Members of a Macon City Council committee called Monday afternoon for all city police to be equipped with Tasers, hoping to prevent a repetition of the Dec. 21 fatal shooting of an unarmed man at the Kroger store on Pio Nono Avenue.
Police Capt. Jimmy Barbee came before the Public Safety Committee to talk about the departments early-warning discipline system for problem officers, but talk quickly turned to the Dec. 21 incident in which Officer Clayton Sutton shot Sammie Davis Jr. three times in the chest.
A shooting board to review the incident may take several more weeks or even months to convene, Barbee said, and Chief Mike Burns probably hasnt decided whether a non-police officer will serve on that board. If there is a representative of average citizens, that person still wouldnt vote, Barbee told council members.
Council President James Timley asked whether officers are regularly given training in the use of nonlethal weapons such as Tasers.
Nobody on the police department carries a Taser unless theyre on the SWAT team, Barbee replied. We have 17 members on the SWAT team. Thats all the Tasers we have.
That drew a surprised reaction from Councilman Henry Gibson, a retired police captain himself. He suggested that Taser use and training might have prevented Davis death.
Why hasnt that been put in the police department budget? We wouldnt be in this predicament today, Gibson said.
In the last year, the department has gotten council approval to buy new cars, computers and fingerprint scanners, so surely some of that could have been redirected to buy Tasers, he said.
Barbee and council members also clashed on the makeup of disciplinary review boards. Gibson and Councilman Charles Jones argued that having only other officers vote on whether complaints warranted discipline undermines public trust in the boards fairness.
Gibson agreed. When you have a disciplinary board that is made up of fellow officers -- I mean, be for real, Gibson said, scoffing at the idea. Do you think the public is stupid enough to believe that you are going to get a fair shake from your fellow officers deciding your fate?
Barbee argued that 90 percent of the time its the worst of the worst filing complaints against officers. Gibson said who files a complaint shouldnt affect who investigates it, and said his own experience told him that officers were too close to the situation to fairly investigate their own.
35 years, and I ... Gibson began.
42 years, and youre wrong! Barbee shot back, referring to his own length of service, as Chairman Virgil Watkins gaveled for order.
Merritt Johnson, president of the Bellevue Concerned Citizens Community Organization, came to say he agreed with Jones and Gibson. Officers should all carry nonlethal weapons, and ordinary citizens should be voting members on boards reviewing police discipline and use of force, Johnson said.
The community is extremely, extremely concerned about the results of the happenings at Kroger grocery store, he said.
Terminal Station contract
The Public Properties Committee approved leasing the Terminal Station to Macon Transit Authority for 15 years -- but removed a clause allowing the transit authority to buy the building for $1 at the end of that time.
The contract, revised from an earlier version that set a longer term, previously failed to pass committee. This time it passed 5-0 after the purchase option was cut.
Councilman Lonnie Miley proposed removing that provision, and was backed by Councilwoman Elaine Lucas and Councilman Frank Tompkins. Committee Chairman Rick Hutto and Councilman Ed DeFore voted against removing the purchase option.
After the meeting, Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said the Federal Transit Administration may not approve of the contract without the purchase option.
Unless the transit authority has a substantial ownership interest in the building, the FTA probably wouldnt let any of its subsidy dollars go to building improvements, he said. Reichert hopes council will reinstate the purchase option before a final vote Tuesday night.
Lucas asked whether Jones still planned to get part of Elm Street renamed for the Rev. Jacob Parker, longtime pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church at 777 Elm St.
Jones wasnt in the Public Properties meeting, but Hutto said hed asked Jones about that two hours earlier. Jones told him that he had no plans to bring it up right now, but might change his mind.
Jones raised the idea in July, but in October it failed to get a full council vote. Martha Evans Grant told council then that she and her family own several properties along Elm and opposed the renaming.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.