CHAPEL HILL - The Town Council could now decide Monday whether to hire an outside investigator to help review the police raid on the Yates Motor Co. building last fall.
The new Community Policing Advisory Committee requested the investigator, saying its members did not have the time to interview up to 100 witnesses to establish a factual timeline of events.
But council members and some residents who spoke Monday said they oppose the request, which could cost $15,000 or more.
The squatters broke the law, said Helen Paliouras and others. Even if police overreacted, "We'd rather have them be overzealous than turning a politically correct deaf ear as to what was on the ground," she said.
Former Mayor Rosemary Waldorf told the council she felt she was part of the silent majority in Chapel Hill.
"I think a lot of us are ready for the community to move on," she said.
The takeover by self-described "anti-capitalist occupiers" who had brought generators into the building created a safety hazard, she said. Police should have asked the squatters to leave, she said, but "some of the force was justified."
The Nov. 13 raid, led by a tactical team that pointed loaded rifles at squatters who had taken over the long vacant building and others in the building driveway, resulted in eight misdemeanor arrests. The police response has divided Chapel Hill residents, with some calling it excessive and others defending the action.
But some council members said an investigator would not produce the complete record the Community Policing Advisory Committee wants because, as the committee noted, an investigator could not compel anyone to speak or to speak truthfully.
Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos also noted that the committee could not protect anyone who spoke from civil or criminal liability.
"Unless we turn this over to the judicial system, we don't get any better than what we have," council member Donna Bell said. "If every time we have an incident in Chapel Hill we need an investigator, then we don't need the committee."
Committee Chairman Ron Bogle repeatedly said the Yates incident is unique.
The committee is new, its members have full-time jobs and, if they are to win the public's trust and fulfill their responsibility to the council and the community, they need help, he said.
"This is in no way a criticism or reflection on the internal review done by the Police department or the town manager," Bogle said. "We believe what we really need is further external review."
Town Council members Laurin Easthom and Lee Storrow voiced support for the committee's request.
"To me, any more information in order to give them what they need for a necessary factual record is a good thing," Easthom said.
But Bell said the committee could get more information without the investigator, as it has already heard from people coming forward in response to the town's initial reports of what happened Nov. 13.
"I'm still not convinced there are (new) facts to be found," Bell said. "I think there is clarity to be found."
Other residents who spoke Monday night disagreed.
Mike Connor, who was at the West Franklin Street building that day, noted how the town manager's report, based on Police Chief Chris Blue's account, already omitted a police officer's visit to the building the day of the raid that showed the squatters were not a threat.
They offered the officer coffee, he said.
"The idea we couldn't be dialogued with is absolutely absurd," Connor said. "We were never asked to leave once."
The council voted to refer the committee's request to town staff for a recommendation and information such as how much an investigator would cost. A response should come back for next Monday's council meeting.
But some who voted for the referral indicated they would not support an investigator.
Council member Jim Ward, who has said the police overreacted, also said it is time to move past the details of what happened that day and focus on broader policies and procedures that could improve police and community relations.
"I think the community at large and those involved are pretty much of one mind ... that the information (that led to the police response) could have been communicated in variety of ways better," he said.
The council held a closed session before its regular meeting Monday to discuss the Yates incident in private.
Karpinos said the council would only discuss issues allowed by the state's open meetings law.