Just before a man was killed by a shotgun blast from a home in North Raleigh early Sunday morning, a man inside the house told a 911 dispatcher that he was “on neighborhood watch” and was going outside to secure his neighborhood against a “bunch of hoodlums.”
But residents and a manager of the Neuse Crossing Homeowners Association say the neighborhood where the fatal shooting happened does not have a neighborhood watch. And police say that where homeowners do organize neighborhood watch programs they are told to call 911 when they see suspicious or criminal activity, rather than take matters into their own hands.
Police charged Chad Cameron Copley, 39, of 3536 Singleleaf Lane, with first-degree murder on Sunday. At the same time, they released a recording of a 911 call from a man inside the house early Sunday who told a dispatcher that he was “locked and loaded” and preparing to go outside.
“You need to send PD as quickly as possible,” he said. “I’m on neighborhood watch. I’m gonna have the neighbors with me. There’s hoodlums out here racing up and down the street. It’s 1 o’clock in the morning, um, there’s some vandalism. They have firearms, and we’re going to secure our neighborhood.”
Police say Copley stood behind his garage door and fired a single shotgun blast out a window that killed 20-year-old Kouren-Rodney Bernard Thomas, who was out near the street. Friends say Thomas was leaving a nearby party and was unarmed.
In a second 911 call from the house on Singleleaf Lane, the man said he had fired a “warning shot like I’m supposed to by law” and that he “was trying to protect myself and my family.”
Police have not said whether anyone else was involved in the shooting or whether Copley was with any neighbors when the shooting took place. He is the only person charged in the incident.
Neuse Crossing residents don’t have a neighborhood watch group, said Mike Ellis, a co-owner and spokesman for Kohn-Ell Association Management, which manages homeowners’ associations across the city, including at Neuse Crossing. Ellis said if residents had started a neighborhood watch it would be affiliated with the Raleigh Police Department, not the homeowners association.
A neighborhood watch is just that: a watch. You don’t pack a gun and put on a badge like you’re a sheriff.
David Parker, who lives on Singleleaf Lane
“The association is mainly concerned with covenant enforcement and social functions, like mowing the front entrance and fixing things,” Ellis said. “We do not give residents police powers at all. The homeowners association has certain responsibilities and obligations, and none of that can be construed as law enforcement. We can make you mow your lawn but not law enforcement.”
David Parker, a 59-year-old, self-employed businessman who has lived on Singleleaf Lane since 1996, says the homeowners association tried to start a community watch several years ago. Parker said he was surprised to hear the man who called 911 tell the dispatcher that he was “locked and loaded.”
“A neighborhood watch is just that: a watch,” he said. “You don’t pack a gun and put on a badge like you’re a sheriff.”
Raleigh’s police department encourages residents to start community watch programs by creating partnerships with its officers. In addition to trying to reduce the likelihood of crime, the watch groups help create a greater sense of security among neighbors through meetings, social functions and communication through websites, emails and other media.
Police caution community watch participants to not take any risks by trying to prevent a crime or make an arrest. Instead, the department emphasizes the importance of being a good witness.
Raleigh police spokeswoman Laura Hourigan said community watch groups are organized by individual communities, but noted that the department “works with neighborhoods with and without community watch groups in the same ways, largely by sharing crime prevention information ... and by encouraging all community members to call 911 to report any suspicious people, vehicles or activities.”
The Sunday shooting in the quiet, multi-racial North Raleigh suburb reminded Ellis of the death of Trayvon Martin, an African-American teen who was gunned down by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed, armed community watchman in Sanford, Fla., in February 2012.
Zimmerman called 911 and described Martin’s behavior as “suspicious,” then disregarded an emergency dispatcher’s advice not to follow him. The unarmed teenager, who was carrying a bag of Skittles and Arizona ice tea, was confronted by Zimmerman and found dead from a gunshot wound to the chest.
“When that happened we reiterated to everybody the importance of inviting the police to talk with residents about having a community watch,” Ellis said.
The family of Kouren-Rodney Bernard Thomas has set up a gofundme page to raise money for his funeral expenses. It can be found at www.gofundme.com/276hhgks.