Charges dismissed in controversial Carbondale resisting arrest case
Follow-up restorative justice ‘sharing of perspectives’ part of deal
Charges are being dropped in the resisting arrest case against Carbondale resident Michael Francisco in a joint agreement with the town’s prosecuting attorney announced Tuesday.
A condition of the deal, though, was that Francisco and Carbondale Police Chief Kirk Wilson participate in a facilitated “sharing of perspectives” regarding the circumstances that led to his arrest on Dec. 24, 2020.
That occurred on Friday, “during which there were powerful speaking and listening opportunities that resulted in collaborative wisdom to better inform future situations,” a town press release issued Tuesday stated.
“This incident and the way it was handled by the Carbondale Police Department will be reviewed by a third-party professional in the near future,” Town Manager Jay Harrington said in the release. “After completion of that review, the town also intends to procure a separate independent review of the police department’s policies and culture.”
Any further prosecution of the case was deferred, so long as Francisco didn’t have any new violations while the restorative justice process played out, according to the release.
Town prosecutor Angela Roff on Monday formally filed the motion to dismiss all charges. Municipal Judge John Collins signed the related orders on Tuesday.
Francisco, 55, was arrested at about 5:38 p.m. on Christmas Eve in 2020 at the local City Market grocery store following a complaint received by the manager at the main store from an attendant at the adjacent fueling station.
According to the attendant, Francisco, after fueling his vehicle and making some other purchases at the checkout window, pointed toward her and made what she interpreted as an “angry” facial expression.
The store manager alerted Carbondale Police Chief Kirk Wilson, who happened to be in the store at the time, and officers were called to have Francisco removed from the store based on the attendant’s complaint.
When officers contacted him at the self-checkout, Francisco questioned why he was being asked to leave the store and declined to present his identification at the officers’ request.
He was ultimately wrestled to the floor, put in handcuffs and arrested; charged in municipal court with misdemeanor resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and obstruction.
Francisco, who is Black, has denied that there was any ill-intent and he and his attorney, Michael Edminister, have maintained that store representatives and the police overreacted to the situation.
Many in the Carbondale community have rallied behind Francisco, questioning whether the arrest was racially motivated and calling on the town to drop the charges and apologize for the way he was treated.
Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson on Tuesday also issued a statement, which was posted to the town’s Facebook page, in which he reiterated his commitment to a broader community discussion about policing policies.
“First and foremost, I want to own my portion of this unfortunate incident and apologize,” Richardson wrote. “In retrospect, although I was briefed within 24 hours of the incident, other members of the (Carbondale) Board of Trustees first learned of it from press coverage. The Board of Trustees has recognized the need to improve our communication, and my response to this incident only confirms this need.”
Read the mayor’s statement in its entirety below.
After reading newspaper coverage about the Michael Francisco/City Market incident, mymom texted me, “it sounds like the Town has some explaining to do.” I am sure manypeople feel like my mom and want more explanation.
As many of you know by now, we are encouraged not to comment regarding activecriminal investigations to prevent undue influence, but I realize that the public continuesto have questions. Beyond wanting more explanation about the incident, many havecalled for the Board of Trustees to drop the charges. However, once charges are filed, thedecision of whether to pursue them rests with the Town prosecutor, not the Mayor,Board of Trustees, or the Town Manager.
In any case, now that the criminal investigation is complete, Carbondale Police ChiefWilson and Mr. Francisco have recently participated in a facilitated discussion to shareperspectives, and the charges against Mr. Francisco have been dismissed; we now canreflect on what happened.
First and foremost, I want to own my portion of this unfortunate incident and apologize.In retrospect, although I was briefed within 24 hours of the incident, other members ofthe board of trustees first learned of it from press coverage. The Board of Trustees hasrecognized the need to improve our communication, and my response to this incidentonly confirms this need.
However, we are making some forward progress as well. Given all that has happenedaround the country, we have recognized the value in reviewing our own vision forcommunity policing. So last fall, the Town committed to facilitating a communitydiscussion to update our vision for community policing. By signing the ‘ObamaReimagining Policing Pledge,’ I, on behalf of the Town, also committed us to evaluate ourpolicies, training, and culture. It is unfortunate that we decided to wait until after COVIDand after Chief Wilson settled into his new role.
This work may or may not have affected how this incident was handled, but we nowhave a greater appreciation for the need to do this work as soon as possible. Iapologize that the Town has not followed through sooner.
Regarding the incident itself, it was unfortunate, to say the least, and I am sorry that ithappened. What I cannot know is the perspective of each person who played a part. Iknow that we each hold our own truth, and I respect that, especially in situations likethis. I believe that earnestly seeking others’ perspectives will be an invaluable part oflearning from what took place. I am very grateful to Barb Chambliss who haschampioned Restorative Justice as a path for all parties to better heal, understand, andlearn from this incident.
I also know that this situation escalated instead of de-escalated. Video footagedocuments what physically happened, but there are many other variables, includinghuman perceptions, that must be considered in order to understand why thingshappened the way they did. An independent evaluation will hopefully allow us all tolearn and grow after this incident. I am grateful that our staff and police department arewilling to participate fully in that process.
For too long we have asked our police to be prepared for every situation – fromrescuing a cat in a tree, to responding to unnerving levels of violence. Asking our policeofficers to all be superheroes is unrealistic, but we can continue to learn and improve.Policies, procedures, and training all need to continue to evolve here in Carbondale andaround the country. I assure you that the Town is as committed to learning as anyoneelse–I ask for everyone to get involved and learn, and then hold us accountable for ourresulting commitments.
An evolution in Town policing has already begun under Chief Wilson. Some notableprogress to date includes planning of our ‘citizens academies,’ increasing our funding tothe Hope Center to develop a more comprehensive approach to situational response,hiring a communications consultant for better community dialogue and transparency,creating a new trespassing response procedure, hiring a consultant to conduct anindependent evaluation of the incident, as well as an evaluation of our policies, training,and culture.
These actions are a step in the right direction, but we know there is more work to do.What is encouraging is that our Town Manager, Police Chief, Police Department, andBoard of Trustees are all committed to continuing to redefine and improve communitypolicing on an ongoing basis.
I am grateful to all those who led with curiosity and respect in understanding thecircumstances of this incident. I am grateful for our judicial system and those that servewithin it, who acted with integrity.
I am committed to seeing this work through to ensure that we as a Town learn from thisexperience so that we can continue to implement a vision of community policingthrough which everyone feels safe and respected.
Mayor of Carbondale
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or email@example.com.