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Akron City Council confirms eight people to citizen police oversight board. One seat remains open

Mayor Horrigan congratulates Kemp Boyd
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan (left) congratulates Kemp Boyd, executive director of Love Akron, after Boyd was one of eight individuals confirmed to the city's first civilian police oversight board Wednesday, March 8, 2023.

After more than a week of tense council meetings and several attempts, eight candidates were confirmed to Akron’s civilian police oversight board Wednesday. One seat remains open.

During a special meeting, council approved the mayor’s three proposed appointments: Beverly Richards, Tristan Reed and Shawn Peoples, as well five candidates selected by council: Donzella Anuzskiewicz, Diane Lewis, Caitlin Castle, Robert Gippin and Kemp Boyd.

Many residents called for a civilian police oversight board in the aftermath of the police killing of Jayland Walker, a 25-year-old Black man, last summer. Akron voters approved a charter amendment that created the board in November.

The oversight board will review complaints brought against Akron Police and issue recommendations on the department’s policies.

“[I’m] certainly looking forward to working with them on how that all works, and I think the main goal was that we want to continue to build trust in communities where people feel like they maybe don’t trust the police,” Mayor Dan Horrigan told Ideastream Public Media after the meeting.

Councilfailed to pass the candidates twice due to disagreements over Imokhai Okolo, a 27-year-old lawyer. Okolo, who is Black, reportedly called police “pigs” in a previous social media post, and several councilmembers said Okolo could not be an objective voice on the board.

Other councilmembers said Okolo’s perspective as a young Black man would be crucial to have for the board.

Council President Margo Sommerville, who repeatedly advocated for Okolo, wants the open seat to go to another young, Black male, she said. She’s disappointed council could not reach consensus on him.

“I think it was fear of what this group might do, right? I think it’s fear of the conversations that might come out of this group. I think it’s fear about the type of recommendations that could come out of this group,” she said. “Fear is okay, but I think we also need to embrace that, because again, that’s how we make change when we’re going into territory that’s uncomfortable.”

Council leadership is looking back through applications to find another candidate who is a Black man between the ages of 18 to 35, Sommerville added.

“To be honest, we don’t have the Black male, 18 to 35, that has the resume that Imokhai has. That is the reality,” she added. “We are looking for someone who checks some of the boxes.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, council voted on the candidates individually. Previously, they’d voted on them as a group, but council repeatedly failed to garner enough votes to approve the candidates due concerns about Okolo.

“We thought introducing all of our candidates as a slate would be the most easy and efficient way to appoint and seat the board. As you can see over the past few weeks, that was not the most successful approach, because there were councilmembers that had issues with just one particular candidate,” Sommerville said.

The mayor’s picks include Beverly Richards, an attorney, social worker and CEO of Easterseals, a nonprofit focused on individuals with disabilities; Tristan Reed, a local mental health professional, and Shawn Peoples, a retired Canton police officer who now works as a bus driver for Akron METRO RTA.

After the meeting, Peoples told Ideastream Public Media he wants to “tie the gap” between Akron Police and residents who distrust the department.

“Being that I used to be a police officer, I can look at it through two different sets of eyes,” Peoples said. “A lot of people don’t understand how things work, as far as, when police get called to calls. It’s a stressful situation. Sometimes, we don’t have time to think about certain things, and being on this committee, instead of just assuming something, we can look at it through different eyes.”

Donzella Anuzskiewicz is a social worker and retired mitigation specialist for the U.S. Northern District Court; Diane Lewis is a community organizer; Caitlin Castle is a school counselor at Firestone Community Learning Center; Robert Gippin is a lawyer and former judge at the Summit County Common Pleas Court and Kemp Boyd is the director of Love Akron, a Christian-based community center.

Anuzskiewicz said she is honored to be on the oversight board but council’s resistance to Okolo and failure to pass the board before the deadline was “disappointing.”

“I felt bad for the public that were here. People got up and spoke, as you know, that were extremely and passionate about what they were saying, and I felt empathy and sympathy for that,” she said. “There were some pretty harsh moments. There were some pretty disturbing moments, and angry moments, and it was just hard to sit and watch it all.”

One of the board’s first priorities is to formally meet each other and Phil Young, the city’s police auditor. They will also be tasked with deciding on a budget and figuring out initial logistics.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.