Education

Board member Sutton wants Raleigh police apology

Posted July 21, 2010 3:43 p.m. EDT
Updated July 22, 2010 5:16 a.m. EDT

— A Wake County school board member almost arrested in a scuffle between protesters and police said Wednesday he's owed an apology.

Keith Sutton, who represents East Raleigh District 4, said that police officers grabbed him during a break at Tuesday's school board meeting while he was caught in a protest against a controversial change to the county’s student assignment policy.

"I think an apology would be appropriate," Sutton said Wednesday afternoon. "If that happens or doesn't happen, that's certainly not a dealbreaker for me, but I do think an apology would be appropriate."

School board staff intervened, and police released Sutton.

"I think the officers should have known who I was," Sutton said, adding he had been at the school board table for at least 30 minutes prior to the incident.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Raleigh Police Chief Harry Dolan stopped short of issuing an apology, saying he would be willing to meet with Sutton to stress the importance of not interfering in police officers' work.

"While I understand these are challenging times for the members of the board, I must insist that they not physically place themselves among demonstrators who are being actively engaged by officers taking police action," Dolan said.

Sutton said his intention wasn't to impede officers but to help protect a young girl caught in the middle of the demonstration.

Nineteen people were arrested in several protests Tuesday over the board majority's decision to move toward a community-based student assignment policy that's eventually expected to take the place of the current practice of busing students to achieve socio-economic diversity.

Nearly a dozen police officers and extra security personnel were on hand for Tuesday's meeting. Sutton said he thinks the police presence might have made the situation worse.

"I think the use of force, particularly in terms of numbers of officers that were there, only served to incite rather than to calm," he said.

But school board Chairman Ron Margiotta defended the increased security presence and said he thought Sutton might have been trying to get arrested.

"I'm not sure it's because of confusion. I am not sure he did not want to be arrested," Margiotta said.

"I think it's regrettable that that's the opinion of Mr. Margiotta," Sutton said. "As an elected official and member of the school board – and also as an employee of the state of North Carolina – I would certainly not put myself in a position to be arrested."

Spending on security has increased in the past eight months since a new board majority took control of the school board and started talking about scrapping the decade-old busing policy.

From July to November of last year the school system spent $451.58 on security at board meetings.

From December until April, it spent nearly $15,000 on security because of an increased public interest and high public turnout at meetings.