City officials say that a police visit and subsequent search depicted by video that has gone viral on social media was not racial profiling, but a response to complaints about drug dealing.
“Based on what I know, I don’t think that would be accurate because of how things came about,” said City Manager Tom Bonfield in response to accusations of racial profiling.
Khadir Cherry, 25, was arrested near his mother’s home on April 4 and charged with possession with intent to manufacture, sell, and deliver marijuana. The charge followed an officer receiving “numerous calls” from employees of a nearby apartment complex, Regency Place, according to a memorandum sent from interim police Chief Larry Smith to Bonfield.
The memo was sent following a Facebook post and viral video of a police search of Cherry’s mother’s home. Cherry’s mother and homeowner Vera McGriff, 48, posted the video, which went viral and raised questions about harassment, use of force, warrantless searches and racial profiling.
But Smith’s memo states the police attention stemmed from complaints from Regency Place employees who witnessed Cherry make numerous “hand-to-hand” drug transactions over the past few weeks.
On April 4, a Regency Place manager called police and described a man who was later identified as Cherry selling drugs on the property. The officer later found and arrested Cherry standing next to a car near McGriff’s home on Misty Pine Avenue.
The transactions, prior charges and the April 4 arrest led officers from the District 2 High Enforcement Abatement Team to conduct a follow up investigation around 10:30 p.m. Friday, the memo states.
The team, commonly referred to as HEAT, is a flexible squad of officers who focus on certain crimes and problem areas within a police district.
HEAT Officer J.M. Foster smelled marijuana when a door to the residence was opened, according to a statement he made later while seeking a warrant. According to the statement, officers “seized the house” and conducted a “safety sweep for suspects.” Officers then successfully sought a warrant, which was executed just before 1 a.m. Saturday.
Cherry, 25, was charged with two counts of possession with intent to manufacture, sell and/or deliver, and maintaining a dwelling. He was also charged with two counts of assault on a government official, resisting a public officer and possession of marijuana paraphernalia.
McGriff, 48, was charged with maintaining a dwelling and resisting a public officer. Two others were charged with assault on a government officer.
The three minute and 21 second video depicts a chaotic situation after HEAT officers entered McGriff’s home Friday. Police department spokesman Wil Glenn said that two officers were assaulted during the incident.
McGriff wrote in a Facebook post that police pushed in her home as they are targeting her son and making false accusations.
“After being falsely accused of using and harboring marijuana, we were subject to the physical assault and terrorizing actions from a gang of police officers that included assaults with batons, an officer’s gun and over four hours of handcuffed detainment,” McGriff wrote in a statement released Wednesday. “... The terror, by these officers, did not stop when my 11 year old son, recently home from the hospital, began to vomit and seize. Nor did they stop when my 10 year old daughter screamed and called out to her mommy in fear.”
Cherry called for an investigation, the disbanding of the HEAT units and the termination of the five officers who entered her home.
The police department has begun a formal review of the incident. Bonfield said he asked Smith to expedite this review. There is a “high probability” that the result of the investigation would be made public, considering the video, which had been viewed nearly 200,000 times as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, Bonfield said.
A recent RTI International study, which was commissioned by Smith, indicated that HEAT officers disproportionally stopped black drivers.
On Wednesday morning, five members of the community met with Smith and other police officials. Nia Wilson, executive director of community organizing nonprofit SpiritHouse, said the fact that Smith reached out to members of the community is positive.
Wilson said such searches are not unique in Durham and support the contention that police are using marijuana enforcement to intimidate and “terrorize members” of the black and brown community.
A November 2015 Self-Help Credit Union report found that marijuana enforcement in Durham disproportionately impacted African-Americans.
City Councilman Charlie Reece, an attorney and former assistant attorney general, said from a policymaker point of view, he wants to take a look at the way HEAT operates and police enforcement priorities.
“I think once we are confronted with the reality of what these situations look like from the perspective of the people who live inside a home where this happens, I think it forces all of us to confront whether or not this is the best interest of our city,” Reece said. “That’s the conversation I intend to move forward in the weeks and months ahead.”