3 Durham police officers charged with breaking and entering, assault, false imprisonment

Suspects accused of assault, breaking in to retrieve stolen items

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comJanuary 19, 2013 

— Three police officers, including a high-ranking watch commander, were arrested Friday and charged with “pushing their way into a residence” in North Durham to retrieve items that were reportedly stolen from them.

The three officers were off duty when the incident occurred shortly after 1 a.m. Friday, said police spokeswoman Kammie Michael.

Durham police Lt. Ryan A. Freeman and fellow officers Stacy L. Armstrong and Erin V. Espinola are each charged with one count of false imprisonment and assault. Armstrong also is charged with two counts of misdemeanor breaking and entering, while Freeman and Espinola were each charged with one count, Michael said.

“Although these three officers have been charged, I want to stress to the community that these actions are not indicative of our organization,” Durham Police Chief Jose L. Lopez Sr. said in a statement released late Friday.

Police also charged three other people in connection with the case.

Jessica Lobaugh, 30, and Benjamin Brackett, 32, both of Timberlake, and Jennifer Norton, 30, of Rougemont, were each charged with misdemeanor counts of breaking and entering and assault, Michael reported.

Investigators say the incident occurred on Trevor Circle near Guess Road, where police responded to reports of a disturbance. Officers were dispatched “a few minutes later” to a related call just around the corner on Landis Drive.

Police say several people reportedly pushed their way into a home to take back property that they said had been stolen from them while they were at a nightspot on Ninth Street.

Investigators were told that someone had taken an iPhone, a coat and a wallet containing police identification from the club.

The officers and friends have been accused of chasing a man and assaulting him, Michael said.

Lopez, who described the case as an “isolated incident,” said in a press release Friday that all of the people involved were acquainted with one another.

Police filed the charges Friday afternoon after an internal investigation by the department’s criminal investigations division. Michael said the investigation is ongoing and more charges might be filed.

The officers have been placed on administrative leave pending completion of the criminal investigation. The department’s professional standards division is also conducting an internal investigation of the incident, which is standard procedure, Michael said.

Freeman, 40, was hired in May 1994 and is a watch commander assigned to the patrol bureau.

Espinola, 31, was hired in August 2005 and Armstrong, 27, in January 2011. The officers are both assigned to the patrol bureau.

McDonald: 919-929-4533

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