HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — After a nearly five-hour meeting on Monday, a majority of the Henrico County Board of Supervisors voiced support for a civilian review board. Although no official vote was cast, board members offered their opinions along with dozens of county residents.
Board member, Tyrone Nelson, proposed a civilian review board back in June following the death of George Floyd. After nearly three months of pondering the idea, Monday night’s meeting was filled with raw emotion from citizens and county officials as they expressed their opinions on creating a board to oversee police actions.
A majority of speakers were in favor of implementing a review board in Henrico. Speakers also praised officials for appointing Eric English as the newest police chief, the first African American to hold the title in the county.
One emotional testimony stood out among the rest, however.
Eric Harris, a Henrico resident and former law enforcement officer, spoke about a harrowing encounter he had with a Henrico officer. Harris, who wrote a letter to the board, addressing each member on Monday, says he never shared the story before. He hoped bringing it to light would help board members “do the right thing.”
Ten years ago, in 2010, Harris says he was driving on Parham Road when he was stopped by a Henrico officer. Harris says he chose to pull over at the County Government Center Center and turned into the parking lot of Memorial Plaza, where fallen officers are honored.
Harris revealed that while he was turning his head to get his license, he could feel someone’s presence.
“The officer who had pulled me over was in full stance,” Harris exclaimed. “He had a weapon pointed directly at my head, right here in the Government Center. That is one of the reasons I pulled over here…to put him at ease, it’s a safe space.”
Scared for his life, Harris says he complied with the officer’s commands. He went on to say that while he’s been robbed twice, the encounter with that Henrico officer was the most fearful experience of his life because he felt helpless.
“My first reaction was ‘oh my God, what did I do?'” remembered Harris. “I froze, I moved extremely slow, and I followed his commands.”
At that time, Harris was working as a probation officer in Hanover County and as a criminal investigator pre-trail officer in Richmond. That day, Harris admitted he was only guilty of driving with an expired registration sticker, which is why he assumed he was stopped. Harris says the officer explained to him it was his ‘dark tinted windows’ that made him stop the car, however, and point his weapon.
But Harris says when the officer saw his badge, his demeanor immediately changed.
“All of a sudden he tried officer code and was going to let me go, but I made him write that ticket,” Harris said. “I made him write that ticket for two reasons. One, we were going to prove that we were here just in case and DMV records will show it and two, I didn’t want any special favors from him.”
The incident shook Harris to his core, so much that shortly after, he decided to turn his badge in, after ten years in law enforcement.
“I allowed myself to think that I was somehow different,” Harris said. “A piece of me died that day.”
Harris said he followed the straight and narrow path in life. He graduated from Virginia Union University, majoring in criminal justice, got a well-respected job as a law enforcement officer, and poured into the community regularly. Harris coaches football at Douglas Freeman High School and owns Next Level Mentoring and Family Services, formally known as Broken Chain Foundation. The foundation focuses on youth, re-entry programs, mentorship and athletic camps.
“I did everything that I was supposed to do,” Harris said. “I went to college, I’m a productive member of the society, I’m deep into my community and in that moment you realize you’re defined by your skin color.”
Despite the time that’s passed, Harris says he felt now was the moment to speak up for future generations, in addition to the children he mentors. Harris told board members he is fully in support of a civilian review board.
“I still love law enforcement, ” Harris said. “It’s in my blood and it’s who I am, but I think that if everyone’s honest, we got a few bad apples that if we can weed out, it’d be great.”
After reading more than 700 emails from residents and hearing at least 30 public speakers at Monday’s meeting, Nelson asked his fellow members where they stand on the issue.
Three of the five elected board members voiced their support; Frank Thornton representing the Fairfield district, Tyrone Nelson representing the Varina district, and Thomas Branin representing the Three Chopt district.
Patricia O’Bannon, of the Tuckahoe district, and Dan Schmitt, of the Brookland district, refused to give their personal opinions on a civilian review board.
Although Nelson wanted a vote on Monday night, board members agreed to wait on guidance from the General Assembly.
The board did authorize county staffers to start looking at legislation regarding civilian review boards and agreed to set up a formal meeting with Chief Eric English once he’s sworn as the new chief of police on Sept. 14.
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