ground with McCoy in the process of putting her hands behind her back to be handcuffed.
A second officer, identified in a police report as Mena, runs to where Gilmore and McCoy are and punches her four times in the head as another officer looks on.
Prior to the start of the video, McCoy struck Gilmore multiple times in her face, prior to Mena’s arrival on the scene, according to the incident report she filed.
McCoy and Mena each had been on administrative leave, pending the results of the internal investigation.
Gilmore was charged with a misdemeanor count of obstructing an officer and a misdemeanor count of animal cruelty, according to criminal complaints filed in Kanawha Magistrate Court.
After arresting Gilmore, McCoy said, she found a puppy in Gilmore’s pocket that “did not appear to be living” and “appeared to have parvo,” she wrote in the incident report.
Richard and Kim Gilmore said Thursday they are thankful that Alisyn Proctor filmed the event, saying it hurt them to see the footage.
Proctor, 24, of Charleston, was arrested at the scene and charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct, for screaming profanities at police and refusing to stop when officers asked her to stop, according to a criminal complaint.
Smith said Charleston police officers “do not arrest anyone merely for videotaping or video recording on their phone.”
“The video shows there were several people recording the situation, and they were not arrested,” he said Friday. “However, disorderly conduct, including loud and boisterous conduct, and inciting others to do the same during an investigation, will not be tolerated.”
Proctor was released from custody on a personal recognizance bond.