A letter from a New York-based civil rights group has urged North Charleston’s mayor and police chief to push for the completion and release of a federal review of the city's police force when they meet with Washington officials next week.
But Mayor Keith Summey and Police Chief Eddie Driggers have been largely silent about the issue since it emerged more than a month ago.
The Department of Justice analysis came at their request a year after a North Charleston officer fatally shot Walter Scott in 2015. It was designed to examine procedures and recommend changes to address longstanding concerns about policing.
But with the new presidential administration in Washington, the government shifted its focus away from critical assessments of police agencies, hoping to return oversight to locals.
The Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, announced in September that it no longer planned to release the North Charleston report that federal officials said was being finalized earlier this year. The office also rejected The Post and Courier's request for 601 pages of documents it had compiled so far.
But many locals and an increasing number of elected officials, including City Council members and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, have called for the records, arguing that an analysis of the police force would help guide reform initiatives.
Summey and Driggers are expected to meet Monday with COPS officials to discuss a new plan to get assistance from the office. City Council voted unanimously Thursday to pass a resolution allowing them to strike a new agreement.
Whether the plan will include any reform measures remains unknown.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, along with prominent civil rights activists in South Carolina, said in their letter that Summey and Driggers should stress the importance of federal findings “that can immediately be deployed to inform (North Charleston Police Department) practices.” The public also should be allowed to have input in the new measures, it said.
“Trust and transparency are key,” the letter said, “and North Charleston residents simply cannot be left out of police reform and public safety planning processes if the city is serious about finding a path forward.”
Attempts on Friday to reach Summey and his spokesman by cellphone and email were not successful. Driggers' spokesman also did not immediately respond.
The mayor and the police have not answered The Post and Courier's questions about the issue in at least four stories since mid-September.
For the past two months, Summey has also taken a pass at answering the newspaper's questions about other police-related topics in North Charleston, including a record-setting level of homicides this year and a state investigation into the racially charged blog Charleston Thug Life that named current and former employees.
North Charleston has attracted broad attention since Scott’s shooting death was captured on cellphone video in April 2015 during a nationwide discussion about how police use force against black people. Michael Slager, the officer who shot him after a struggle, pleaded guilty earlier this year to a civil rights crime and awaits sentencing.
Summey and Driggers asked the Justice Department to come up with suggested changes for the police force. Implementing them would be voluntary, but the initiative brought hope to residents who had long derided minor traffic stops as unfairly affecting poor, black neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, the list of officials calling for the release of federal documents related to the inquiry is growing.
Earlier this week, Councilwoman Virginia Jamison said she would seek the release because of the investment residents had made in the process. It was “painful” to hear citizens tell federal authorities during community forums about their experiences with the police, she said.
“This is needed for our city to move forward,” she said. “Quality time of our citizens was spent giving information.”
But Councilman Ron Brinson, an ally of Summey's, said this week that it was still unclear whether the COPS office had drafted any report. It’s possible, he said, that the existing documents consist of information gathered from the Police Department, devoid of any analysis.
If there is a report, he said, it should be disclosed. Summey would agree, Brinson said.
“I have seen Mayor Summey working earnestly to get the COPS project work-in-progress documents released,” Brinson said. “He has responded to the calls from council and the (Citizens' Advisory Commission on Community-Police Relations) to try to get whatever work product there might be.”
Keon Rhodan, chairman of the advisory panel that formed after Scott's death, said the mayor had responded to the group's call for the review.
"Hopefully, they will be able to get the 600-something pages that (federal officials) have," he said of Summey and Driggers. "Hopefully."