NEWS- Wheelchair fallout: Petition demands Council investigate police

Gerry Mitchell.

It's been over three months since a citizen was struck in his wheelchair by an Albemarle County Police cruiser and then ticketed by Charlottesville Police, but the feelings of outrage linger. At Tuesday night's City Council meeting, councilors were presented with a petition reminding them that some of their constituents want to see the Charlottesville Police Department investigated for its handling of the case.

"People are asking what council is doing," says Jim McKinley-Oakes, a social worker and authored the petition, which has garnered around 200 signatures. (The Hook spoke with McKinley-Oakes before the meeting, which took place after this paper's presstime.)

The petition also takes Albemarle County Police to task, but there is one significant difference between the city and the county: in Albemarle, a Police Citizen's Advisory Board  already exists. In fact, according to County spokesperson Lee Catlin, the County is accepting applications for the board through February 27, and needs to fill three seats. McKinley addressed the petition to council since he believes it is the only local governing body that has any oversight of the Charlottesville Police Department. 

McKinley-Oakes says he'd like to see a similar board created in Charlottesville, and he expresses frustration at Councilors' failure to respond to emails he sent them directly, asking what they planned to do about Mitchell's case.

"Fifteen minutes after I sent the emails to them," he says, "I got a call from [Police Chief Tim] Longo, asking me to come in and meet with him and [Commonwealth's Attorney Dave] Chapman." The call did not comfort McKinley-Oakes, who likens it to a child telling his parents a teacher had struck him, then having the teacher approach him about tattling.

"It was intimidating," he says.

Longo did not return the Hook's call by presstime.

Although the jaywalking charges against the citizen, Gerry Mitchell, were dropped in January, Mitchell's problems have only mounted. Already in precarious health from AIDS and the drugs he takes to control it, Mitchell's shoulder was injured during the November 5 incident. He also believes the trauma to his body from being struck and thrown to the ground triggered a cascade of further health problems including renal failure, gout, and now cataracts, brought on by medication he took to treat his severe pain. He estimates he's lost 90 percent of his vision and will undergo surgery in the next several weeks.

A benefit concert on February 9 raised $2,000 that will be used for health expenses not covered by Medicaid.

McKinley-Oakes says watching his friend suffer physically and emotionally in the wake of the accident has been "very difficult." He hopes the petition, which he also plans to send to the state Attorney General's office, will encourage City Councilors to take a closer look at the incident.

"It's really important they be part of this conversation," he says.

Check for an update on this story.