City leaders will announce Friday whether they will release a Durham Police Department internal report on the fatal police shooting of a 21-year-old man in September.
On Thursday the City Council met behind closed doors to discuss the shooting, the latest in a series of incidents that has raised questions in recent years about the department’s use of force.
In addition to the September shooting of La’Vante Trevon Biggs, police fatally shot Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo and Derek Walker in 2013. Ocampo was a suspect in a stabbing who was shot four times after police yelled at him to put a knife down when he pulled it from his back pocket. Walker, upset about losing custody of his son, was shot after he pointed a gun at police and himself during a standoff downtown.
Police say Biggs was suicidal and holding a weapon when police responded to 911 calls from him and his mother in the 1700 block of Angier Avenue.
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Memos from interim Police Chief Larry Smith to City Manager Tom Bonfield indicate the Police Department concluded officers didn’t violate any policy in the actions taken before, during and after the Biggs shooting.
“However, that does not mean that everything unfolded just as we wished it had,” Smith wrote. “They seldom do in situations this intense where critical decisions have to be made in a moment’s time.”
“I believe that our officers did all they could to attempt to bring this to a peaceful end,” Smith wrote.
On Tuesday, Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols announced he had found no criminal wrongdoing in the Biggs shooting.
Smith’s memos also addressed questions raised by the Durham NAACP and Biggs’ mother, Shanika Biggs, who say police mismanaged the situation and that Biggs’ death could have been prevented.
Police recklessly fired 12 shots, five of which hit her son, and six of which entered an occupied house behind him, they said. They also asked why officers didn’t help Biggs when he put the gun down, why a tactical unit with non-lethal weapons still had not arrived 50 minutes into the incident and why Biggs was handcuffed after he was shot.
Officers tried to evacuate the house where the shooting unfolded, Smith wrote, but were prohibited by a fence and dogs in the back yard.
In an email, police spokesman Wil Glenn wrote less-lethal weapons are designed to stun or disable someone. They are considered “pain compliance weapons,” he said, and are less effective if someone is “mentally disturbed” or “under the influence.”
However, in an email to Bonfield, Smith says the department is now evaluating buying non-lethal weapons to keep in supervisors’ cars in the field.
Smith wrote Biggs put his gun down a few times, but was never more than a few feet from the weapon. Smith also wrote that Biggs being handcuffed immediately after the shooting is a common practice by officers seeking to determine if a threat still exists.
Councilwoman Jillian Johnson called the Police Department’s response “inadequate.”
Johnson said it isn’t fair to expect police officers to act as mental health professionals in such situations. The city needs to explore how to ensure a more comprehensive response to those situations with mental health professionals and non-lethal weapons, she said.
“How to provide a mental health intervention that doesn’t end in fatality,” she said.
In other business:
The City Council on Thursday:
▪ Decided not to take action on a proposal to extend health insurance to outgoing council members who have served more than 10 years. The City Council Insurance Subcommittee explored the option, but members Charlie Reece and Steve Schewel said they didn’t support the options presented Thursday.
Mayor Bill Bell, who said he didn’t qualify for the proposed benefits, said at some point in time additional benefits should be allowed for people who serve in elected positions.
▪ Discussed a proposal to delay a downtown parking deck to incorporate affordable housing.
City staff indicated adding about 30 affordable housing units into a planned West Morgan Street parking deck would delay the the structure and escalate costs as downtown faces a parking crunch.
Developer Bob Chapman, however, pointed to other parking deck projects across the nation that incorporated affordable housing. Chapman said if the city used a a precast construction process, which involves concrete that is cast before its brought to the site, then it could use the cost savings to incorporate affordable housing. City officials said the precast construction wouldn’t last as long, would require more maintenance and wasn’t adequate for a structure that is also incorporating retail and office space. The council plans to vote on the issue June 6.
▪ Set an agenda item for the June 6 meeting that would move the construction of a new Police Department Headquarters forward. At the June 6 meeting, the City Council plans to vote to authorize the city manager to negotiate and execute a contract of up to nearly $2.3 million for the East Main Street site’s demolition, abatement and soil remediation.