Wheelchair accidents: City takes note

In the wake of two recent incidents in which wheelchair pedestrians were hit in city crosswalks and then ticketed, City officials are finally speaking out.

On Monday afternoon, Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo spoke publicly about the cases, and apologized for the first time to victims Gerry Mitchell and Deborah Hamlin. A few hours later during the public comment segment at the city council meeting, several community members expressed their outrage about the incidents, while Mitchell, who was struck by an Albemarle police cruiser on November 5, announced Charlottesville "has a problem with the police not respecting the rights of the citizens." He received a standing ovation from the near-capacity crowd.

Pedestrian activist Kevin Cox demanded councilors investigate who ordered that the ticket be issued to Mitchell.

"Was this done to protect Albemarle county from a lawsuit? And if it was, why?" he asked. "Who made that decision?"

Chief Longo seemed to answer that question during a 15-minute segment on WINA's talk radio show Charlottesville Right Now yesterday afternoon, when he denied having any knowledge of the ticket until it was made public in the Hook's December 6 cover story. The decision to ticket Mitchell was made "in the field" by Charlottesville police officer Steve Grissom, Longo said; he added that both incidents are under review by the police department and the office of the Commonwealth's Attorney.

In the second incident, Deborah Hamlin, who has both cerebral palsy and a visual impairment, was struck by a dump truck in the crosswalk at the intersection of Lee Street and Jefferson Park Avenue. She, too, was ticketed while she was being treated in the UVA emergency room.

Among options being considered in both cases, said Longo, are dropping charges against Mitchell and Hamlin or levying new charges against the drivers for failing to yield to a pedestrian.

Mitchell says diagnostic tests revealed this week that his right rotator cuff was torn and his shoulder bones were fractured when he was lifted from the street into his chair by Albemarle County Officer Greg Davis and a witness after he'd been hit. Still, despite ongoing pain, he says recent developments have him feeling more upbeat.

Receiving a standing ovation at the council meeting was "an unbelievable, joyous moment," says Mitchell. "I felt that the community is concerned about the welfare of all of us."

This morning, he says, he met with several police representatives who are reviewing his case.

The point he tried to make to investigators, he says: "In spite of all the laws, they need to talk to these police about how to deal with the public."

Mayor David Brown says he welcomed the public input at last night's meeting and noted that several of the speakers also praised the police department.

"I really appreciated people taking the time to express that," he says. "Otherwise, police could feel they were being criticized with nothing positive there." He notes that police policy prevents them from commenting on controversial matters, which can leave them "blasted" and "tarred in the press" before further details exonerating their behavior come out in court.

Brown feels that Mitchell should not have been ticketed, but he stops short of implying that Officer Davis should have been ticketed.

"Sometimes accidents happen," he says, adding that as a result of these accidents, council will tackle inconsistencies at pedestrian crosswalks to make sure that "they all work in the same way so they're predictable."

City Councilor Kevin Lynch was more outspoken in his criticism of the police department's handling of Mitchell's case. Lynch said he was not satisfied with a three-page memo sent by Chief Longo to City Councilors explaining the incident from the police department's perspective.

"I feel like while we want to be supportive of our police department; they are human like everyone else," said Lynch. "Trying to pretend this is Mr. Mitchell's fault is not justice."
At the time of this posting, the city had not responded to the Hook's FOIA'd request for that memo.
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21 comments

quote >> "The decision to ticket Mitchell was made ¢Ã¢â??¬Ã?â??in the field¢Ã¢â??¬ by Charlottesville police officer Steve Grissom, Longo said;"

This is pretty disturbing news. I felt Grissom was much smarter than this.

Sick Of The Local Rambos, I'll have to try and catch that ad. I, too, rarely watch that channel.

Is Kevin Lynch running for some office we don't know about yet? His comments don't make any sense. When it comes to the police, he has been nothing but unsupportive during his entire stint on Council.

At the meeting Mayor Brown said "I can't for example say that the driver was clearly not paying attention." Well than, what was he doing when he made a left turn at 4th and West Main and drove into Gerry Mitchell? What's the alternative to "clearly not paying attention"?

The Mayor also said "He could have been paying attention and just you know, and something happened, accidents happen sometimes." David Brown seems desperate to make excuses for inexcusably poor driving. We go to great lengths to prevent these kinds of "accidents" from happening.

Mayor Brown asked for suggestions to help make Charlottesville a more pedestrian and bicyclist friendly community. He suggested "a committee or task force". Instead of wasting time on token committees how about demanding accountability and fair enforcement from the police? Excusing preferential treatment in this case doesn't promote a pedestrian friendly city. Nor does it do much for the morale of the competent officers who do think that Officer Davis should have been charged.

The police chief wrote the City Council a three page memo describing the incident. At the meeting Kevin Lynch said that the memo explained "what the other side of this was. I did not find that a compelling explanation". I asked the Clerk of City Council today for the memo and she told me that she would email it to me. It never arrived. The Hook has requested a copy and it has not been provided. What is Chief Longo's explanation of this incident? I have no idea but I'd like to know.

"This morning, he says, he met with several police representatives who are reviewing his case."

I sure hope he had a lawyer present. You know the cops did or at least were recording/notetaking just in case there is a lawsuit.

Those that are or have been close to the inside workings of the organization aren't going to be supportive of it, CVille Eye. It's that simple.

Councilors a are the last people that are "close to the inside workings." Most of them recently haven't figured out that they are being worked. So that excuse doesn't apply to him.

