DURHAM — City authorities are investigating allegations that Police Chief Jose L. Lopez said an attorney wounded in a shooting “deserved” being shot, and that the Police Department gave preferential treatment to a Lopez relative who applied for a job on the force.
Lopez is also the subject of a civil-rights discrimination complaint filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by Assistant Chief Winslow Forbes.
“Right now, they’re allegations,” Mayor Bill Bell said Tuesday. “We just have to find out whether there is substance.”
Durham police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said Lopez could not comment on the allegations “due to the ongoing review.”
EEOC spokesman Joseph Olivares said federal law does not allow the commission to comment on discrimination filings unless the EEOC files a lawsuit, “which is typically our last resort.”
City Manager Tom Bonfield said he would be meeting with the city’s internal audit staff and city attorneys Tuesday but did not plan to issue a statement.
The EEOC complaint “is on a whole separate track,” he said, but it included claims that Lopez had made racially offensive comments about some police personnel and had said the unidentified attorney, a bystander hit by a stray bullet, deserved to get shot because he was a public defender.
Bonfield said the attorney is not a public defender but has served as a court-appointed counsel. Nevertheless, the alleged remark prompted letters of concern to City Attorney Patrick Baker from Durham County Chief Public Defender Lawrence N. Campbell and Jennifer Harjo, president of the N.C. Public Defender Association.
“Any lack of respect for criminal defense attorneys and/or Public Defenders is not only unwarranted but demonstrates an ignorance of our duties, obligation and profession,” Harjo wrote. “Such conduct must not be tolerated.”
In a reply to Harjo, Baker wrote that the city had hired an independent consultant to investigate discrimination complaints by Forbes before the EEOC complaint was filed. The consultant could not substantiate them, according to Baker.
Victoria Peterson, a frequent critic of Lopez, raised the hiring issue last week in a letter to Bell demanding that Lopez “be immediately removed from his position.”
With the letter, Peterson sent a notarized statement by former Durham police investigator Anthony E. Scott that a nephew of Lopez’s wife was hired as a Durham officer earlier this year despite withholding information from Scott during a background investigation.
Peterson also claimed to know of “racially biased” remarks by Lopez and of qualified black officers being overlooked for promotions. She also complained of officers’ “brutality” against citizens.
“All this right now is allegations,” Bell said. “If they’re true, it’s very disturbing … to me, and I expect it will be to the other members of the (City) Council.”
Bell said that, since the chief of police reports to the city manager, it will be up to Bonfield to decide what action to take if any is warranted.