Police chief hears community concerns

Friday, July 19th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Police brutality has gone unchecked in Oklahoma City and Police Department policies need to change, leaders of the black community said Thursday.

During an often contentious gathering at a local Baptist church, police Chief M.T. Berry met with clergy, members of the local NAACP, and about 400 citizens to discuss police brutality in the city.

``We are not anti-police. We will not engage in police bashing,'' said the Rev. J.A. Reed Jr., of Fairview Baptist Church. ``However, as leaders of our community we must hold our law enforcement personnel accountable for their actions.''

The meeting came almost week after the controversial arrest of Donald Pete, who was hit with nightsticks by two white police officers as they tried to arrest him. The arrest was caught on videotape and has been aired nationally.

The meeting was also the first time Berry, who is black, has answered to public outcry against the arrest.

A mostly black audience peppered Berry with questions about police policy, relaying stories of minors being pulled over and held at gunpoint on routine traffic stops or other incidents of alleged police misconduct.

Berry urged audience members to file written complaints.

``I too believe in accountability,'' he said. ``We are against police brutality. We will not tolerate it and we will not stand for it.''

Clergy met with Berry earlier this week and outlined five proposed changes to the department's policy.

The group wants immediate disciplinary action for the two officers involved, departmental policy changes, the creation of a citizens oversight committee, more communication among officers and community leaders, and prosecution of the officers.

In California, two white officers caught on video slamming a black teen-ager against a police squad car and punching the boy were indicted Wednesday on criminal charges of assault and falsifying police reports. Both officers have pleaded innocent.

Berry said an investigation into Pete's arrest is ongoing and it is unclear whether criminal charges will be filed against the officers, Greg Driskill and E.J. Dyer.

``There is a criminal investigation into this,'' Berry said. ``I called the FBI and the results of our internal investigation will be turned over to the district attorney.''

Berry said the department has not determined if the officers were using proper force. Both officers are on restrictive duty. The FBI is reviewing the case for possible civil rights violations.

The July 8 arrest was caught on videotape by a self described ``video vigilante,'' who had been taping lewd acts in southern Oklahoma City in effort to curb prostitution in the neighborhood.

Pete has been charged with resisting arrest, destruction of evidence, drug possession and engaging in a lewd act.