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Lake City Police Advisory Review Board: The Workshop – It Wasn’t Pretty

Chevella Young addresses the City Council.            Columbia County Observer photo and graphic

LAKE CITY, COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Saturday’s Lake City Police Advisory Review Board Workshop finally happened. While Police Chief Argatha Gilmore and the City Council sat and listened, they got an earful; most of it wasn't pretty.

Background: City Council - No Urgency To Listen

On February 1, 2021, the City Council, after a raucous beginning, agreed to hold a workshop.

Councilman Jefferson put a motion on the floor for a Lake City Police Advisory Board. It was seconded. There was much discussion. An hour later, Mr. Jefferson clarified his motion: Mr. Jefferson said he wanted a review board and a workshop.

Councilman Greene asked Mr. Jefferson to clarify his motion, asking, “The point of the workshop is to determine the roles and responsibilities and how a citizens review board or advisory board is going to address the concerns of the citizens that showed up tonight, as well as the Chief's initiative?”

Councilman Jefferson said, “That’s the point of the workshop. That's what I had in mind.”

Lake City Police Chief Argatha Gilmore
Chief Gilmore as the meeting began. She didn't speak the entire meeting.

While it is the law, the Lake City City Council has kept no minutes for almost a year. The City Council has no official way to know what went on or what was agreed at previous meetings.

More about February 1, 2021, can be found here: Lake City Residents Looking for Police Oversight By a Civilian Complaint Review Board, Not an Advisory Council

On April 12, the City finally met for its workshop. It was a workshop commandeered by Chief Gilmore. See: Lake City Police Chief Argatha Gilmore Makes It Clear, She Answers to Nobody in Lake City

On April 19, 2021, the Council agreed to have two workshops. The first was held last Saturday, May 8. The back story about IT, the meeting and the helter-skelter world of Lake City can be found here: Lake City IT: 3 Men Couldn’t Do What LC's Former IT Director ‘Could,' Proving It Takes a Woman

Lake City Residents Had a Lot to Say

The meeting kicked off with both Councilman Greene and Councilman Jefferson announcing that they were looking forward to hearing from the public.

Community activist Sylvester Warren came to the microphone. He thanked the Mayor and the City Council for allowing him to speak.

Mayor Witt said that he would waive the three-minute rule as long as people stayed on point.

Sylvester Warren addresses the Lake City, City CouncilMr. Warren said, “Let me say out of the gate Mr. Mayor, that what I have to say is going to be extremely longer than three minutes.

Mr. Warren mentioned the Chief’s workshop, "I think she preached for 2 1/2 hours… I think the same courtesy be given to the citizens of Lake City and that we should have ample amount of time.”

Mayor Witt did not object.

Mr. Warren said that his research showed that a citizens’ advisory board functions best when it is independent of the police department.

He said that the study he reviewed showed that independent review boards find less police brutality than police review boards.

Mr. Warren said that a police review board should “consist of citizens and not law enforcement."

Mr. Warren questioned some of the Chief's past actions and asked out loud, "How can we say that we want her right in the middle of a citizens review board?"

Mr. Warren pointed out that at the Council workshop, which was held just for the Chief, the Chief, in contravention of city rules, provided no information before the workshop and gave out Councilman Hill's social security number, which was against the law.

Mr. Warren also pointed out that an officer she said she fired had resigned.

"It's important that we get this out there because this is the person that is leading the Police Department. Remember, the citizens' review board is all about transparency and accountability, and trust. The examples I've given you shows that trust has eroded," he said.

Mr. Warren said that the Police Department is stalling on providing public records, has officers using the “N” word, and using unnecessary force on juveniles.

After almost an hour of uninterrupted talking, Mr. Warren said, "I think anybody in their right mind seeing what is going on in this nation would agree that we need to do something, and a citizen's review board would be the right direction."

“Mayor, thank you for granting me this time.”

Vanessa George: Community Activist

Vanessa George addresses the Lake City, City CouncilLake City resident and former Council candidate Vanessa George came to the microphone.

She said, "The advisory board is not against law enforcement. We are not against law enforcement. We want to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community. This will protect law enforcement.

Conrad Wallace: He won't speak with the Chief anymore

Conrad Wallace addresses the Lake City, City CouncilLifetime resident Conrad Wallace addressed the Council. He spoke about the public record issue he had with Chief Gilmore:  “I want to talk about a body cam incident that I had with the Chief. It involved me and some of my family members. I asked the Chief for a copy of the body cam… They let me see the actual body cam. When I asked for a copy of the body cam, the Chief told me I could not get it because there was other important stuff on the tape at the time. I went and talked to Ms. Sikes [City Clerk] and had the body cam within about three or four hours.”

Mr. Wallace said the Chief told him, “Make sure that Sylvester Warren and Vanessa is not on that board [police review board].

Mr. Wallace said that the Chief called him and asked if he had told anybody about the Sylvester Warren -- Vanessa conversation.

