'Just release the footage:' Akron leaders criticize delayed release of videos in forceful arrest
Akron elected officials and Black leaders called on city administrators and police to "just release the footage" ahead of a hastily scheduled news conference Thursday about allegations a man was mistreated during his arrest.
The call came after two days of news stories about the forceful arrest of Charles Hicks II on Feb. 7. Hicks, 26, alleged Wednesday through his attorney, Eddie Sipplen, that Akron Police officer John Turnure used a knee to pin his neck while suffocating him with snow.
Police say footage shared during the news conference shows Turnure's shin — not his knee — pinning Hicks' shoulder, not his neck.
The footage shows an officer identified by supervisors as Turnure repeatedly shoving snow into Hicks' open mouth. Afterward, Hicks says, "I really can't breathe."
Hicks did not comply with officers; the footage released during the news conference did not show his initial interaction with police.
Ward 5 Councilwoman Tara Samples called the news conference "damage control."
"The bottom line is, just release the footage," she said Thursday morning, before the press conference was scheduled.
"The allegations made by Mr. Hicks are deeply disturbing, especially in light of the officer's resignation," Ward 8 Councilman Shammas Malik said Thursday morning. "We all need to see the body camera footage immediately."
Of the 10 ward representatives on City Council, Malik and Samples were the only to respond to the Beacon Journal before the 2 p.m. news conference was communicated to media at 11:42 a.m. Media had a little more than an hour to RSVP for the conference. Ward 1 Councilman Rich Swirsky, who is on leave with cancer, also responded around the time of the news conference to agree that the footage needs released. (A previous version of this story said all 13 council members were surveyed. That's incorrect. In error, a reporter did not send the survey to the three at-large members.)
The entire episode, from the use of force investigationcoming to light to the delayed release of the body camera footage, unfolded this week as Mayor Dan Horrigan's Racial Equity and Social Justice Taskforce continues to discuss ways to increase transparency, accountability and equity in policing to improve community trust.
Police auditor, task force
Ahead of the news conference, Police Auditor Phil Young told the Beacon Journal that he knew less than the media about the incident. He had yet to receive the body camera footage or a standard report generated whenever an officer uses force against a civilian.
“Basically I don’t know anything at all about this case," said Young, who vaguely heard details a week ago by word of mouth. "And that’s why we’re going through the reform meetings. ... It’s the same thing if someone filed a complaint with the police department and not me, I wouldn’t know about that complaint unless they called me or when that complaint was completed and they would give me the completed case. That’s when I would find out about it."
The mayor's task force has recommended Young be given more timely access to footage, which he said he sometimes must fight to get, and more immediate notification of citizen complaints and police use-of-force cases.
When asked by a reporter why Young didn't receive the body-worn camera footage or any information pertaining to the investigation, Annie McFadden, the mayor's chief of staff, responded by asking whether any civilian complained to the auditor about the case.
A civilian complaint to Young about police actions would "trigger the conversation" with the auditor, she said.
In November, 89% of Akron voters passed a charter amendment calling on City Council to legislate the "prompt release" of police footage in cases of serious bodily harm or death.
"The people voted on that and there’s no reason to not release the bodycam footage," said the Rev. Ray Greene Jr., executive director of the Freedom BLOC and a leader in the Black community.
"We released it in the young guy’s situation where they shot the young man because they believed he had a gun," said Greene, referring to footage that police say exonerated the January 2020 shooting of 19-year-old Elijah Cade, who officers said was unarmed but taking a shooting stance. "They released it to show that they were not at fault, against the policy. At that time, the policy stated that the body camera shouldn’t be released … until after the investigation. They released it before the investigation was over. They could release it with this investigation.”
At least 10 officers responded for Hicks' arrest. Acting Police Chief Mike Caprez showed body camera footage from two of the officers during the news conference. The other videos were made available to the media more than three hours after the news conference was picked up live by television news stations.
Caprez said the arrest was "textbook" until Turnure shoved snow three times into Hick's mouth as the man laid face-down on the ground.
Turnure resigned March 31 after more than 10 years of service.
"Bottom line, the APD internal review process does work," Caprez said. "What you're seeing today is proof of that."
Mayor Horrigan spoke briefly to acknowledge the officer's behavior and squash any rumor that an officer's knee was placed on a suspect's neck in the same fashion that took George Floyd's life in May. Floyd's death ignited a summer of national protests that inspired Akron City Council and the mayor to convene a Racial Equity and Social Justice Taskforce.
“Having watched the video a number of times, in that protection and in that role of serving our residents, we disrespected a citizen, and for that I apologize," Horrigan said. "I acknowledge that some of our residents are going to be outraged ….”
Council President Margo Sommerville said the voter-passed charter amendment to release bodycam footage is still being devised with help from city attorneys and police, and will be introduced in June.
Samples said she'd like to see the legislation at the next council meeting on Monday.
The mayor's task force is crafting "the rules and responsibilities" of the auditor, said McFadden, the chief of staff. Per a recommendation from the task force, the 2021 city budget gives Young a full-time assistant and 40-hour work week.
The task force also is determining what information the auditor should be able to access, McFadden said.
Akron NAACP President Judi Hill said the case "will help the Racial Equity [and Social Justice] Task Force members refine the work that we’re going to be doing because of the gaps and the holes we see in this case, will help us as we move forward."
“It’s good that it came out, whatever happens with the case," she said. “It will help us to define the work of the police auditor much more clearly and make it so that we don’t have these kinds of gaps. But until these cases come out, we don’t even know where the gaps are."
Young said there's currently no legal obligation for police to notify him of an internal investigation.
"[S]ometimes there might be information that someone has called me and complained about a certain officer or a certain thing that I might be able to add, but right now, you know more about this case than I do," Young said.
Reach reporter Doug Livingston at email@example.com or 330-996-3792 and reporter Seyma Bayram at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3327 or on Twitter @SeymaBayram0.