Protesters want Durham police officer fired

jwise@newsobserver.comDecember 1, 2012 

  • Police complaints: How they work According to standard Durham Police practice: • Anyone may file a complaint by mail, telephone or in person; complaints may be received by any officer with the rank of sergeant or higher; • Complaints go to the Professional Standards Division to determine whether the internal affairs investigation should be criminal or administrative; • Investigators file a report including taped or signed statements from the complainant, witnesses and the accused police employee; • The employee’s superiors review the report and recommend action to the Chief of Police; • After being notified of the department’s decision, a complainant has 14 days to file an appeal to the Citizens Review Board; • Department decisions involving use of force, unethical conduct and arrest, and search and seizure, may be appealed to the nine-member Citizens Review Board, which will decide whether a hearing is warranted.

Durham activist Victoria Peterson is leading a campaign to get a Durham police officer fired for brutality, but Police Chief Jose L. Lopez says the group has hampered his department’s investigation.

“We would have been further along if we had had cooperation from the complainant,” Lopez said last week.

The complainant is Stephanie Nickerson, a Chapel Hill resident who alleges Cpl. Brian Schnee beat her when police responded to a noise complaint Oct. 28. She declined to comment when asked by The Durham News.

Nickerson, though, faces charges of her own from the same incident: resisting and officer and assaulting a government official – namely, Officer Schnee. Her court date is Jan. 24.

In the meantime, according to police spokeswoman Kammie Michael, the department’s professional standards division is investigating Nickerson’s complaint.

“We’re doing everything we can to get to the bottom of this,” Lopez said. “We don’t know how long, because there are a number of people to interview.”

Schnee is currently on paid leave. On the other side, an online petition ( chn.ge/11k3Bc2) calling for Schnee’s suspension or firing, and prosecution for assault and battery, had collected 506 names by Thursday afternoon. Nickerson supporters have demonstrated outside police headquarters the past two Tuesday afternoons and said last week they intend to continue indefinitely.

Last week, Nickerson, Peterson and about a dozen others stood for more than two hours on Chapel Hill Street in a chilly rain, chanting “End police brutality” and other slogans and holding signs for rush-hour motorists to see.

One of the demonstrators, Brian Jackson, said he witnessed Schnee’s assault on Nickerson and video-recorded it. Lopez said the video only shows a person being put into a police car, and that his staff is trying to enhance the images to see if they can get more information from it.

According to Peterson, the incident occurred at an outdoor party. Police responding to the noise complaint arrived after the noisemakers had left, and Schnee assaulted Nickerson after she advised the hostess that she did not have to allow officers to enter her house since they did not have a search warrant. Nickerson, Peterson said, sustained a fractured nose, “busted lip” and “her eye was messed up also.”

“We just don’t allow this kind of behavior by any of our local law enforcement officers,” Peterson said.

Lopez said Nickerson actually filed her complaint after making her charges public, and had been slow to meet with investigators.

“We’re investigating,” he said. “We’re protecting the rights of the officer as well as the rights of the complainant.”

Wise: 919-641-5895

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