CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Community leaders are questioning an LGBT community leader’s arrest after a Labor Day rally in Uptown as officials with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the arrested leader share conflicting stories over what led to the conflict.
More than a dozen community leaders, including representatives from the local NAACP, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham and several diverse members of the local clergy, gathered at a press conference Wednesday morning following community leader Ty Turner’s arrest on Monday after distributing political fliers in a parking lot near a Moral Monday Labor Day rally.
The leaders are calling on CMPD to investigate the incidents leading to Turner’s arrest. They also want CMPD to investigate the officer with whom Turner had the confrontation. They say the officer has a history of aggressive interactions with the public.
“I think we as a community, we would agree as a baseline standard that we would ask those first responders to first do no harm, don’t make the situation worse,” said Dr. Jay Leach, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte, after thanking local police, firefighters and paramedics who serve the public.
“We have a deep appreciation for our first responders — this is not about anti-police action,” Leach said, but stressed that the officer, identified as David Tropeano, “failed” the standard to “do no harm.”
“He came into a situation of a minor infraction that escalated not only into an unnecessary arrest, but to a deep concern in our community,” Leach said. “We would be less concerned if this was a first-time incident. Sadly, we find in the case of this particular officer it is not a first-time incident. This officer has failed this standard repeatedly and he has made situations worse.”
Leach added, “Why does he make situations worse? Why does he escalate situations? How is he allowed to continue in that role? We call on the police for a serious investigation of this incident and a serious investigation of this officer.”
Officials with CMPD, however, are painting an entirely different picture of the confrontation between Turner and officers, including Tropeano. CMPD held their own press conference late Wednesday afternoon with Deputy Chief Kerr Putney, who was among officers responding to the incident Monday evening.
Putney said Turner’s arrest was sparked primarily by Turner’s non-compliance, particularly his unwillingness to show officers identification.
Putney said he was aware of only one time in the past several months when an actual citation was given for someone violating the handbills ordinance. Most interactions, Putney said, end without a citation.
“We do this a lot, especially Uptown,” Putney said, referring to police officers’ interactions with citizens distributing handbills. “Nine times out of ten, we get compliance. People just give us their identification, they understand what they’re doing is outside of our laws and they move on. Sometimes when businesses will hire people to do that on their behalf, we’ll get the flier and find out what business it is and we actually send them a letter informing them they can’t do that. Again, nine times out of ten, we get compliance. Unfortunately, on Monday we did not.”
Turner’s actions, Putney said, signaled to Tropeano and others he would not be compliant with officers’ directions.
Said Putney: “Mr. Turner did not only refuse to give us an ID to the officers, he was screaming loudly trying to bring the crowd in so that they can see what was going on — which, in and of itself, is not an issue, but it did give us an indication that he was not going to be compliant.”
The confrontation between Turner and Tropeano, however, continued as another officer attempted to find the ordinance to show Turner.
“During the course of that conversation, Turner screams loudly,” Putney said. “At that point, Tropeano sees this is not going to be one of those instances that ends peacefully without some level of resistance. He decides he’ll need to detain Mr. Turner.”
Turner said it was the officers, particularly Tropeano, who were most aggressive, conflicting with CMPD’s version of the event.
Sharing his story at the morning press conference, Turner relayed new details about the events leading up to his arrest. He said he saw other cars already had fliers and handbills stuck to their windshields in the parking lot next to Marshall Park, where the NAACP and other groups were holding their Moral Monday Labor Day rally. Turner said he decided he would do the same, distributing a flier for a judicial candidate and another on voting rights information. Turner said he was unaware such distribution violated a city ordinance in question is a regulation prohibiting the distribution of handbills or other paper materials on vehicles.
Turner said officers approached him after he was almost done leafleting most cars in the parking lot. An officer asked him what he was doing and Turner explained. He alleges the officer then told him to stop and told him to retrieve every flier Turner had already distributed. Turner asked why and the officer told him it was against a local ordinance. At that point, Turner asked to see the ordinance, and that’s apparently when Tropeano became frustrated and an argument ensued.
