Pasquotank commissioners approved a Peace Initiative earlier this week that will include forming a Citizen’s Advisory Council to review allegations of misconduct by the Sheriff’s Office, among other duties.
The move comes almost five months after Andrew Brown Jr. was shot and killed by three Pasquotank sheriff’s deputies as they executed a drug-related search warrant at his residence in the city on April 21.
A month later, District Attorney Andrew Womble announced that after receiving the State Bureau of Investigation’s report on Brown’s shooting that the three deputies would not face criminal charges.
The Citizen’s Advisory Council, or CAC, is one of three parts of what the county is referring to as its Peace Initiative. The other two parts will include hiring the non-profit, Arizona-based Police2Peace organization to conduct “micro community listening sessions” and to rebrand Sheriff’s Office employees as “peace officers.”
Commissioners voted to pay Peace2Police up to $50,000 for the listening sessions and rebranding.
Commissioner Jonathan Meads opposed the measure during a Finance Committee meeting earlier Monday, citing concerns on who would be appointed to the CAC.
“We want to do something to move our community forward,” County Manager Sparty Hammett told commissioners.
The first step will be forming a task force that will be charged with organizing the CAC.
Hammett will organize the task force because Sheriff Tommy Wooten has indicated he does not want to be a part of forming the council. Once formed, Wooten said he will not attend meetings unless specifically asked to do so by the CAC.
“(Wooten) has asked me to take the lead,” Hammett said. “I will pull together a task force.”
The task force will include Pasquotank NAACP President Keith Rivers and Sheriff’s Office Assistant Chief Deputy Major Aaron Wallio, Hammett said.
“Other than that, we need to decide how we move that forward,” Hammett said of the task force.
The CAC will be modeled after a similar council in Richland County, S.C. Hammett and Wooten recently met with Richland Sheriff Leon Lott to discuss the council that Lott formed 25 years ago.
Hammett said the task force will look to set up a diverse CAC that is representative of Pasquotank. He noted that Richland County has an attorney and a criminal justice professor on its council.
“You want to have it balanced racially,” Hammett said. “You want to have some young people, some old people.”
Wooten said the CAC will only be successful if it is diverse and represents the county as a whole. He said he campaigned in 2018 on having the community involved in the Sheriff’s Office and that the department held more than 60 community events in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You can’t have an entire council of just people who absolutely support law enforcement,” Wooten said. “You have to have some people who are going to give a little pushback so you have that mix of different opinions on this council. You need to have that feedback that you may not want to hear but you need to hear.”
Richland’s CAC has 26 members but Hammett indicated the county council will probably have fewer members. Richland has a population of 416,000 people.
“Richland County probably has, if not the best, one of the best out there,” Hammett said.
Wooten said the meeting with Lott was informative and productive.
“(Lott) has community members come in and out of the sheriff’s office that are on his council, they are a part of the office,” Wooten said.
Meads voted against the initiative because of concerns about the makeup of the CAC after hearing names of some of the people who could be on the council. He noted that he supported the other two parts of the initiative.
“I heard some names floating out there,’’ Meads said. “That concerns me very much because of the rhetoric some of these citizens and some of these people have. I’m not for that part of Police2Peace. I have not got the answers on who is going to be on this Citizen’s Advisory Board.”
The Police2Peace listening sessions will involve county groups, organizations and community members.
“Once all of the micro community listening sessions are complete then recommendations for action would be developed to introduce and implement innovations to address issues uncovered,” Hammett said.
Police2Peace Executive Director Lisa Broderick said the listening sessions are designed to make sure all voices in the county are heard.
“It’s a deeper form of listening in order to uncover community issues and concerns related to policing and public safety with the intent of delivering recommendations back to the county” Broderick said. “We can provide national resources for locally-led efforts.”
The rebranding effort will include placing the word “peace officer” on sheriff’s deputies’ patrol cars and uniforms.