The Tallahassee Citizens Police Review Board has requested a ranking member of the Tallahassee Police Department team to attend their next meeting to answer questions about a recent controversial training session that included Eddie Gallagher, who once faced war crimes charges.
The nine-person panel met Thursday night to seek answers on the sequence of events that led TPD to conduct training with an ex-Navy SEAL, who was found guilty of illegally posing for a photo with a dead body but acquitted of other charges.
TPD Deputy Chief Tonja Smith said the department was not aware that Gallagher would be present at the 50-acre training facility owned by the nonprofit Stronghold SOF Solutions, which employs him as a trainer, according to its website.
Smith said the nonprofit approached TPD and offered their training facility to TPD for nothing in return. She added that Stronghold SOF Solutions has had a years-long relationship with TPD.
“One of our members has a relationship with SOF Stronghold, and they’ve had it for years,” she said. “We’ve trained with them before.”
She later clarified, saying TPD has had an over 10-year relationship with one of the nonprofit’s instructors, Richard Schuck, a former Navy SEAL, according to the Stronghold SOF Solutions website.
“Our relationship was with Richard Schuck,” she said. “He was one of the instructors that was watching.”
The training sessions held at SOF’s DeFuniak Springs facility were for TPD’s 40-person Tactical Apprehension and Control team (TAC) — which handles the city’s most “high-risk” incidents — and centered around the prevention of a Uvalde-like mass-shooting situation , according to Smith.
Word of the training initially spread after Gallagher posted photos and videos of himself with TPD officers to his Instagram page, which he then used to advertise his own Stronghold SOF Solutions trainings.
“(Stronghold SOF Solutions) was not hired by us; they were not paid by us,” Smith said, adding that the trainers were TPD employees. “We don’t have a relationship with (Gallagher).”
Her account of events was consistent with what TPD Deputy Chief Maurice Holmes told the TPD Citizens Advisory Council two nights . “This company was not requested for training by the Tallahassee Police Department,” he said. “They were just there as observers.”
Smith was unable to answer specific questions on the training, like how did the officers end up in a picture and video with him if he wasn’t participating? And, how does the TAC team choose the facilities in which it trains?
The board, therefore, requested a member of the TAC team be present at next month’s meeting to answer their questions about the training session.
The board members will then evaluate whether to make policy recommendations.
In addition, they are motioned for TPD to give a presentation on their specialized training that includes its vetting process for instructors.
Created in the summer of 2020, the citizens police review board has little authority over policies except to make recommendations to TPD Chief Lawrence Revell and review incidents after they’ve gone through the internal review process at the agency.
Community concern: Gallagher as a symptom of police militarization
Thursday’s three-hour meeting saw four community members voice concern over Gallagher’s presence at the training and what they called the militarization of the local police force.
“Gallagher is a symptom of a larger problem,” said Will Hanley, a professor at Florida State University’s history department. “Whether or not a criminal war is present, we must be deeply concerned that our city police are being trained in a culture of combat.”
He added: “TPD is not a paramilitary force, it is not a battle unit, it is not a special operations force. When we allow our influence police to engage in combat roleplay, we allow dangerous ideas to its culture, its recruiting and its use of force.”
Board member Taylor Biro, following Hanley’s comments, read a quote from the Stronghold SOF Solutions website that she described as indicative of police militarization: “We preserve the culture by honoring its traditions, we prepare the future warfighter by delivering innovative training solutions, so can protect those who cannot do it themselves.”
Among what others highlighted as examples of police militarization were a recent TPD recruitment video that depicted camouflaged snipers and officers dawning assault rifles, as well as the Rook, an armored vehicle given to TPD last year by the Florida Regional Domestic Security Task Force.
More: TPD: ‘Rook’ armored vehicle has tactical, regional emergency purposes
Community asks for statement condemning training in the presence of Gallagher
Other speakers also requested that the review board release a statement condemning Gallagher’s presence at the training as well as an “independent investigation” to uncover the extent of TPD’s connection to the training company.
“I hope all of y’all are disgusted,” said Regina Joseph, a member of the Tallahassee Community Action Committee, about Gallagher’s presence at the training. “Show the city that you don’t stand with a literal war criminal training TPD.”
After the meeting, board chairman Edward Gaines, Jr., said the meeting went well and he’s looking forward to uncovering more about TPD training policies.
“We are still in the information gathering stage, so the fact that we’re asking a TAC team member to come to the next meeting is positive,” he said.
“The community wants to know: how did we get to this point? And number two, the board wants to know, how do we vet so this doesn’t happen again? And we’re gonna get to the bottom of it.”
Contact Christopher Cann at [email protected] and follow @ChrisCannFL on Twitter.
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