Nashville's COB Director Has Deep Experience, But Not Without Controversy | Nashville Public Radio

Nashville's COB Director Has Deep Experience, But Not Without Controversy

Apr 9, 2019

The new leader of Nashville’s Community Oversight Board will soon arrive from Chicago, where he had deep experience investigating police misconduct. Yet his time on that city’s Independent Police Review Authority ended amid controversy.

William Carlos Weeden has had a 30-year career in the law, most recently as a criminal defense and civil rights attorney. But it was his eight years as deputy director of Chicago’s former police review authority that loomed largest during his job interview. Weeden beat out four other finalists to become executive director of Nashville’s COB.

On one hand, almost all 11 members of the COB praised the depth of Weeden’s experience.

He has been both a prosecutor and a defense attorney, and his private practice since the 1990s has focused on police misconduct lawsuits. With the police review group, Weeden oversaw investigations into more than 350 shootings by police officers.

But just after Weeden exited, a report commissioned by city leaders found the agency “badly broken” and biased in favor of police officers who faced accusations.

When questioned in Nashville, Weeden said he’d been brought into the Chicago agency as part of a push to fix it. For example, Weeden says family members of police officers had gotten jobs within the review agency, creating a conflict of interest.

“It was difficult for us to overcome 30 years of perception about what civilian oversight was in Chicago,” he said. “We made tremendous efforts.”

Weeden was deputy director of that agency and responsible for day-to-day operations. He supervised and trained dozens of investigators and was tasked with trying to get adversaries — like the police union and community members — to get along.

Weeden said one of the leaders he worked under didn’t follow through on some reforms, leading to some of the criticisms in the scathing report. His explanation drew mixed responses from COB members, with some referring to the episode as “baggage.” Some were also bothered by the scale of bureaucracy in Chicago.

But Weeden describes Nashville as having a fresh start on civilian oversight of the police. And he notes the COB was created because of an enthusiastic referendum vote.

“You have the tools in place now to have a great agency and to make some great inroads into building trust in the community. Unfortunately, I think Nashville has been behind the curve for a while on the subject to civilian oversight,” Weeden said in the closing remarks of his job interview. “Nashville is a beacon for civil rights, and this is an opportunity to show that you can take that lead.”

Weeden is a 1984 Fisk University graduate who says his law career was inspired by leading figures in the city’s push for integration. He has been a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Virgin Islands and a law professor at the University of Wisconsin.

One of the factors in Weeden’s favor was his experience as a manager. The COB has been trying to create its bylaws and hire a nine-person staff on an accelerated schedule.

Board members also described Weeden as having a systematic attention to detail and for understanding the ethos of civilian oversight.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you make, or how much money you don’t make. It doesn’t matter what color you are, or which language you speak. This board is here to serve the community honestly and the best it can on every level,” Weeden told the board.

Yet no one says oversight will be easy.

Walter Holloway, a COB member and former Nashville officer, said any choice for executive director will feel like “pulling teeth with a plier” when interacting with local police. He notes the Fraternal Order of Police has resisted the COB and that group has already questioned Weeden’s selection on social media.

There are other uncertainties. State lawmakers may curtail the board’s subpoena powers. And Weeden isn’t sure if his team will get access to crime scenes and police records.

But he says pushback isn’t a surprise.

“I think everyone’s goal is to have the best-trained police force that’s fair, unbiased and does the right thing,” he said.

Weeden is the first paid administrator hired to the COB and will start April 22. One of his first tasks will be hiring eight additional staffers, including legal counsel and investigators.