The Virginia Citizen’s Defense League has received an official response from Chief Skinner, and they’re not at all happy with the results. I can’t blame them. This investigation has been a whitewash, obvious evidence of police misconduct has been ignored, and about the only thing that the department seems to be interested in is filtering foul language from it’s email system so the next time they’re caught doing something stupid there won’t be grossly unprofessional language to further inflame the situation.
First, here’s the response of Chief Skinner to one of the citizens who filed an official complaint reporting on the outcome of the Police Department’s investigation of the Police Department:
Dear Mr Troxel,
The purpose of this letter is to inform you of the police department’s findings concerning an internal investigation into your complaint regarding an incident at Tony’s Restaurant, 9108 Mathis Avenue, on the evening of January 13, 2007, You alleged misconduct and unprofessional behavior by several officers during and after responding to a citizen initiated complaint about six (6) subjects (non-law enforcement) openly wearing firearms in the restaurant (It was later determined there were seven (7) individuals in the armed group).
I will respond to the various issues raised in summary form as follows:
The officers were confused about the Virginia Code regarding “open carry” of firearms in an establishment licensed to sell and serve alcoholic beverages.
The investigation confirmed that the initial responding officer was unfamiliar and confused about the law(s) pertaining to “open carry” in Virginia, The officer suggested the group put the guns in their cars to lessen the impact on other patrons in the restaurant. The group objected, as there is no obligation by law to do so. This resulted in additional miscommunications and further frustrated the officer’s ability to effectively resolve the complaint.
The investigation also determined that a second,more senior, responding officer realized the developing confusion and interceded on behalf of the initial officer to clarify that “open carry” is permissible by law. This officer was more effective in communicating to all parties on the scene. According to Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) records, the call was handled and all officers left the scene in six (6) to nine (9) minutes.
The officers exceeded their authority by unduly persuading (forcing) the owner(s) of Tony’s to ask the group openly wearing firearms to leave the restaurant.
The investigation determined the owner was not coached or persuaded one way or another by the police concerning the presence of the group. The owner(s) confirmed they had received several complaints from concerned customers and that only one officer explained their property rights(options) to them. The owner(s) stated it was their independent decision to ultimately ask the group to leave because they felt it was bad for business. This was reemphasized again in a recorded television interview with NBC News Channel 4 on February 26th with Tony’s manager,Joe D’Agostino. A copy of the taped interview was obtained from NBC News 4 for the investigation.
The responding officers did not act with the appropriate demeanor, were hostile, loud and antagonistic.
The investigation concluded, as stated earlier, that the initial responding officer was confused and became frustrated and ineffective in resolving the complaint. Interviews with the owners and other independent witnesses(patrons) sitting a few feet away stated they were able to hear occasional words of the on going discussion between the police and the group. Uninvolved,independent witnesses heard no inappropriate,loud, hostile or antagonistic conduct by police at the scene and were in a position to do so. Witnesses did state that the interaction was non-confrontational and involved no profanity or derogatory comments.
The police response to the initial complaint was excessive.
The investigation concluded the response was not excessive and was deliberate given the preliminary information and number of non-law enforcement armed persons involved in the call. Officer safety is a paramount law enforcement concern when responding to and engaging armed persons under any circumstances and was responded to accordingly. It is very difficult to exactly quantify how many(or how few) officers are required to handle each type of call. In this case, it did not require this number of officers; however, this was not known until after the officers arrived on the scene. I would note again that all officers left the scene in six (6) to nine (9) minutes which is a very reasonable time frame with in which to conclude this type of complaint resolution.
There was a failure to properly supervise officers on the scene.
There is no evidence to support this allegation. The sustained violations took place outside of the supervisor’s immediate control. The supervisor arrived at the scene after the initial officer’s ineffective attempt to respond to the original complaint. Likewise, the electronic messaging occurred after she and all units had left the scene and she had no knowledge of the text messaging. Additionally,she identified herself to certain member(s) of the armed group as the on-duty supervisor asking any of them if they would like to talk to the supervisor. No one indicated an interest to do so and she also left the scene.
There were inappropriate comments in electronic messaging about the armed group and the Virginia Citizens Defense League following resolution of the initial call at the restaurant.
The investigation confirmed that some officers inappropriately made disrespectful, vulgar or unprofessional comments expressing their opinion of the armed individuals involved in the earlier call and their formal organization, the Virginia Citizens Defense League. This is unacceptable and a clear violation of the City’s computer policy concerning the use of electronic messaging. In addition, it is a discredit to the Department reflecting poorly on our professional standing and reputation and is in violation of our Code of Conduct.
