Council presented 'please listen' letter

By Lynn R. Parks

As promised, the Seaford City Council Tuesday responded to a list of requests for action to correct what he calls deficiencies in the city's police department, submitted in October by resident Frank Daniel Cannon Jr.

City manager Dolores Slatcher read aloud the prepared response, dated Dec. 4, after Mayor David Genshaw explained that it had been prepared by the city's attorney following a Nov. 11 executive session of the council.

Cannon was present at Tuesday night's meeting. When Slatcher finished reading, and despite Genshaw's attempt to move on to the next order of business, Cannon stood up and addressed the council.

"You have refused to let me speak before you three times, including tonight," he said. "So there is no way to give you information other than to hand it to you."

With that, he presented to the mayor a six-page letter, titled "What I would have said had I been allowed to speak."

Cannon's son, Storm, also a resident of Seaford, was with him at the meeting. He also presented the council with a letter, titled "Please listen!"

Both Cannons then left the meeting. Genshaw made a brief statement following their departure: "Our police department certainly is not perfect, as no department is. But it's important that the police department understand our confidence in them, and our support of them."

In the letter that he presented to the mayor, Cannon outlined his frustrations with the city government. He said that in his attempts to learn more about a September 2011 incident in which a man was falsely arrested by city police and which eventually led to a $270,000 settlement of a civil lawsuit, he was met with responses that were "distinctly unfriendly."

"The stonewalling/quashing of information that I have encountered is chilling," he added. "The extremely undemocratic and petty nature of the responses to my serious proposals is almost un-American and an extremely serious impediment to good governance/governing."

He concluded: "As our elected mayor and council, you need to drastically elevate your game toward open, effective government by abandoning petty gamesmanship, encouraging citizen participation, engaging in the true spirit of democratic decision-making, making city government transparent rather than opaque, adhering to the letter and spirit of open meeting laws and treating citizens as you yourselves would like to be treated."

Cannon sent his first letter to the mayor and council on Oct. 10. He wrote the letter after watching a video of the Sept. 18, 2011, arrest of Reginald Johnson of Dagsboro. The police video shows Johnson being shot with a stun gun within seconds of being asked to step out of his car and then being dragged from his car. Lying on the ground, surrounded by officers, Johnson repeatedly cries out, "I haven't done anything."

Minutes later, after Johnson has been handcuffed and put into a patrol car, two officers can be heard laughing and one joking about planting drugs in Johnson's car.

After being taken to the Seaford police station, Johnson was charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct; both charges were subsequently dropped by prosecutors. He filed his federal lawsuit in December 2012. It was settled in April.

State law forbids police agencies from releasing to the public information about investigations of police officers. But Genshaw has said that the Johnson arrest and lawsuit resulted in disciplinary action against some of the officers involved and in officers being required to take some additional training.

Cannon's October letter contained nine recommendations, among them the formation of a civilian police review board that would hear complaints against the Seaford Police Department. That one recommendation was addressed by the council at its Oct. 28 meeting, when members, without discussion, voted not to follow it. Cannon, who had not been told that the recommendation would be voted on, was not present at the meeting.

"I take particular umbrage withthe personal insult of having my proposal for a [civilian review board] brought up and voted down (without discussion)not only in my absence but without notification to me," Cannon wrote in the letter that he presented Tuesday night.

None of Cannon's other proposals as spelled out in his October letter was addressed by the council at the Oct. 28 meeting.

In mid-November, Genshaw announced that the city council would address the remaining concerns at its Dec. 9 meeting. That response was the letter that Slatcher read Tuesday night. There was still no discussion among council members about Cannon's suggestions.

In its response, the city said that reviews of the Johnson case "found no illegal search or seizure issues." Because this was not a traffic stop, the routine "license, registration and proof of insurance" request was not appropriate, it said. "The SPD was acting with the understanding that this was a wanted violent felon."

The police department has no deficiencies in its communication systems: When the state police tried to contact it to call off the pursuit of Johnson's car, they did so on the wrong radio frequency, the letter said.

Seaford police officers receive annual training in the proper use of Tasers, the response said.

As for the resisting arrest charge that was eventually leveled at Johnson – a charge that Cannon said was "likely intended as a smokescreen to deflect scrutiny and critique of SPD failures" – "SPD officers filed appropriate charges," the city response said. "Regardless of circumstances, a person does not have a right to resist arrest. It is proper and legal to arrest someone who physically resists arrest in any manner."

In his "What I would have said had I been allowed to speak" letter, Cannon once again asks the city to make changes in how its police department operates. "I call upon you to establish a civilian police review board and require the Seaford Police Department publically apologize to Reginald Johnson for the betterment of the SPD and our community," he said.

"Please consider that this kind of incident could have happened to anyone," Storm Cannon added in his letter. "With that in mind, please consider the possible solution that not just one but two citizens have been brave enough to put forward. Mistakes will happen, but the only real mistake would be not to learn from [them], and not to take action to ensure [they] do not happen again."

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