Saturday, September 16, 2006
Two days after Durham Police Chief Chalmers gave his press conference, absolving his officers for employing racial slurs, and assuring the public of his confidence that his officers did not violate drunk driving laws, I remain amazed by the transparency of Mr. Chalmers words of absolution. Certainly, the skeptic in me prepared myself for the two officers to be made scapegoats in the Blinco’s affair, but not being one inclined to conspiracy theories, I find myself totally blindsided by the blatant attempt to paint this incident with such a dramatically different perspective than had been reported and implied by several news outlets.
With his words, Chalmers attempts to make this caper the racial assault that wasn’t, while trying to restore public confidence in his police department by revealing Durham’s new standard for evaluating impaired driving. It is unclear whether the Bar Tab Test is intended to replace breathalyzers for all citizens, or only for Durham’s police officers.
As a person of mixed race, I am perhaps a bit more sensitive than others may be to the apparent disregard for the use of racial slurs in the Blinco’s affair. While admitting that my perspective in this regard is slanted, I find myself beyond disappointed that despite the cook, Rene Thomas, having stated on many occasions that both he and the officers involved exchanged racial insults, Chief Chalmers denies that there is any evidence of such.
Further the Chief compounds this altered impression by putting forth the denials of the officers that either they or the cook used words of this sort. I understand the motivation of the officers to deny using the N word before pouncing upon the victim, but I fail to comprehend what would motivate Mr. Thomas to falsely state that he had returned the racial jabs with those of his own. Without speculating that Mr. Thomas was somehow coerced or frightened into retracting the statements he repeatedly offered to the press, it boggles the mind to consider his initial admission of using such words and his accusations of having been subjected to the name calling.
Adding Thomas’ statement that he thinks the police had charged the wrong men, Officer Tanner’s shorn head and Chalmer’s transparency to the equation above, it is difficult to comprehend how Chief Chalmers feels that his press conference does anything to restore or enhance public confidence in him or his department. Please excuse me, if I am having difficulty accepting the tale that Chalmers appears to expect us to buy. Golly gee, Chief, I guess either Mr. Thomas was lying about the slurs, or the reporters conspired to invent that aspect of their stories? And about those bar tabs, never you mind about sharing those with us. Gosh darn all of us simple folks will just have to trust you on that one, won’t we?
Chalmers said Thursday that department investigators had not been able to determine that any racial slurs were exchanged in an incident that lasted about 30 seconds. The officers involved denied using a racial slur, and they said they didn't hear Thomas use one, either, Chalmers said.
Chalmers said investigators reviewed the officers' bar tabs from the night. He said those indicated that the officers hadn't been drinking to excess, though he wouldn't say how much each officer spent on alcohol.
Chalmers said investigators are confident of their findings. "It was an open-and-shut thing and the statements were consistent," he said. "The only thing we weren't able to substantiate was the racial slur."
Alcohol may have played a role in the incident, but after studying the officers' bar tabs, investigators concluded that "there was no reason to feel they were impaired" to the point of violating the state's drunk-driving laws, Chalmers said.
Adding to the apparent farce, Chalmers claims that Sgt. Gottlieb was not a witness to the crime as he sat clueless in a parked car while the “non racial” verbal exchange occurred and while the “mini” brawl transpired. According to Chalmers, the good Sgt. Gottlieb was also kind enough to report the assault to his own station. It is unclear whether Durham District 2 now has jurisdiction over all of Raleigh, or whether its reach only encompasses Glenwood Avenue.
Gottlieb -- whose role in the incident has provoked intense interest because he's the supervising investigator of the Duke lacrosse rape case -- was in a parked vehicle and didn't see what happened, Chalmers said. The sergeant was told what happened and called the department's District 2 watch commander to report it, Chalmers said.
The combination of Gottlieb’s “call” to Durham District 2 to report a crime in Raleigh District 21, plus the blatant contradiction in the denial of the racial aspects of the crime, and the notion that a bar tab provides “evidence” of lack of impairment is odiferous in a something smells funny kind of way to at least this one observer. Will the rest of the concerned public buy this tale as willingly as Chief Chalmers appears to expect?
As if the Bizzaro PD impression given by the above toxic mixture weren’t enough to call Chalmers’ credibility into question, there remains a glaring admission by the Chief to consider.
Chalmers said investigators are confident of their findings. "It was an open-and-shut thing and the statements were consistent," he said.
Consider that claim of Chief Chalmers in the context of a 55 day internal investigation that preceded his press conference. If 55 days is the duration of an open and shut case, it makes one wonder again about the 13 days of investigation that preceded DA Mike Nifong’s proclamations of guilt in the Duke Hoax. With this in mind, one can only conclude that in Bizarro PD Land it takes 55 days to conclude an investigation into an “open-and-shut thing” but less than two weeks to determine guilt in a complex hoax.
Yep, Chief, our confidence is certainly growing.
On a positive note, Chalmers revelation that this investigation has left his department in such a glowing light with the exception of the 30 second mistake by the two police officers, and his description of the matter as a simple, “open-and-shut thing,” suggests that we can expect City Manager Patrick Baker to follow thru with his offer to make public the investigation report. Certainly such a simple matter with so few fouls can only enhance public confidence by this promised report being laid bear.
I, for one, look forward to seeing the bar tabs and Mr. Thomas’ denials of the racial slurs.