In a video taken by Turner, Turner can be seen repeatedly stating he was asking a question and calmly asking a passerby to be a witness to the continuing confrontation. As the second officer attempts to find the ordinance, Tropeano is seen apparently attempting to grab Turner’s phone. Turner and Tropeano then begin to grapple.
“Get off of me… I don’t have to put my phone down,” Turner said.
The officer says, “Stop resisting.”
“Why am I resisting? I’m not putting my phone down,” Turner responds. “I asked the officer a question. Why are you putting me in cuffs?”
“You are being arrested,” the officer says.
A second video beginning from a distance shows Turner and officers struggling, apparently sometime after Turner’s video stops recording. Later in the video, several officers are seen talking to Turner, now handcuffed, as he attempts to explain the confrontation between him and Tropeano, who is standing off to the side.
A third video, filmed by a CMPD officer on the scene and released by CMPD Wednesday evening shows essentially the same struggle beginning roughly where Turner’s recording does. The CMPD video also shows further follow-up and conversation between Turner, officers and others gathered around the scene. In it, Turner is seen refusing to enter a police cruiser.
The leaders supporting Turner have also questioned why Turner wasn’t immediately taken to Mecklenburg County Jail. Turner says officers drove to three different locations before transporting him to the jail — including a stop next to dumpsters sitting behind the Actor’s Theatre on Stonewall St. Turner said he became scared when at one point officers asked him to exit the car. He refused to do so.
“This young man was secreted away behind a building, kept in an inhumanely hot car without the ability to lower the windows,” said Weary. “They never explained why they detained him so long and in such a way. There were times when no one knew where he was. Imagine the things that could have happened.”
Putney said officers first drove Turner across the street in an effort to de-escalate tensions among those gathered in the Marshall Park parking lot. Some of those individuals began following the police car and the decision was made to drive to a different location. Eventually, the decision was made to take him to the jail’s intake center.
It had been mistakenly reported Tuesday that Turner was never taken to the Mecklenburg County Jail. Despite the delay, Turner was eventually taken there, where Putney said it was he who decided to “un-arrest” Turner and instead cite him for violating the handbills ordinance. Other charges, including resisting, obstructing and delaying arrest were dropped from the citation.
“Given the context, this is not a crime we were going to continue to put a lot of effort into nor do we think at the end of the day this was something that was worth us escalating and creating such a big scene about,” Putney said. “So, we un-arrested him and we cited him because it was a violation of the city code and the officer did make the right decision on taking the corrective action. However, we felt the arrest was probably more than we really needed to do to handle that situation.”
Leaders at the press conference say Turner shouldn’t have been arrested and alleged it was Tropeano’s aggressive behavior which escalated tensions.
“Ty should never have been arrested and the officer had it within his power to de-escalate the situation,” said Dr. Peter Wherry, pastor of Mayfield Memorial Missionary Baptist Church, calling the incident an “egregious unchecked outbreak of state power.”
Michael Zytkow, a former Occupy Charlotte leader and one-time candidate for Charlotte City Council, told qnotes he and others have had repeated run-ins with Tropeano. During Occupy protests in 2012, Zytkow said the officer “selectively enforced” ordinances like jaywalking and littering and that the officer “targets individuals he thinks are vulnerable,” including “the homeless, women and people of color” — people, Zytkow alleges, the officer feels he can intimidate without consequence.
Turner has alleged that it was his request on Monday to see the ordinance which provided the initial spark which escalated Turner’s and Tropeano’s interaction.
Zytkow said a similar story played out between he and Tropeano during an Occupy meeting he and other organizers were having at CMPD’s police memorial on Trade St.