As Chief of Police, I extend my personal apology to you and each of the group involved and to the Virginia Citizens Defense League. Conduct of this nature is not condoned and will not be tolerated. I will issue appropriate negative discipline in accordance with City policy. In addition, I will direct several actions related to remedial training concerning the Concealed Carry laws as well as the Open Carry laws contained in the State Code. Remedial training will include a review of the City’s Electronic Communications Policy.
Lastly, our random auditing of electronic messaging will be enhanced. It is my belief there will not be any similar future recurrence.
Regarding my apology, I have taken the liberty of forwarding a copy of this letter to Mr. Philip Van Cleave, President,Virginia Citizens Defense League.
A. The investigation found no evidence to substantiate that the initial responding officer suggested that members of the armed group conceal their weapons, thereby placing them in violation of the law, The initial responding officer did suggest the group put the guns in their cars to lessen the impact on other patrons in the restaurant in an attempt to resolve the complaint. This request, which was objected to, was deemed consensual, appropriate and reasonable and would not have created any conflict with the State Code regarding carrying concealed weapons; once objected to, the officer did not pursue further.
B. The investigation determined that officer(s) declined to accept literature from member(s) of the group, however, the officer(s) are not obligated to receive literature from individuals and this issue is solely at the officer’s discretion;
C. It was concluded that it was appropriate for an officer to suggest the armed group voluntarily leave the restaurant. This was a suggestion made in the spirit of diffusing the situation and resolving the complaint. It was a reasonable consensual request that was declined by the group without further discussion.
D. Further,the investigation confirmed that the initial responding officer had asked for identification from the armed group, actually in the form of badges/credentials because he believed they were law enforcement officers. This is a legitimate initial request which was not pursued further by the officer once members of the group objected to being required to provide identification upon request. Again, it should be noted that an independent witness who was seated within earshot of this exchange described it as nonconfrontational and nonadversarial.
In closing, I want to assure you, other members of the armed group, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, and our fine community that the Manassas Police Department is a professional agency with men and women of high integrity. committed to providing quality police services. We regret this negative incident and will work diligently to maintain the high levels of community confidence the department enjoys, have taken the necessary steps to address this matter as well as initiated actions to preclude any future reoccurrence and trust this experience will make us a better agency.
If you have further questions, please feel free to call me directly at (703)257-8001.
John J. Skinner
Chief of Police
This letter is ludicrous. An officer is “confused and frustrated” and as a result abuses citizens, and it’s not a violation of department policy? In an email to fellow officers Thompson, Hittle, Hyland, Sutton and Pannel, Officer Clodfelter admitted that they coerced the business owner into kicking out these citizens. But Chief Skinner conveniently ignores this evidence from his own officers and instead focuses on the shocking language while ignoring the content. Similarly the Chief believes that no abusive or threatening language was used by the police towards these citizens despite eyewitness accounts and the content of the emails subsequently exchanged by these officers relating the events. And while the Chief describes this as a potentially dangerous incident that warranted a substantial number of units to be dispatched in order to harass a bunch of guys peacefully eating a meal, it wasn’t dangerous enough for Officer Hyland to wait for backup to arrive before charging into the restaurant. Similarly Officer Pannell, acting as the onsite supervisor, was anything but an approachable higher authority which to appeal for assistance, but an active participant in the wrongful behavior the citizens were subjected to.
The additional issues noted in the letter contends that the officer did not ask the citizens to illegally conceal their firearms, which the citizens vigorously dispute. This officer, who admittedly did not know the law regarding open carry, and later had to be educated by Officer Clodfelter, couldn’t possibly have demonstrated his incompetence on this point of law, and seven citizens are apparently lying about this? And since when it policy that Police Officers begin their conversations with citizens by asking them for their law enforcement credentials? This isn’t an investigation, it’s a whitewash.
VCDL President Philip Van Cleave summarized the letter like this:
The main thing the police did wrong was to be stupid enough leave a ‘paper trail’ of their abuse of those seven gun owners.
The officers were wrong to use abusive language in referring to VCDL and the seven gun owners. However, the only foul language was in the emails. Contrary to statements from the seven gun owners, the officers used no foul or derogatory language while talking to the gun owners.
Other than those things documented by the officer’s email, the seven gun owners, who have excellent credentials and some probably better than the Manassas Police Chief, were all lying and the police officers were all telling the truth.
The Chief will punish the officers for making those offensive and incriminating emails and will see that future incriminating emails are not made. (That way the police can more easily deny and whitewash future abuses of power.)
On April 9th, VCDL will be back at the Manassas City Council Chambers, and until this is properly resolved, I’m pretty sure they’re going to keep coming back. While many folks are not going to be happy that we have to keep trudging through this issue, in the long run it will definitely improve the city of Manassas to ensure that incidents like this will be fairly handled and that the police department will be interested in improving the quality of the force rather than playing CYA every time the warts get shown.
UPDATE: It looks like VCDL members will attend the April 23rd meeting instead.
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