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Group speaks out about police actions

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Don Cavellini of the Pitt County Coalition Against Racism speaks to the group of people congregated at the corner of Tyson and Fourth streets on Aug. 12, 2017. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A civil rights group announced Saturday they are organizing a series of events to address what they call incidents of police misconduct by the Greenville Police Department.

Members of the Coalition Against Racism and Mothers of the Incarcerated gathered in a vacant lot at the intersection of Fourth and Tyson streets to make the announcement near a house located in the 400 block of Tyson, where on July 6 police used what they called a "sound-blast explosive device" to remove people from the home.

“We want to explain how dissatisfied we are about racial inequalities in Greenville,” said Matthew Roberts, a member of CAR and Mothers of the Incarcerated. Greenville police are using militarized weapons and “show disregard to a community that continues to live in an environment of political subjugation,” he said.

“There is a war on black America,” said Don Cavellini, CAR's co-chairman. No one would say police do not arrest white people, he said, but officers treat black and white citizens differently.

That is why CAR members said they plan to periodically meet at different locations across Greenville to discuss incidents they believe illustrate misconduct.

Cavellini said CAR members will visit churches, community groups, athletic events and other gatherings to alert the community as to when these meetings which are being called "community speak outs" will be held.

Daniel Mejia, who lives in the area around Tyson and Fourth streets, described what he heard and saw on July 6.

“I heard a loud blast. I'm sure everyone within a quarter-mile heard it,” Mejia said. Thinking it was a car accident, Mejia walked outside only to see multiple police cars, a tactical response vehicle and other support vehicles. Then he saw the children.

“There was two kids sitting right there, crying really hard,” he said. The blast had hurt their ears and they were experiencing temporary hearing loss.

Mejia said maybe the police didn't realize who was inside the house and it was a honest mistake. Or, he said, it may be they didn't care.

In response to the allegations, Greenville Police Department spokeswoman Kristen Hunter told The Daily Reflector via email that officers with the department's emergency response team and gang, gun violence and center city units were serving a search warrant as part of a drug investigation when they saw a person observe them then run into the house.

Believing that weapons were inside, along with a person described as a validated gang member who had recently been released from prison, they decided to use a "distraction device" to enter the house, Hunter said. The “non-lethal device (that) emits a loud sound” was used to temporarily distract and disorient the occupants so officers could enter. Everyone was safety removed, she said.

Two people were arrested after drug paraphernalia and a substance believed to be crack cocaine was seized, Hunter said. The two children were “connected” with Pitt County Department of Social Services, she said.

Cavellini said on Saturday that he also has been contacted by community members about other instances of misconduct. On Oct. 20, a 50-year-old black man was “sitting on his motorbike eating pizza on Fifth Street” when he was assaulted by police officers, Cavellini said.

Hunter said via email that police reports state the man was on a moped, blocking a sidewalk and playing loud music when officers asked him to move.

The man didn't respond until the officer exited his vehicle, Hunter said. The report states the man began cursing the officer. The officer said he would be arrested. A scuffle followed with both men ending up on the ground. The man was taken into custody. The police report said he continued to threaten the officers at the detention center.

Hunter said the man's family later called the officer “to thank him for not injuring their loved one” and indicated the man has a history of aggressive behavior.

Along with speak out events, Cavellini said CAR members will renew their request that the Greenville City Council form a Civilian Review Committee that would investigate reported incidents of police misconduct.

Cavellini said it could be an elected body with members from each district in Greenville.

Hunter said in her email that police Chief Mark Holtzman met Friday with Cavellini to explain the department’s policies regarding response to resistance and aggression.

She added that the department’s internal affairs office did not receive any complaints about either incident detailed by Cavellini.

 

“As always, if there is a concern or question about a specific incident or in regards to how an officer handled a situation, we have an open door policy,” Hunter said. “We take all accusations of excessive force seriously.”

Individuals who want to report incidents involving improper police conduct can call the department's internal affair office at 252-329-4373.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.

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