Civil suit in Ocampo shooting possible, as Durham DA rules out criminal charges

mschultz@newsobserver.comFebruary 6, 2014 

— The supervisor for N.C. Central University’s Civil Litigation Clinic will continue pursuing a possible lawsuit against the Durham Police Department, despite the district attorney’s finding that there was no basis for criminal charges in the fatal shooting of a stabbing suspect last summer.

Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo was shot four times, including once in the head, on July 27 as police sought to question him about a stabbing that day.

Police have said they fired on Ocampo after yelling for him to put a knife down when he pulled it from his back pocket. But attorney Scott Holmes has said three witnesses say Ocampo, a Honduran immigrant who understood little English, was surrendering the knife, handle side out, when he was shot.

“The Durham police and its officer need to be held accountable for the death of Jose Ocampo,” Holmes said Thursday. “Mr. Ocampo did not present a deadly threat. The officer used excessive force by shooting him in the head.”

Earlier Thursday, Durham County District Attorney Leon Stanback announced he will not pursue charges in the shooting.

“After reviewing the autopsy, the medical examiner’s report; 911 calls; in-car camera recordings provided by the Durham Police Department; interviews with officers, civilian witnesses, Emergency Medical Services personnel, firefighters; physical evidence; and latent evidence analysis; the Durham district attorney has found there is no probable cause to charge a crime in this matter,” Stanback said in a statement.

The statement followed Stanback’s decision last month not to press criminal charges in the death of Jesus Huerta, a Durham teen who police say fatally shot himself while handcuffed in the back seat of a police car.

The deaths are among several high-profile incidents involving Durham police that include the fatal police shooting in September of Derek Walker, a man who pointed a gun at police and himself during a standoff downtown; a finding last February that a former officer had used excessive force when he injured a woman during a 2012 arrest; and recent reports from a UNC professor and a civil rights organization alleging racial bias in Durham police traffic stops, searches and arrests.

Holmes alluded to all that Thursday when he confirmed he will be seeking civil remedies for the Ocampo family.

“In case after case, the Durham police are too quick to escalate situations and use excessive force,” he said. “With a more measured approach, Jose would be alive today.”

Holmes also called on city leaders to consider “a truth and reconciliation process,” which he described as a “facilitated process to take steps to heal the harm to the family, hold the Durham police accountable, and involve the community in a deeper conversation about the underlying problems which cause police violence in our community.”

Internal review pending

Officer Ronald S. Mbuthia, who fired the shot that killed Ocampo, was taken off patrol duty after the shooting, which is routine in such cases.

Police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said Thursday that Mbuthia remains on administrative duty pending the completion of the department’s internal review, which Police Chief Jose Lopez said can now be completed.

Both Lopez and Stanback expressed condolences Thursday to Ocampo’s famly.

Staff writer Ron Gallagher contributed to this report.

Schultz: 919-932-2003

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