LAKELAND, Fla. — Community activists are holding a town hall meeting Monday, describing it as a public call to investigate the Lakeland Police Department.
“We thought it’s time now to call the community together and take actions and see what we can do as a community,” said Pastor Clayton Cowart with the Poor and Minority Justice Center.
Cowart says they were calling on all residents of Lakeland to attend a town hall meeting, being held at the Church of God at 618 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.
Cowart says they are demanding action and accountability at Lakeland PD. He says the department has been slow to respond to his and other public complaints with internal investigations dragging on for months.
Now, he says, they’ve reached out to the Department of Justice, asking it to intervene.
"We’ve filled out some paperwork with the Department of Justice. We want to see an investigation of some of the policies and practices of the Lakeland Police department," Cowart said. "These sorts of investigations would allow them to come down and look at all of the components of the Lakeland Police Department and see if there is any racial bias or racism and things of that sort that’s going on internally."
In August, 10 Tampa Bay reported on the apparent inconsistencies and discrepancies made by Lakeland Police Officer Jason McCain during a deposition regarding a March drug bust.
The Polk State Attorney’s office in November dropped those charges against Joshua Chatmon, citing doorbell camera video and a lack of fingerprints.
Chatmon credited our report.
“I really felt you all hit it on the nail. Did a great job,” Chatmon said. “Because that’s exactly what occurred.”
At the time, Cowart said he was disappointed his public complaint against McCain was taking months and also with the department’s decision to keep McCain working the streets.
Then, Cowart says they received a video shot Dec. 18 during a drug arrest. Cowart says the images show some of the same officers arresting 36-year-old Antwan Glover, who was originally stopped for not wearing a seatbelt.
The video shows Glover on the ground being punched repeatedly.
The police affidavit says Glover created the situation by resisting arrest.
“Well now, here we are again, and so, it’s almost and I don’t want to give that impression, but it’s almost as if we’re saying we told you so,” Cowart said.
Community activists also want Lakeland PD to speed up its timeline when it comes to its new body-worn cameras. In late December, Chief Sam Taylor told 10 Tampa Bay the department hopes to have all 250 officers wearing the cameras by the end of the month.
“They were asking for some transparency,” said Taylor, “And I think it protects the officers and the community as well.”
But during Glover’s arrest, the department says none of the officers were wearing a camera.
Cowart says the police department was intentionally not invited to the town hall meeting because he says some people in the community feel intimidated by law enforcement. He says they do, however, intend to share what comes out of it with the Lakeland PD, city leaders – and the Department of Justice.
“We want to give Chief Taylor an opportunity to see what his goals are, but I think at this point, I think it’s beyond just one person,” Cowart said. “I think at this point we need to just start dealing with those that have authority over that Lakeland department. And let them make sure that the agency is held accountable.”