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HPCAC releases report on HPD protest response to City Council, makes recommendations

Published on April 22, 2021

The Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council (HPCAC) presented its final report on the Huntsville Police Department’s response to 2020 protests at Thursday’s City Council meeting.

The report was the culmination of 10 months of fact-finding, public meetings and interviews concerning events from May 30-June 5, 2020, in downtown Huntsville.

In summary, the HPCAC addressed appropriate use of chemical agents, use of rubber bullets and the appearance of snipers by other law enforcement agencies, communication between the multiple law enforcement agencies that were present, communication with the protestor organizations and community, and interagency collaboration in processing actionable intelligence.

The HPCAC recommendations included more officer training, especially for protest events in which police are the subject of the protest, and better communication and clearer roles of engagement between law enforcement agencies and protest organizers.

Attorney Elizabeth H. Huntley of Lightfoot, Franklin & White, LLC, presents the Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council report on the 2020 protests to the Huntsville City Council on Thursday, April 22, 2021.
Attorney Elizabeth H. Huntley of Lightfoot, Franklin & White, LLC, presents the Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council report on the 2020 protests to the Huntsville City Council on Thursday, April 22, 2021.

Mayor Tommy Battle believes the report will influence HPD’s officer training program, shape and strengthen current policies and lead to positive communications between HPD, City leadership and citizens.

“I am grateful to this group of volunteers for the many hours they dedicated to reviewing the incidents that occurred in Huntsville last June. The findings of the Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council have provided us with an informed and independent look at the events in downtown Huntsville,” the Mayor said. “Chief Mark McMurray and I will sit down and spend some time with the review, process the information and look at opportunities for continued improvement. As with past findings from this advisory council, we will use the report to help us provide the best public safety for our community.”

The Council will hold a work session at 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 28, to further discuss the HPCAC findings. There will be no public comments at the meeting.

To view the HPCAC report, visit huntsvillepolicereview.com

For the City’s response to the independent counsel report, click here.

The process

The City Council passed a resolution on June 25, 2020, charging the HPCAC to conduct an independent, thorough review of the protests and HPD’s response. The 10-month process formally began in July and concluded with the presentation of the report to the Council.

“This report is very thorough and accurately depicts the information we gathered over 10 months,” said Elizabeth Huntley, a member of the HPCAC’s independent counsel. “It’s what the City asked us to do so the City can learn and move forward.”

Following the Council resolution, the 10-member HPCAC hired Huntley and Jack Sharman from the Birmingham-based law firm, Lightfoot, Franklin & White, LLC, to lead the investigation. Huntley said they began working with the HPCAC in July, with community listening sessions starting in August.

Vicki Guerrieri, who chairs the HPCAC, said an online form was made available to the public and sought information about the protests and HPD response. More than 600 comments came from the form, and the group also received 200 emails. Through an online portal on the HPCAC’s website, residents could also upload photos and videos of the protests.

“Our outreach to the public was enormous as far as letting the public know where the website was and establishing numerous communications with the media and anyone who had information to share,” said Guerrieri, who has served on the HPCAC since its inception in 2010.

The HPCAC also hosted two public listening sessions during the day and evening hours to accommodate schedules. For the sake of transparency, those sessions were held in Council Chambers and broadcast live on social media and HSV TV.

About the HPCAC

The volunteer board is comprised of a diverse cross-section of Huntsville citizens. Each of the five Council districts has an appointee, while the HPD chief appoints three members and two are mayoral appointments.

Throughout the review, members met 20-25 times both in person and through web conference to exercise COVID-19 precautions. Guerrieri said while some are frustrated the report is just now being released, many people don’t realize HPCAC members are volunteers with outside responsibilities.

“Several other cities in our country have just released their reviews this past month, so we’re not that far behind what’s being released now,” she said.

View the Report

The 248-page report is available at huntsvillepolicereview.com and can be downloaded as a PDF file. Huntley said it’s important for the community to understand the report’s release will not result in immediate policy changes within the Huntsville Police Department.

Chief McMurray thanked the HPCAC for taking the time to conduct a thorough review of the department’s actions surrounding last year’s protests.

“I look forward to reviewing their findings and recommendations with my Command Staff and City leadership to determine how we can become an even better and stronger department,” he said. “We will be back here on April 28th for a work session to talk more about our plans moving forward.”

READ:  Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council Process a Fact-Finding Mission