GREENSBORO — The City Council took unprecedented steps Monday to discipline Travis Cole, the white former police officer whose treatment of a black man in June may change how the department investigates the use of force by its officers.
The council’s actions came during a raucous two-hour meeting, which opened with police camera footage of Cole punching Dejuan Yourse in the face and pinning him to the ground while Yourse yelled “I am not resisting” over and over.
Council members, who learned about the incident a week earlier, voted 8-0 to ask prosecutors to reconsider filing assault charges against Cole; ask the state to prevent him from being an officer anywhere else; and ask the court to expunge from Yourse’s record the assault and resisting arrest charges originally filed against him.
More than 100 community activists and college students attended, gasping as they watched footage of Cole lunging at Yourse about five minutes into an increasingly tense but peaceful discussion outside Yourse’s mother’s house.
Cole and his partner, Officer C.N. Jackson, were responding to a call about a possible burglary when they found Yourse sitting on her porch. The police department ruled that Cole, who resigned midway through the investigation, used inappropriate force against Yourse.
“It was ugly. It was brutal. It was completely unnecessary,” said Mayor Nancy Vaughan, as she apologized to Yourse and his mother, Livia, who sat in the council’s chamber while the footage aired.
“The sad reality is that too many people in this community can relate to this,” Councilman Justin Outling said.
In August, the Guilford County District Attorney’s office declined to charge Cole with assault and declined to file charges against Yourse for resisting arrest and assault on government officials.
The resolution the council approved Monday says it “is deeply concerned about the prosecutorial opinion rendered in this case,” adding that prosecutors should “review this incident again.”
The resolution also urges the state law enforcement licensing agency to revoke Cole’s certification “so he will not be eligible to serve as a law enforcement officer in the future.”
In a separate vote, also unanimous, the council voted to ask the court to expunge the charges Cole and Jackson filed against Yourse. Councilwoman Sharon Hightower asked for the move so people who check Yourse’s criminal background won’t see the charges in the future.
Councilman Mike Barber, who was out of town, said later Monday that the council “has abandoned facts and logic and is being guided by personal and popular political agendas and public pressure.”
“The officer’s behavior was wrong and the process worked; he is no longer employed by the Greensboro Police Department,” Barber said.
He added that “the only reason for identifying this case is the hope to gain political capital or further an agenda not consistent or relevant with most people’s vision for Greensboro.”
Yourse was on the porch of Livia Yourse’s home on Mistywood Court — a cul-de-sac in a neighborhood near Wendover Avenue and Interstate 40 — when police responded to the possible burglary call.
The footage shows Yourse answering questions from Cole and Jackson, explaining that he was waiting on his mother to meet him. Cole asked Yourse why a neighbor had seen him with a shovel. Yourse responded that he was sticking it through the gap at the bottom of the garage door to see if his dog was in there.
Yourse had become increasingly frustrated with Cole’s questions, but was sitting in a chair making a call when Cole grabbed the phone and lunged at him.
The footage shows Cole punching Yourse and pinning him to the ground on the porch.
“I don’t have no weapon,” Yourse can be heard screaming, as he is on the ground handcuffed. “I’m trying to cooperate.
“You can’t do this when I’m not resisting.”
Numerous speakers Monday echoed comments council members had made a week earlier: Police officials waited too long before notifying Chief Wayne Scott about the investigation, and Scott waited too long to tell council members.
The incident happened on June 17, but Scott didn’t learn about it until Aug. 9 — after the internal investigation passed through five steps in the chain of command.
Council members might not have learned about it, community activist Lewis Pitts said, had it not been for “courageous officers from inside the force who leaked the information out.”
Cole resigned on Aug. 19, nine days after the police department placed him on administrative duty — meaning, he resigned before police officials could fire him.
Police officials finished their internal investigation on Aug. 30. They ruled that Cole violated four department directives: use of force; courtesy toward the public; arrest, search and seizure; and compliance to laws and regulations.
Only the state Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission can revoke Cole’s law enforcement license. The council’s resolution asks the commission to do just that.
Scott and City Attorney Tom Carruthers said the police department followed its internal policies on how it investigates such uses of force.
Scott said after the meeting that those policies need changes in light of the incident.
“Ultimately, it would be great if I knew about it the next day,” he said.
Compounding the council’s concern about the incident was Cole’s disciplinary record. He was once briefly suspended from the department for his handling of the high-profile case of Devin and Rufus Scales.
The Scales brothers, who are black, were arrested by Greensboro police in August 2014 for blocking traffic on an empty street, public intoxication and resisting arrest.
But Devin Scales recorded his brother being handcuffed without incident, raising questions about why he was charged with resisting arrest.
After months of public pressure, police dropped the charges.
Cole was found to have violated the department’s conduct, courtesy and discretion policies and received a 16-hour suspension.
Council members apologized to Yourse and his mother Monday, saying they will not let such behavior stand.
“This is not the city of Greensboro I want to be mayor of,” Vaughan said.