Maybe kevin lynch has been unsupportive of the police because they SUCK Maybe the police policy of "not commenting on contraversial cases" is the problem. Why not comment? You don't have to say your sorry, but you can say that you are well aware of how bad it looks and that you (the chief) are on top of things and will expedite the investigation to make sure things are taken care of and the departments reputaion is intact..

I have to say I am glad he FINALLY spoke up. maybe all the bad press is lighting a fire under his butt.

I don't see where the Chief said anything significant, nor Kevin Lynch for that matter.

Citizens of the greater Charlottesville/Albemarle area please take notice:

The Mayor David Brown also said, ¢Ã¢â??¬Ã?â??He could have been paying attention and just you know, and something happened, accidents happen sometimes.¢Ã¢â??¬

Personally, I am torn between rolling on the floor laughing and retching in the toilet regarding the comment of Mayor David Brown.

Don't you find it utterly astonishing that Albemarle County Police Officer Gregory Charles Davis ¢Ã¢â??¬Ã?â??could have been paying attention¢Ã¢â??¬ and at the same time run over Gerry Mitchell in his wheel chair with his police cruiser???

Mr. Mayor David Brown, please reboot your brain with a new operating system and quit trying to help the Albemarle County Police Department cover the crimes they commit with verbiage that is not worthy of the of the office that you CURRENTLY hold.

I will remember this new approach to criminal activity if I am ever so unfortunate as to be stopped for speeding.

¢Ã¢â??¬Ã?â??Well, officer, I could have been paying attention, but I wasn't, I was speeding, but according to the Mayor David Brown, this is an official excuse, so please don't give me a ticket.¢Ã¢â??¬

Albemarle County Police Officer Gregory Charles Davis needs to be charged and convicted of reckless driving because he hit Gerry Mitchell in his wheelchair while crossing the street. I am very sorry, but the Mayor David Brown's attempt at an excuse is about as ridiculous as the definition of ridiculous can convey.

Vote NO for Mayor David Brown in the next election!

Vote YES for Albemarle County Police Officer Gregory Charles Davis to be charged with reckless driving.

I could have been paying attention when I wrote this, but gosh darn, accidents happen sometimes even when you are paying attention.

Vic, the county police has more than their fair share of problem children. The Captain who fired and imprisoned for soliciting teenages on the Internet for sex. The sergeant who was fired for filing false speedometer calibrations. The sergeant who was demoted to corporal for wrongdoing, and then later fired for more wrongdoing (now known as Police Chief Batten in Louisa township). The detective who had lawsuits being filed against him on a weekly basis. He wasn't fired though, his father-in-law donates too much money to the Police Association according to his fellow officers. The detective who was videotaped beating a suspect during an interrogation (later hired by the Louisa township police chief listed above who was also fired). The list just goes on and on and on. That's 5 right off the top of my head. The departments in both the city and county have both gone to hell in a handbasket.

Vic,
You're right the accident was a result of negligent driving and had nothing to do with the crosswalk or the pedestrian crossing signal. If the signal button had been pressed it still would not have made any difference. The traffic light controlling the street the police officer was on still would have turned green when it did and he still would have driven into Gerry MItchell. Still, this accident and the one at Lee and JPA both draw attention to the difficulties pedestrians face and walk lights and crosswalks are a big part of that mess.

It finally has dawned on me why Free Speech repeatedly and irritatingly use the characters' names in full. It's hoping that future Googling will most likely turn up this negative stuff. Of course, Free Speech won't have to worry about that himself.
Your speech may be free (as in cheap), but it is also unnecessarily vicious.

Unnecessarily vicious: Albemarle County Police Officer Gregory Charles Davis striking Gerry Mitchell with his police cruiser.

CVille Eye, wanna know what disturbs me even more than this Mitchell event? These recent whiney-sissy public service ads appearing on Channel 29 about how hard a Charlottesville cop's job is. They are just about comical as they can be. I think the Charlottesville Police Department and Longo has sunk to an all time low. :)

I just turned to Channel 19 for my local news from now on. I won't go back to 29 until they get this whiney-sissy crap off their lineup.

If you see bad cop driving, video tape it. Call the chief and share it with him. Then come back here and report.

Maybe get it on public access T.V.

Any other ideas?

I see it all the time. Failure to signal, speeding, running red lights, aggressive passing using the right lane of a highway, tailgating...lots of tailgating.

Is anyone actually surprised to hear this banal fence-sitting drivel come out of Mayor McCheese's mouth? If anyone has ever heard him stand up and vigorously defend the rights of one his citizens, please enlighten me. What's going to happen now that Kendra Hamilton's not there any longer to bark her marching orders at him?

But accidents DO happen. What I'm far more concerned about is that the officer and a witness moved the victim after the crash (about the biggest mistake you can make). And I'm concerned about the city's complicity in ticketing Mr Mitchell. That's some creepy stuff right there.

Vic, please get a life. There are so many other things to worry about, seriously. Get off line and go make a difference with sick kids or animal cruelty. This whole debate is stupid.

Sane One,
You know what's really, really stupid? Running people over in the crosswalk and moving injured people! Making mealy mouthed, irrational excuses for stupid behavior is a close second.

Vic, say what you want. If you bug me I'll do the sane thing and quit reading your posts.

There is now a lot of talk among the Mayor and council to make crosswalks safer and standardized.

Nothing wrong with that, but this accident was a result of negligent driving. Negligent drivers are always going to crash somewhere. This cop is Albemarle County's problem child and the City should be very careful about what they say and do right now, or the City may end up eating liablility for what is an open and shut case of negligence on behalf of THE COUNTY.

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