GCSO Citizen’s Advisory Board wants to expand visibility

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A controversial body camera video of a man being arrested is raising questions over excessive force by Greenville County Sheriff’s Office deputies.  

Curtis Forney was arrested on May 8 after deputies were called to a home for a domestic disturbance. He claimed officers used excessive force, but the Sheriff’s Office found no fault with the arrest. 

Last year, suspended Sheriff Will Lewis created a Citizen’s Advisory Board, CAB, to create more transparency within the Sheriff’s Office. 

The idea for the board began with a group of pastors and community activists approaching Lewis while he was still campaigning for Sheriff. He made the promise to create the board and followed through with it once he was in office. However, in the year that it’s been in existence, it hasn’t worked quite as it was promoted. 

When it was created, the board consisted of 24 members and three alternates. At the time, the Sheriff’s Office said the board was supposed to create open communication and dialogue with members of the community. Now, only about half of those members actively serve on the board which meets monthly. 

“I think the intention was that we could help assure the community, if you will, that we are paying attention to what’s going on,” said board member Pastor Curtis Johnson. 

The board has no disciplinary authority. The board used to be a part of the hiring and promotion process for deputies. However, Sheriff Johnny Mack Brown removed board members from the promotion process. 

Johnson says they have reviewed some cases like the deputy-involved shooting of Jermaine Massey.  

“We’ve asked questions, we’ve challenged them on some things, and in some matters, they’ve actually recanted their decision,” Johnson said. 

However, a few members said they had never seen the Forney video. In fact, out of the seven excessive force cases so far this year, the board didn’t know about any of them. 

“They have not automatically brought information to us,” Johnson said. “When we’ve requested it, they’ve made it available.”

Currently, the board’s meetings aren’t open to the public because they say they discuss confidential information. In some cases, they even have to sign non-disclosure forms. However, the Sheriff’s Office says they will look into making some of the meetings public. 

7News reached out to the Greenville Police Department’s Citizen’s Advisory Board. They operate in a similar fashion as the county’s board. While their meetings are open to the public, citizen complaints are not automatically brought to their attention. The person filing the complaint has to know going to the board is an option, and any complaint made against the city’s police department can go through City Hall instead of the Law Enforcement Center.  

Community members say they’d like to see the county’s board have more authority and oversight.  

“That’s one thing we need to change right there is the fact that they have no true teeth, so what’s the point in having it,” community activist, Bruce Wilson said. 

The board says they’re working on creating a more transparent nature. 

“We do intend to make our presence more visible to the community because that’s why we’re there,” Johnson said. “We’re not there to accommodate, if you will, or rubber stamp every decision that’s made by the Sheriff’s Office. We want to work with them, but again, our purpose is to cultivate a culture of mutual respect between law enforcement and community.”

Currently, the board has to request information. But, they say if information is brought to them, they ensure the community that they will respond to it. They’ve already requested the Forney video be added to their agenda for their August meeting. 

They’re also working to obtain a number that goes directly to the board that the community can utilize. Right now, if anyone has a complaint they should call Capt. Darius Hall at 864-444-1491. He will be acting as a liaison between the community, board, and Sheriff’s Office. 

Capt. Hall encourages citizens to file any complaints with the Office of Professional Standards first to begin the complaint process if any charges are going to be filed. 
 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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