People shuffled clunky black chairs as they tried to make room for the audience in the small conference room in Richmond’s Civic Center on Wednesday night. The February Citizen’s Police Review Commission (CPRC) meeting had drawn about 15 audience members—a big crowd and possibly a good sign for the commission—including meeting mainstays Pedie Perez’s father and grandparents, and representatives from the Richmond Police Department.
City council member Jael Myrick came to the meeting just in time for his monthly presentation to the review commission. In prior meetings, the dialogue between Myrick and commissioners has been contentious, with commissioners complaining about a lack of support from the city. Wednesday night’s interaction, however, was more of a mixed bag.
During Myrick’s presentation, he announced a $20,000 allocation that will help new staff liaison Shané Johnson complete administrative tasks like posting agendas and recording audio from meetings. CPRC Chair David Brown acknowledged Myrick’s role in securing administrative employees for the commission, and he said that if the commission needs support, administratively or otherwise, Myrick will be their go-to city official.
The celebratory tone shifted once concerns about some long-awaited DNA test results came up. The tests are integral to CPRC investigator Lucky Narain completing his review of the death of Pedie Perez, who was killed by a Richmond police officer in 2014.
Though the Contra Costa County D.A.’s Office found that the officer shot Perez in self-defense, the family won a wrongful death civil suit, and settled with the city for $850,000 in 2015. Narain has been reviewing the Perez case for less than a year, but the Perez family has been engaging with the commission since filing a complaint in 2015.
Commissioners have said that administrative challenges and a “log jam” involving DNA test results have held the investigation up for months.
Brown questioned Myrick about an alleged financial disagreement between a DNA testing facility and the city. According to Brown, this test is the final piece of evidence needed to put the Perez case on the commission’s agenda so that the group can determine whether or not the Perez family’s complaint can be substantiated.
Narain has been waiting on the DNA testing results for months. Chairman Brown implored Myrick to push city officials to do whatever it takes to get the results quickly. Myrick agreed to reach out to city staff involved in securing the test by email once he left the meeting.
He and other commissioners have expressed concerns about the lengthy investigation eroding the community’s trust in the commission. They worry that a two-year investigation can look bad for the commission and dissuade community members from bringing complaints against the police department.
Issues of trust between officers and community members motivated CPRC’s newest member, Demnlus Johnson, to apply for the position. Johnson, age 25, is the commission’s youngest and only black member. This fact can help the city “get serious about community policing,” said Johnson in an interview before the meeting.
Johnson is also the vice chair of the city’s Economic Development Commission. He says that his community activism, especially with the CPRC, can inspire other millennials to take “seats at the decision-making table” and discuss their issues with people in power.
“[Community members] felt as though they didn’t have a voice,” Johnson said. “They felt as though there was nothing they could do to change the system.”
Johnson was only present for the closed session portion of the meeting, but he said he was “happy to see that it was well-attended by community members.”
He also says that experiencing the meeting as a commissioner helped him realize the positive influence that this position can have.
“This is an actual seat at the table to really have an impact on the police department and how it interacts with our community members,” Johnson said.
During the meeting, Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown and police union president Ben Therriault also gave updates about crime statistics and police strategies to curb violence in the city.
CPRC meetings are at 7 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month. The next meeting is on March 7.