Church community seeks justice from city

Kierra Frazier

DeKALB — Joe Mitchell, a pastor at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, opened Monday night’s City Council meeting to “seek justice for Elonte McDowell and the community.”

“I stand before you as a 40-year resident of this community; I stand before you as a father of an African American 13-year-old,” Mitchell said. “My heart is still troubled by what we saw in this community [in] September of last year.” 

Members of New Hope Church, 1201 Twombly Road, filled the room at Monday night’s meeting to advise the city to “do the right thing” with regard to the internal investigation of the McDowell arrest in September. 

A viral video released in August showed McDowell, 25, being choked by an officer and stunned with a stun gun. McDowell was charged with possession of marijuana with an intent to deliver. 

Charges against DeKalb Police Sgt. Jeffrey Weese, the officer involved in the incident, were dropped by a grand jury in December. An internal investigation of the incident is being conducted to determine if the officer followed the department’s policies and procedures. Weese has been on desk duty since the incident. 

“Sgt. Weese cannot go back on the street like nothing ever happened,” Mitchell said. “We’re holding Elonte McDowell accountable for breaking the law; Sgt. Weese needs to be held accountable for breaking the law. That’s how justice works.” 

He said he hopes that the council, the city manager and the chief of police will do the right thing.

Interim Police Chief John Petragallo said he hopes the internal investigation will finish within a few weeks. 

“We’ll look at the policies as they relate to the actions that took place that day and going through everything that we have, all the information that we have in the reports,” Petragallo said. “I’ll look at all of that and come to a decision.” 

Emil Scales, a member of New Hope Church, said he wanted to hear of an action plan from council members that addresses police brutality. 

“It doesn’t just happen to [McDowell]; it happens to myself, people in the community [and] my neighbors,” Scales said. 

Petragallo said the police department will launch a pilot study of body cameras in March and deploy a “Police 2 Citizen” portal online that would allow citizens to access public information like daily police reports. 

Fifth Ward Alderperson Scott McAdams said the Human Relations Commission is working on a way for residents to come to City Hall and review policies and procedures so residents can be aware of how members of the police department were trained. 

“It’s unfortunate that it doesn’t resolve quickly,” McAdams said. “But it is definitely moving. It is definitely something that we’re looking at, and it has not been pushed under the rug.” 

Mayor Jerry Smith said since the investigation is still going on, it would be inappropriate for council members to address specifics of the incident but offered his phone number to members in the audience to keep in contact. 

“We are one community,” Smith said. “We are deeply concerned when folks feel that this city is not doing something that adequately serves and protects them.” 

First Ward Alderperson Carolyn Morris gave out her phone number to the audience as well to let community members know that she hears and acknowledges what they have to say. 

“I want you to know that I see you, and I hear you and I will listen to you,” Morris said.