CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin announced several steps following a use of force incident in October involving members of the Charleston Police Department, she stressed more actions from everyone moving forward: engaging in communication and coming together.
The mayor’s comments came during a chaotic set of events on Thursday at Charleston City Hall that led to a joint press conference with councilmembers, Charleston Police Department (CPD) officers, Concerned Clergy Coalition of Charleston members, and Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) members.
“Our phones need to start ringing again, we need to break bread with one another, we need have coffees with one another,” Goodwin told MetroNews. “It sounds simple but it’s not. It’s critical, though. It’s necessary if we are going to understand what each other is feeling and what we need to move forward.”
Among Goodwin’s actions, in a response to the clergy’s letter sent at a recent public forum, CPD Chief Opie Smith has referred the incident to the FBI for an independent investigation. The FBI could refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney or the Kanawha County Prosecutor’s Office.
The actions come on the heels of pressure from the clergy and members of the public to do more following CPD allowing two officers to return to work from administrative leave after a use of force investigation.
An Oct. 14 incident captured on video showed Patrol Officer Carlie McCoy struggling to arrest 27-year-old Freda Gilmore outside of a Family Dollar store on Virginia Street West. Patrolman Joshua Mena punched Gilmore several times in the head.
Other actions taken by the city include working with police leadership to review policing policies, and she intends to create a Charleston Police Citizen Advisory Council. The body will be made up of Charleston residents and act as a liaison between the police department and the city.
At the public forum on November 5, the clergy requested the FBI investigate the matter but also called for McCoy and Mena to be placed back on suspension.
Rev. Marlon Collins, Pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church in Charleston and member of the clergy said he had mixed emotions with the response.
“I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t completely satisfied but we did get some good dialogue done today (Thursday),” he told MetroNews. “The groundwork has been laid to get some change instituted and get the people and police officers safe.”
And while Collins wasn’t thrilled with how the joint presser abruptly ended after a back-and-forth between the crowd and some officers, he said there are more opportunities ahead because they came together.
“Without this forum today (Thursday), the members of the Charleston Clergy Coalition wouldn’t have had an opportunity to meet who we met today,” he said. “We are going to start a dialogue and start getting some understanding with the different groups. Ultimately, our goal is to make sure this does not happen again however we change policy or personnel.”
Collins referencing his group’s meeting with the state FOP. Initially, there were supposed to be two separate press conferences Thursday afternoon: The state FOP and some councilmembers with CPD and Goodwin’s with the city’s response to the clergy.
Goodwin, state FOP members, and clergy members decided to come together and speak as a group in the council chambers, which the mayor thought was the best idea. She said when it came down to it, all parties involved realized that they want to support the police while having better communication with community members.
“It can’t be an us versus them. It can’t be and that’s why we said enough,” she said.