He said he told the Chief, "I told Sylvester exactly what was said. Yes, I did. The Chief and I haven't had a conversation since then.”

Mr. Wallace said he doesn't speak with Police Chief anymore.

Glenel Bowden: “It’s a powder keg here.”

Glenel Bowden addresses the Lake City, City CouncilMr. Bowden said that back in the 80s when he was on the City Council, it commissioned a study, "a survey of the Police Department."

He said the study came back “with some of the same kind of concerns you're hearing now. That was in the 80s -- it was a lack of trust for the police department.”

Mr. Bowden continued, “It bothers me, Glenel Bowden, that when I am driving from Wal-Mart tonight, a Police Department [police car] pulls up behind me, I would be nervous about stopping in a dark area.”

He continued, “There is something wrong with that picture… there's a lack of respect in the community - there's a lack of trust. When there is no trust, you've got a problem. The police review board would go a long ways to solve that… it might not be the answer to everything. This is a positive thing. There is nothing wrong with this. Oversight is good. At least the community would feel better… A lot of people don't complain because they are just afraid. They don't have any confidence in the outcome, so they don't complain… The message of a citizens review board is a good message. How you feel about those speaking out in favor of it shouldn’t be the issue.”

Mr. Bowden concluded, "It's a powder keg here. We're on the verge of something that is going to explode one day, and the citizens' review board could be like a prevention board."

Keltin Ficklin: “I don’t normally get involved.”

Keltin Ficklin addresses the Lake City, City CouncilLifetime resident Keltin Ficklin addressed the City Council, "I don't normally get involved in this kind of thing. But since I moved back home 11 years ago… in 1982, there were places we still couldn't go in Lake City, just in case you didn't know that… to sit here and see some of the stuff that is still going on -- we've gotten better, but we got a long way to go. There is no reason not to have a review board… I don't understand the big issue with the review board unless you just don't want anybody to know what you are doing. It doesn't make sense. It works… Let's stop this mess. We were divided enough without having to have these fights. It's ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with a review board. Let's do this thing right, so we can get some oversight around here.”

Chevella Young:
A compelling story of “guns drawn” that was a show stopper

Chevella Young addresses the Lake City, City CouncilChevella Young addressed the City Council: “I didn't know that I would have this opportunity, so I didn't really prepare myself. My name is Chevella Young, and I've been a resident of Lake City, Florida for over 25 years."

“I am a retired state of Florida employee with almost 20 years working in close relations with law enforcement. I am the daughter of Fullerie Jr., who was a police officer back in the 70s. I grew up loving and being cared [for] by law enforcement because he had very close friends… I have four siblings; all work in corrections. So there is a special place in my heart for law enforcement.”

“I am a law-abiding citizen… respect is a high priority to me, but on July 9, 2016, I had a terrible encounter with Lake City Police Department officers.”

“I don't know if it was the same day or the next day. I had a very disappointing encounter with Chief Gilmore, who I always admired… This encounter has ruined my trust in the very ones whom I've always looked to for protection and also for guidance…”

Listen to Ms. Young“I want to briefly tell you what happened to me.”

Ms. Young told the story of how she came back from a vacation from South Beach. She said it was good to be home. She loaded grandchildren in her car, the youngest eight months, to take them for a swim at the community pool. She found it was closed, so she drove home.

When she got back to her neighborhood, she found herself at a four-way stop sign at which there were police cars. She said an officer signaled for her to turn, but she didn't know it was to pull her over.

Ms. Young explained that there must have been something going on in the neighborhood, and she found herself and her passengers looking down the barrels of police guns.

She said she wanted to say, “Don’t shoot us, just give us a chance.”

Chevella Young addresses the Lake City, City CouncilShe said, “As I reached to let the window down to say this, an officer hollered, 'Don't move - put your hands up.' All of us in the car with our hands up; even the eight-month-old had his hands up. I was terrified. I didn't know what to do… I knew by the grace of God that they did not shoot, and I thank him every day. Let me tell you something that has left me with a scar.”

“I can drive now, and if I see a police car coming toward me, the lights look like barrels of guns. And that's a horrible -- horrible place to be.”

“I need to be able to trust those who are placed in positions to protect me…”

“I'm not here today to bash anyone… I'm simply here to speak in support of this board. We need this.”

Ms. Young told the Council that when she went to view the video, the part where the police had their guns drawn was missing.

Former Lake City Police Officer Brandon Colbert said he thought a police officer should be on the review board, but rather than a high-ranking officer, it should be a regular officer.

Wendy Wittner agreed, telling the Council, "I believe there should be some level of police on this board. I want to implore on the board and on the citizens that whatever this review board decides -- is the decision."

Ms. Wittner was the last speaker.


Mayor Witt said, “Well, we heard a lot today -- lots to think about.”

Then, he adjourned the meeting.

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