NAACP president, pastors call for change in Salisbury Police

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The president of the Salisbury-Rowan NAACP and two pastors called Tuesday for changes at the Salisbury Police Department.
The NAACP’s Scott Teamer addressed a small group of reporters at a press conference at Cornerstone Church Tuesday morning. He was joined by a few local pastors, church supporters and local attorney David Shelby.
Teamer repeated his call for Chief Rory Collins to resign.
Bill Godair, pastor of Cornerstone, said he wasn’t asking for the chief’s resignation but did want to see some things change within the department.
Collins, who did not attend the press conference, said in a statement that his department is “committed to serving our community to the best of its ability and in the most professional manner possible.” Anyone who has a specific complaint should contact his office, the chief said.
Godair said he was stopped in February 2013 by a Salisbury Police officer who he said used an aggressive tone. Godair admitted he was speeding when he was stopped. He said he had a toothpick in his mouth and flicked it out the window rather than talk to the officer with it still in his mouth. The officer was accusatory in his tone when he asked Godair what he threw out the window, Godair said.
He said he wrote a letter to Mayor Paul Woodson and city council member Karen Alexander a month ago, but the matter was never addressed. Godair said Alexander sent him a “thank you” for writing. Woodson initially told a Post reporter he had not seen the email, but upon searching later, he found it.
Godair said the police chief told him he was not aware the incident occurred and never knew Godair had written to complain about his mistreatment.
Godair went on to say the reason he came forward was to shed some light on what’s happening. He said if it happened to him then it could be happening to others.
Bradley Taylor, pastor of Outreach Christian Ministries, said he too had an incident involving a Salisbury Police officer where he felt the officer was aggressive.
He said he was leaving his church and was stopped for an expired registration on his license plate. Three more police officers arrived at the scene, he said.
Taylor said he told the officer he would take care of the matter on Monday since it was the weekend. He said the officer was very demeaning in his treatment of him, making it known the “conversation would be not over until the officer was ready for it to be over.”
Taylor echoed Godair’s sentiments, saying he felt there needed to be some change. Taylor suggested officers undergo some type of training or have some sense of awareness of how they are treating people.
Both Taylor and Godair said the answer isn’t just in the resignation of chief Collins, but in a change in the way officers conduct themselves.
Also present at the press conference were Cornerstone members who reportedly have complained of police mistreatment, though they did not speak Tuesday morning. Teamer said the NAACP had proof they had been “disrespected.” He declined to provide proof when a reporter asked that a DVD copy of this evidence be made available.
Teamer alluded to lawsuits that would be filed by some who were in attendance. A Post reporter did not see any court filings from those in attendance against the police department or the city.
Teamer has also called for the creation of a citizen review board. Officials have said in order to get a citizens review board a change would have to come from the N.C. General Assembly.
Teamer said he believed the General Assembly would not deny the citizens an opportunity to form a review board.
“We don’t hold the officers accountable, we hold leadership accountable,” Teamer said following the press conference.
He said accountability lies with the city council and department heads.
Teamer said the culture of the department needs to change and it starts with leadership.
Godair said during the press conference that five families in his church had also suffered mistreatment by police officers.
Teamer said if Collins does not resign the NAACP will protest. Teamer said neither he nor the NAACP wants to see what’s happening in Ferguson, Mo., happen in Salisbury. A week ago an unarmed 18-year-old teen was shot multiple times by a police officer.
Godair said when he was pulled over last year, one officer responded, but when Taylor, who is African American, was pulled over, multiple officers responded.
Godair said he’d encourage others who may have had encounters with police officers to speak to someone they trust like their clergy.
Taylor added the church can be an influence in the community and clergy could talk to parishioners about how to deal with law enforcement in the event they are stopped.
“We have to restore the voice of the community,” Taylor said.
Dr. C.L. Phelps, pastor of Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church, said he’d love to see cooperation from the city council, the mayor and citizens “so that we all can work together.”
“We expect respect out of our police officials in the line of their duties,” Phelps said.
Tommy Hairston Sr., director of Hairston Funeral Home, said he was at the press conference to show support for the NAACP. Hairston said he appreciates that Teamer spoke of different situations “that are true.”
“The only way to alleviate it is every one be united,” he said.
He said city council has to “step up and do their part as it pertains to the city of Salisbury and the police department.”
Hairston also said he was in favor of the city establishing an independent citizens review board.
Collins said he was aware of the press conference in which Godair and the NAACP discussed concerns with respect to complaints of excessive force and misconduct on the part of the police department.
“Unfortunately, due to the nature of our work, it is not uncommon for folks to file complaints against police officers. The police department takes these complaints seriously and investigates 100 percent of them,” Collins said.
Mayor Woodson said he hasn’t personally received any complaints about Collins or the police department, but he does get complaints all the time that generally relate to overgrown grass or speeding tickets.
When asked how he’d restore the citizens’ faith in the police and the department, Woodson did not answer the question, but instead said he gets very few complaints about chief Collins and was surprised Tuesday following the press conference. He added would encourage Collins to attend more community events.
Woodson did note he saw Collins at recent meetings in the West End community and during the National Night Out events earlier this month.
Woodson said he’d spoken with Godair late Tuesday night and assured Godair he could send complaints to him via phone and those complaints would be directed to Interim City Manager John Sofley and Collins.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.