“That interaction with Ty Turner was nearly identical with my interaction in the past,” Zytkow said. “We were meeting beside the police memorial and he told us it was against the law to have public meetings at the memorial. I was trying to be really respectful of the fact that this, indeed, was a police memorial. We moved the meeting outside of it, but I was more frustrated by the manner in which he was telling people they would be arrested if they didn’t move.”
Tropeano, Zytkow said, became angry and frustrated by Zytkow’s questioning. It took speaking with another officer to quell the interaction.
“We had numerous interactions with him through the years — from Occupy to the DNC to that we saw recently,” Zytkow said of Tropeano. “It’s the same reoccurring theme over and over again. We’ve requested time and time again in the past for him not to be involved in these types of situations in terms of activism or protest situations becuase he quickly gets into shouting matches and, in my interactions with him, he likes to play on this whole fact of him being an office and him knowing the law and us not.”
CMPD Deputy Chief Putney, however, said he has seen “no pattern of behavior to believe [Tropeano] would be a problem.” He insisted that that Tropeano in no way violated the law.
Tropeano is not on administrative leave.
“He is not on administrative leave because we’re not, at this point, to the level where we believe some of our policies were actually violated. We don’t know that yet. Until we can get the details, we can’t determine that,” Putney said. “This is not something that’s a flagrant violation of policies. Do I think it’s a bit more assertive than we needed to be under the circumstances? Well, yeah. But, I think the problem here is … emotions overrode logic. So, I think that is what we’re trying to cipher through right now to see exactly how we will dispose of this.”
Putney said an internal investigation might still be initiated after CMPD finishes gathering information and undertaking fact-finding efforts. Putney said CMPD was happy to release their own video this afternoon and knows others might have taken cell phone videos as well. CMPD would like to see them, he said.
“There’s nothing here we’re trying to hide,” Putney said. “There’s no way that we’re going to run away from any of this.”
Time of anxiety
Other leaders at the press conference tied Turner’s arrest to larger issues of racial profiling and police misconduct and abuse, saying we’re living in a time when “anxiety is high everywhere,” said Charlotte NAACP President Rev. Kojo Nantambu. He and others cited instances like CMPD Officer Randall Kerrick’s shooting last September of the unarmed Jonathan Ferrell and recent events like that of Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, Mo.
“We know every police [officer] is not bad, but one officer forgetting his pledge to protect and defend is one too many,” Nantambu said. “When some of our officers misappropriate or misread their pledge and applies it improperly to one group and to another adversely or not at all to another there is a very serious problem in our community and our state.”
“It is irrational to have to have a march on police headquarters just to ensure those who are sworn to protect and serve do their job for the public rather than become people with guns and badges who harass, bully, intimidate, wrongfully arrest and sometimes kill unarmed black men,” Barber said, joining the conference by telephone and referencing the march about 30 Moral Monday Labor Day rally participants took to the county jail following Turner’s arrest. “Mr. Turner never should have been arrested. … Releasing him does not release us of the problem of racism and profiling being seen in far too many dangerous and deadly ways.”
Barber said that officers “must be fully investigated and removed when they engage in profiling and wrongful patterns of police misconduct.”
Turner, who is openly gay, was a candidate in this spring’s primary for the North Carolina Senate’s District 40 seat. He lost the primary race to lead opponent Joyce Waddell.
On Tuesday evening, Turner was appointed by county commissioners to the Mecklenburg County Domestic Violence Advisory Board.
Turner’s appointment was questioned later by Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James.
“I am not sure if this is just an isolated incident but it is troubling to vote for a candidate to serve on a board committee last night to represent the Board of Commissioners only to see that the day we appoint him he was arrested for violating the law,” James wrote in an email, relayed by The Charlotte Observer. “At one level it shows a lack of sophistication about how to get things done. At another level, if he is so supportive of civil disobedience why does he want to serve on a board which is clearly working ‘within the system’?”
James added, “Obviously he has the political bug, running for State Senate as a Democrat (but losing to Mr. Jackson I think). In any event, it is troubling that the candidate we select to represent us is a loose cannon.”