On July 15, 2013 19-year-old N.C. Central University sophomore Lewis James Little was finally released after a month of incarceration for crimes he did not commit.
Several charges including first-degree burglary, first-degree kidnapping, three counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and felony conspiracy have all since been formally dismissed as an honest mistake.
Lewis Little however, has been left to pick up the pieces.
On June 20, 2013 Little and five friends went to socialize on Melbourne Street. They spotted the body of a man and approached “to find out why someone would just be lying in the street like that.” After prompting the man to get up several times without a response, Little called Durham police. The man on the ground was Michael Lee, 25, who was obviously in critical condition as he lay there wheezing his last few breaths.
When Durham police arrived, they attempted to gather information. Little, his friends and several others were questioned. Shortly after, Little found himself singled out by a Durham police officer, who informed him he was being detained for further questioning at the Durham Police Department. The officer locked Little in handcuffs and placed him in the back seat of his squad car. Little was taken to a Durham Police Department interrogation room and read his rights.
Little was ordered to “strip down” in front of male and female officers. His keys, clothing, cell phone, shoes and watch were all confiscated.
Little informed the magistrate that he was the individual who initially called the police. He explained how he even waited with the body until police came. To no avail, Lewis Little was issued a $1,425,000 bond.
Officially an inmate, Little was taken upstairs to a section called “23 and 1,” where he was only allowed out for one hour a day to walk around indoors. He remained there for the entire weekend before being transferred to general population that Monday night.
During Little’s one-month jail stint, he was basically kept in limbo of how he had mysteriously been singled out and falsely apprehended. In a matter of minutes, he went from calling the police to being arrested and stripped of his human rights. Here was a young man found guilty until proven innocent.
To Little’s surprise one evening, he was informed by a correctional officer that he was being released. After a month of degradation, humiliation, slander and complete embarrassment, local college student Lewis Little was finally released and greeted by a small group of close friends and family members. Little’s mother was informed that his $1,425,000 bond was officially recalled. The district attorney who had presided over his case apologized for the inconvenience. The Police Department offered no comment.
Prior to this humiliating debacle, Little had never been in any trouble with the law. He was a stellar student at Southern High School’s School of Engineering and has always been engaged in the community. Now, Little is having difficulty finding employment. Though his charges have been dismissed, they are still present on his record.
“I’m still trying to get myself straight,” he says. “I was ordered to strip naked for crimes I did not commit. I walked into the Durham County Jail with no shoes on and metal shackles on my hands and feet. You never forget an experience like that.”
Little is also concerned about his reputation being destroyed. “You used to couldn’t Google my name on the Internet, now you can. According to the reports, I broke into someone’s home, kidnapped them and killed a man last year. And that’s not true at all,” Little says.
Currently, Little is back in classes for the spring semester of his sophomore year. Students are upset and have organized a small support group. Unfortunately, it looks like the Durham Police Department has done it again. No, Mr. Little, this is not justice.
Lamont Lilly is a contributing editor with the Triangle Free Press, human rights delegate with Witness for Peace and organizer with Workers World Party.