Habari Gani: A Focus on Recent Events

Attorney Darlene Harris and Jasmine Horne
Attorney Darlene Horne and Jasmine Horne

By Makheru Bradley

May 8, 2022 11:30PM
Makheru Bradley

We titled this series Habari Gani, a Kiswahili term we use during Kwanzaa, translated as “What’s New”, or “What is the News?” Our intent is to cover recent events that impact Afrikan people.

In a rare decision, Jasmine Horne wins one round against CMPD
The score was police 97—citizens 2. In rulings by Charlotte's Citizens Review Board (CCRB), between its founding in 1997 and 2019, the last year for which data is available, the CCRB ruled in favor of CMPD in 97 out of 99 hearings on complaints of police misconduct against citizens. (For data see: https://charlottenc.gov/CityClerk/Pages/CitizensReviewBoard.aspx)

Jasmine Horne, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools elementary school teacher, and her attorney Darlene Harris were well aware of the odds when they presented their case against CMPD on April 6. WFAE reported that before the hearing, attorney Harris was bracing her client for defeat. Harris said, “I feel confident in my client’s case, I feel confident in what we have to present, I just don’t necessarily feel confident in the system.”

Harris and Horne presented their case to the board, followed by CMPD’s presentation. The CCRB then voted 9-0 in favor of Horne, who CMPD officers handcuffed at gunpoint after she was misidentified as the suspect in another crime. An evidentiary hearing will be held on May 12 to determine if CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings clearly erred in his decision to not punish the officers. CMPD “maintains that officers acted in good faith with the information they had as they searched for a very dangerous individual wanted for attempted murder.”
“I thought I was going to die… that I would be the next Breonna Taylor”
Jasmine Horne’s terrifying experience began on the evening of June 14, 2021. Footage from CMPD body cameras show Horne sitting in her car outside of her home in west Charlotte when officers approached her with their guns drawn.

In a Facebook post, Jasmine Horne described her ordeal: “I was ambushed by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers in front of my home while sitting in my car. Ten police cars surrounded me. I thought I was going to die. I thought that it was it for me—that I would be the next Breonna Taylor. They screamed for me to put my hands in the air, forced me out of my car, and searched it. I was demanded to put my hands around my back to be cuffed, and then placed in the back of a police car. With every question I asked, I received no answer, only commands. After finding my information, the aggressors softened out of embarrassment. They informed me that they received a tip from a detective who said that my car was stolen by a woman who stabbed someone.”

The actual suspect was Jaselyn Horne. CMPD tried to explain the mix-up to Jasmine Horne’s mother: “For some reason, we got an email saying that a Jaselyn Horne was driving your daughter’s vehicle. We found the vehicle and your daughter in it and we thought that’s who that was.” They tracked Jasmine Horne’s car by putting her name into their license plate reader system—which uses camera technology to track vehicles in various locations across Charlotte. So, they use this “Enemy of the State” technology and an erroneous email, but didn’t follow simple procedures by asking Jasmine for her driver’s license. After putting Jasmine through all of that trauma, Jaselyn Horne was arrested two days later and charged with attempted first degree murder.

Jasmine Horne being arrested
Jasmine Horne handcuffed by CMPD
Just to get to a CCRB evidentiary hearing is extraordinary
The Charlotte Citizens Review Board was established in September 1997 as a result of numerous protests over the killings of Windy Gail Thompson (1993), James Willie Cooper (1996), and Carolyn Sue Boetticher (1997), three unarmed Afrikan Americans killed by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers during traffic related incidents.

Those protests, led by Kojo Nantambu, Robert Muhammad, Dwayne Collins, and others, focused on several demands including the establishment of a citizens review board with subpoena power, and equipping all CMPD cruisers with dash cameras. Charlotte’s power structure yielded to some of those demands however they gave us a review board whose rulings have no legal authority.

The Charlotte Observer reported in 2013: “The (CCRB) has no independent power to investigate, and citizens must meet an unusually high standard of evidence for the board to even hold a formal hearing.

Instead, the 11-member, volunteer board has met behind closed doors – first with citizens, then with police – and voted to dismiss almost every case. Family members of five men shot to death by police were denied full hearings to present what they viewed as evidence of misconduct.”

In a 2020 article, Charlotte Magazine noted: Of 12,000 local law enforcement agencies in the United States, about 200 have civilian review boards. Their powers vary widely: Oakland’s has the authority to fire officers, even the chief; New York’s can subpoena witnesses; Raleigh’s, created just this year, can review police policy but does not respond to citizen complaints, investigate, or collect data.

Charlotte’s board merely advises CMPD and lacks subpoena power. When a citizen makes a formal complaint against a CMPD officer, the department investigates to determine whether the officer violated department policy. A citizen who disagrees with CMPD’s decision has 30 days to appeal to the CCRB. The board reviews the case using documentation from the police investigation, then makes its own decision and submits recommendations.

For its first 20 years, CCRB upheld CMPD’s decisions every time. It began to break from the department in 2017. In August, the board deadlocked 4-4 on then-Chief Kerr Putney’s ruling that the officer who shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott in 2016 followed CMPD policy.

Later that year, in a 7-1 decision, the board determined that CMPD erred in not disciplining officer Jon Dunham for excessive force against James Yarborough in 2016; after a chase, Dunham pointed his gun at the unarmed man’s head and threatened to kill him. In February (2020), the CCRB decided unanimously that CMPD “clearly erred” in its finding that Officer Wende Kerl’s fatal shooting of Danquirs Franklin on March 25, 2019, was justified.

CCRB decisions advance to City Manager Marcus Jones who supervises the police department. After the CCRB’s decision in the 2017 Yarborough case, Jones consulted Putney as his subject matter expert then upheld the chief’s decision. Jones rejected CCRB’s decision in the Franklin case, too. CMPD didn’t accept any of the seven recommendations that came with it. The first unanimous decision by the CCRB against CMPD resulted in no policy changes by the city or police.

“If the CCRB sustains the case, then why send it back to the police department that erred in its judgment in the first place?” says Robert Dawkins, director of the police accountability organization SAFE Coalition NC, part of the progressive advocacy group Action NC. Dawkins and his group want CCRB decisions to have authority independent of the city government. They’ve offered three proposals:

The first two changes involve the Civil Service Board. Unlike the CCRB, the Civil Service Board can subpoena witnesses and documents. The first proposed change is to send cases in which the CCRB upholds the citizen complaint to the Civil Service Board to investigate further and demote or fire officers when it decides they violated department policy. The second proposal is to require officers who don’t cooperate with CCRB to appear before the Civil Service Board for a hearing. Kerl, the officer who shot Franklin, declined to appear before the CCRB.

CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings is more receptive to Dawkins’ third proposal: petitioning the General Assembly to allow CCRB to issue subpoenas, which would allow it to call witnesses and hear testimony. (SAFE Coalition has pursued this route several times without success.)

“There’s been a whole lot more cases where bringing in witnesses that we have in the cases for the Citizens Review Board would have been very helpful in allowing them to make their decision,” Jennings says. “If they have subpoena power for everyone, then I would support that. If it’s just subpoena power for officers, I would not support that.”

None of those proposed changes will be in place when the evidentiary hearing for the Jasmine Horne case is held on May 12. As the Charlotte Magazine article points out, the Charlotte City Council could enact Robert Dawkins’ proposal to have the Civil Service Board enforce the decisions of the CCRB. Why hasn’t the Democrat-dominated City Council of Charlotte already done this? It seems that they support qualified immunity for the police in clear cases of police misconduct. That has got to change.

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